WBEZ | Water http://www.wbez.org/sections/water Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en How much road salt ends up in Lake Michigan? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curiuos City podcast includes an audio story about road salt. It begins 5 minutes, 50 seconds into the program. (Subscribe via <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes </a>or <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)</em></p><p>Aaron Stigger is a graphic and web designer born and raised in Oak Park. He caught Curious City&rsquo;s attention with <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/questions/1522" target="_blank">this question</a>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><font><font>How does all the winter salt runoff affect Lake Michigan&#39;s water?</font></font></em></p><p><font><font>But he </font></font><em><font><font>really </font></font></em><font><font>piqued our interest after telling us the backstory.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;On my way to work everyday I pass by this gi-normous salt pile, which is kind of plopped down on some dirt and some broken-up cement,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;That kind of got me thinking: Well, if it&rsquo;s seeping into the ground under this big, uncovered pile, what is it doing, all the salt we distribute all around the city?&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.954739%2C-87.79664800000002&amp;cbp=%2C65.45%2C%2C0%2C9.139999&amp;layer=c&amp;panoid=S-PkH0iF7NxMblex4A7Wog&amp;spn=0.18000000000000152%2C0.30000000000001953&amp;output=classic&amp;cbll=41.954739%2C-87.796648" target="_blank"><font><font>The particular mound of salt</font></font></a><font><font> that Aaron saw is in Dunning, a neighborhood on the city&rsquo;s Northwest Side. That mound&#39;s got company: Chicago stores 19 piles of salt across the city. And that&rsquo;s not counting many more spread across the suburbs and Northwest Indiana.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But is there really a wall of brine heading to the lake and, if so, should we be worried? We found out that, at least according to a few environmental standards, Lake Michigan is actually in much better shape than Stigger expected. But another waterway may have earned his concern.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Just how much salt are we talking about, anyway?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before we get to specifics on any effects on Lake Michigan, let&rsquo;s put the amounts of road salt we use into perspective, at least when it comes to Chicago.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Since November 2009, the city has spread an average of 215,456</font></font>&nbsp;tons of salt to melt snow and ice each year, according to figures provided by The Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation:<a name="chart"></a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="300" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="http://cf.datawrapper.de/CbhQh/2/" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" width="350"></iframe></div><p><font><font>That&rsquo;s counting this winter,&nbsp;</font></font><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637" target="_blank"><font><font>which has been particularly brutal</font></font></a><font><font>. As of February 28, the city already dumped more than 370,000 tons of salt on city streets &mdash; a solid 42 percent more than the next heaviest use in the previous five years.</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/aaron%20stigger%27s%20salt%20pile.jpg" style="height: 304px; width: 525px; margin: 5px;" title="The Chicago salt pile that Oak Parker Aaron Stigger sees on his way to work. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" /></div><p><font><font>It&rsquo;s not just a problem in Chicago. Humans move a lot of salt. A 2004 study estimated that we mobilize more than 140 teragrams &mdash; that&rsquo;s 140 billion kilograms &mdash; of chlorides every year.</font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><font><font><strong>Video: </strong><a href="#video">Just how big are these salt piles</a>?</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Salt&rsquo;s destination: our streams and rivers</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So, with some of these figures in mind, let&rsquo;s consider the effects.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s &ldquo;aha moment&rdquo; came about when he saw one of the city&rsquo;s salt piles while it was uncovered. It&rsquo;s a reasonable concern, given that researchers from the University of Rhode Island </font></font><a href="http://www.uri.edu/ce/wq/ww/Publications/Chlorides.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font>estimate uncovered salt piles lost about 20 percent</font></font></a><font><font> of their salt each year. Much of it ends up in nearby waterways.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most piles are covered during the off-season, however, so salt used for deicing is the main source of urban chloride pollution. Chemists know salt as NaCl, or sodium chloride, which breaks down in water. Hence there are pollution measurements and standards for &ldquo;chlorides,&rdquo; not &ldquo;salt.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But where&rsquo;s this runoff headed? The hydrological lay of the land is such that most salt-laden runoff in Chicago ends up in the Chicago River and other inland waterways &mdash; not Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>The principal reason is that </font></font><a href="http://chicagopublicradio.org/story/should-we-reverse-chicago-river-again-95661" target="_blank"><font><font>the city reversed the flow of the river more than 100 years ago</font></font></a><font><font>, so most of our runoff ends up in the waterways that feed into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.</font></font><a href="http://www.isws.illinois.edu/pubdoc/B/ISWSB-74.pdf" target="_blank"><font><font> A 2010 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found</font></font></a><font><font> road salt runoff and treated wastewater from the Chicago region are the dominant sources of chlorides in the navigable sections of the Illinois River, and two major tributaries in the Chicago region. The study says that number has risen steadily since about 1960.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;The lake doesn&rsquo;t receive very much input from stormwater from the city of Chicago,&rdquo; says Scott Twait, who works in IEPA&rsquo;s Water Quality Standards division. &ldquo;However with all the salting, all the road salt enters into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Cal-Sag channel, and flows downstream to the Des Plaines River. And collecting all the runoff, the chloride levels can spike in those areas and get quite high.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>In high concentrations, chlorides can be toxic to aquatic life. But it&rsquo;s hard to tell how many times salt runoff from Chicago has caused toxic levels of chlorides in inland waterways, because the Illinois Pollution Control Board doesn&rsquo;t classify those waters as &ldquo;General Use&rdquo; waterways. Those waters are subject to Illinois&rsquo; 500 mg/L water quality standard. Instead, IEPA regulates &ldquo;total dissolved solids&rdquo; in Chicago-area waterways, lumping together chlorides, sulfates and other chemicals for a single reading. Chloride levels have spiked above 1000 mg/L in some inland waterways &mdash; twice IEPA&rsquo;s standard for most of the state.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Chicago-area waterways are the only ones in the state that aren&rsquo;t regulated by General Use standards. As Twait explained, that&rsquo;s because they were so polluted when the standards were set that they earned their own benchmarks. (You can see IEPA&rsquo;s </font></font><a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/tmdl/303d-list.html" target="_blank"><font><font>full list of impaired Illinois waterways here</font></font></a><font><font>.)</font></font></p><p><font><font><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Aaron%20Stigger%20by%20Kurt%20Gerber.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 220px; width: 220px;" title="Aaron Stigger asked Curious City about road salt runoff. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Stigger)" />&ldquo;Back in the 70s these were the only waters that were kind of beyond repair, as to their thinking back in the 70s, so they got kind of special standards&rdquo; Twait says. &ldquo;They really had no hope for them in the future.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>But those waters are much cleaner now. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which handles and treats the region&rsquo;s combined runoff and sewer water, has improved its filtration methods. MWRD Spokeswoman Allison Fore &nbsp;says they&rsquo;ve adopted best practices suggested by the DuPage/Salt Creek Work Group for managing their roadways and facilities.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Twait says EPA is looking to bring Chicago-area waterways in line with the rest of the state&rsquo;s rivers and streams. If they update the water quality standards, he says, &ldquo;one of the things we know is that we&rsquo;ll have chloride issues in the winter time.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Regulators would come up with some kind of limit for chloride in Chicago-area rivers. That could make cities think twice before spreading so much road salt. It&rsquo;s much tougher for the EPA to regulate salt from so many spread-out sources (storm drains spread out across the city and suburbs) than from, say, a factory with a fallout pipe dumping salt into the river.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So our question asker Aaron Stigger is right to worry about salt runoff, but not so much in Lake Michigan. In Chicago&rsquo;s case, it&rsquo;s our inland waterways that are in trouble.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>Corrosive chlorides and city infrastructure</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>Before it even gets into area waterways, salt works its way through the city&rsquo;s subterranean network of pipes. That can cause problems for the city&rsquo;s Department of Water Management, which provides drinking water to Chicago and 125 suburbs. They also deliver stormwater to MWRD for treatment.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Tom Powers, the city&rsquo;s commissioner of water management, says chlorides are at such a low concentration in Lake Michigan that his department barely takes note.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;It would require an incredible amount of road salt to affect Lake Michigan &mdash; that&rsquo;s a very robust system,&rdquo; Powers says. &ldquo;When we test [the water], it doesn&rsquo;t even appear on what we&rsquo;re testing for.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>The EPA&rsquo;s national drinking water standard for chloride is 250 mg/L, some 20 times higher than Lake Michigan&rsquo;s current concentration. Chicago&rsquo;s Dept. of Water Management, like many such agencies, adds water softeners that can include salt. But it&rsquo;s not enough to even approach the EPA limits.</font></font></p><p><font><font>But road salt can corrode the pipes that carry that water, exacerbating the stress that the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle puts on an aging network of water pipes that would stretch 4,500 miles if laid end to end. About 1,000 miles of those water pipes are 100 years old or older, Powers says. In 2009 the department had to repair 8,873 catch basins &mdash; more than twice last year&rsquo;s 3,647.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Development in urban areas makes the salt corrosion problem worse, by funneling more runoff into the system. Studies have correlated growth in chloride levels with the rate of urbanization, and even with miles of road in the vicinity of the waterway in question.</font></font></p><p><font><font>&ldquo;While we are right to be cautious in applying &lsquo;common sense&rsquo; to such things,&rdquo; says Stephen McCracken, who coordinates the Conservation Foundation&rsquo;s DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, &ldquo;in this case the relationship seems quite straightforward with salt being applied to road surfaces, increased road density means a larger salt total applied, even at a constant application rate.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>So more development, more impervious surfaces, more runoff.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>A saltier lake?</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So not much of that salt ends up in Lake Michigan. But there is enough runoff to register an increase in Lake Michigan&rsquo;s chloride levels since Chicago first started spreading road salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Kim Biggs, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says the current chloride levels in Lake Michigan are around 12 milligrams per liter.</font></font></p><p><font><font>That number has risen since widespread use of road salt began around 1960, according to</font></font><a href="http://www.saltinstitute.org/" target="_blank"><font><font> the Salt Institute</font></font></a><font><font>. Chloride levels in Lake Michigan rise about 0.1 mg/L each year, but they&rsquo;re still well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s 500 mg/L standard for &ldquo;General Use waters&rdquo;. Nationally, EPA&rsquo;s criteria for chloride toxicity</font></font><a href="http://www.iowadnr.gov/portals/idnr/uploads/water/standards/ws_review.pdf?amp;tabid=1302" target="_blank"><font><font> are 230 mg/L over a four day average, or an hourly average of 860 mg/L</font></font></a><font><font>. (EPA is currently reevaluating that standard, which was first set in 1988.)</font></font></p><p><font><font>If you measure chlorides in Lake Michigan in the spring, however, you pick up all that winter road ice and runoff. Since 1980, springtime average chloride levels have risen almost 50 percent:</font></font></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/epa data salt.png" title="" /></div><p><br /><font><font>High chloride levels choke aquatic species that depend on a certain salinity to keep their bodies in equilibrium. Amphibians, like salamanders and frogs, are especially susceptible to chloride pollution. Many of them breed in temporary </font></font><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/93733769@N03/9396817314/" target="_blank"><font><font>vernal pools</font></font></a><font><font> that are cut off from other bodies water, and thus have no way to flush out excess salt.</font></font></p><p><font><font>IEPA&rsquo;s Biggs says chlorides in Lake Michigan aren&rsquo;t threatening aquatic life. &ldquo;There are not significant concerns or actions being taken to reduce chlorides in Lake Michigan as they are still reading below the water quality standard,&rdquo; she wrote in an email. &ldquo;We do not feel that salt runoff from the Chicago area is a major contributor to the chloride levels in Lake Michigan.&rdquo;</font></font></p><p><font><font>Winter deicing is the major driver of high chloride levels in Chicago&rsquo;s waterways, but wastewater treatment also contributes. In the outfall of waste water treatment plants in DuPage County, for example, chloride levels are more than ten times higher than they are in Lake Michigan. Studies by the Illinois State Water Survey and MWRD sampled the water flowing out from MWRD&rsquo;s Stickney wastewater treatment (the largest such plant in the U.S.), and found median chloride levels of 145 mg/L, compared to 8-12 mg/L in Lake Michigan.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Most of MWRD&rsquo;s contribution comes from human waste itself, which contains chlorides. They also use ferric chloride to help filter wastewater &mdash; the chemical is useful for, among other eyebrow-raising processes, &ldquo;sludge thickening&rdquo; &mdash; but are moving away from that in favor of biologically-based techniques that would replace ferric chloride.</font></font></p><p><strong><font><font>If you can&rsquo;t beet &rsquo;em ...</font></font></strong></p><p><font><font>So what&rsquo;s the city doing to cut back on its salt use?</font></font></p><p><font><font>Dept. of Streets &amp; Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe says they train salt truck drivers to spread salt judiciously &mdash; that means waiting until plows have cleared most standing snow, since salt sprinkled on top of several inches of the white stuff won&rsquo;t do much. When the forecast calls for mild temperatures, salt trucks take it easy and let the weather do some of the work.<a name="video"></a></font></font></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="323" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/WphGL9fjbbo" width="575"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>City workers move salt at the depot at Grand and Rockwell (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</em></p><p><font><font>The city even enlists an unusual fruit cocktail of sorts to get more out of its salt: beet juice. It&rsquo;s full of sugar, and helps lowers the freezing point of ice. Mixing salt with molasses or another sugary substance can do the same thing. Salt solutions are good too, because they spread out easier than rock salt so they&rsquo;re more efficient. Wisconsin has started spraying cheese brine for similar reasons.</font></font></p><p><font><font>Typical salt (sodium chloride) is not effective in subzero temperatures, but other salt compounds can break ice crystals at lower temperatures &mdash; calcium chloride and magnesium chloride are common substitutes, but they eat into concrete and metal faster than table salt. Right now the city uses sodium chloride.</font></font></p><p><font><font>So Aaron Stigger&rsquo;s salt pile is probably going to exist as long as severe winter weather visits Chicago. But if IEPA ups the standard for the metropolitan area&rsquo;s inland waterways, he might start to see the salt disappear a little bit more gradually.</font></font></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/"><font><font>Chris Bentley</font></font></a><font><font> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at</font></font><a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"><font><font> @Cementley</font></font></a><font><font>.</font></font></em></p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 13:45:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/how-much-road-salt-ends-lake-michigan-109814 Fish and risks: Eating Lake Michigan catch http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fish-and-risks-eating-lake-michigan-catch-109808 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This story has an addendum that addresses a follow-up question we received via a comment. The current article addresses chemicals that are of concern to environmental agencies and that affect issuance of fish consumption advisories. The <a href="#addendum">addendum </a>addresses additional chemicals of concern.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Steve Ediger says he&rsquo;s not an avid fisherman, but he has cast a few lines. When he was growing up, his grandfather would take him fishing in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.</p><p>About six years ago, he moved to Chicago&rsquo;s northernmost neighborhood of Rogers Park, where he sees people<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/fishing"> fishing</a> off Farwell Pier. It got him wondering about the fish those anglers catch, so he asked Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;What would it take for Lake Michigan fish to be safe to eat?&rdquo;</em></p><p>Ediger suspects Lake Michigan fish aren&rsquo;t entirely safe to eat, and he&rsquo;s not alone. With major cities and industrial centers like Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay along its shores &mdash; as well as the <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-23/news/ct-met-bp-mercury-20130623_1_bp-refinery-whiting-refinery-oil-company-bp">refineries of Northwestern Indiana</a> &mdash; Lake Michigan is no stranger to pollution. To find out just how much of the stuff ends up in the fish we pluck out of the lake, I asked a few people with different angles on the situation. Turns out a lot of work goes into monitoring and disseminating information about contaminants in Lake Michigan fish. We find out which are most worrisome to fishermen and toxicologists, but also why you shouldn&rsquo;t let that scare you off eating fish entirely.</p><p><strong>A pro&rsquo;s perspective</strong></p><p>I put the question to someone who handles Lake Michigan fish every day: Joel Reiser, captain of the Chicago charter boat company<a href="http://www.bnrcharters.com/"> Brush And Roll</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;Pretty much everything is edible in Lake Michigan with moderation,&rdquo; he says. Reiser brings up to six people on chartered fishing trips in Lake Michigan, leaving from<a href="http://www.wbez.org/chicago-unveils-new-south-side-boat-harbor-99912"> 31st Street Harbor</a>. They catch chinook salmon, coho salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. His crew cleans and bags up to five fish per customer (only two lake trout), which they can take home to eat.</p><p>He&rsquo;s been eating fish from Lake Michigan and elsewhere since he was a child. That might worry some people who have heard unsettling things about Lake Michigan fish. One fish market I called looking for Lake Michigan fish told me to &ldquo;try to the cancer ward.&rdquo;</p><p>With <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-07/news/ct-met-great-lakes-plastic-pollution-20130807_1_lorena-rios-mendoza-lake-michigan-toxic-chemicals">stories of polluted waters</a> swirling, Reiser watches out for government-issued fish advisories and eats seafood in moderation. But he says fish from any waters can contain contaminants.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve never heard of anyone growing a third eye, you know, some of the jokes that are out there,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So I believe that it&rsquo;s safer. I believe the government does put higher standards on it, just as a safety precaution just to cover &mdash; no pun intended &mdash; their own tail.&rdquo;</p><p>It turns out, Reiser&rsquo;s basically right. In casting about for an answer to Ediger&#39;s question, we found out Lake Michigan&rsquo;s pollution problems aren&rsquo;t the whole story. The horror stories are overblown, but they&rsquo;re rooted in truth.</p><p><strong>(Fish) food for thought</strong><a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/210637870/Lake-Michigan-fish-How-many-should-you-eat" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/big fish graphic 2.png" style="float: right; height: 882px; width: 320px;" title="Click to download a printable version. (Graphic by Logan Jaffe/WBEZ)" /></a></p><p>Tom Hornshaw, a toxicologist with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency&rsquo;s &ldquo;<a href="http://www.epa.state.il.us/water/surface-water/fish-contaminant-mon.html">fish contaminant monitoring program</a>,&rdquo; helps gather data that goes into those government advisories. Since 1974, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and IEPA have nabbed fish (mainly bass, channel catfish and carp)<a href="http://mercnet.briloon.org/projects/IL_EPA_-_llinois_Fish_Contaminant_Monitoring_Program/144/"> from 500 locations</a> in Illinois for contaminant testing. I asked Hornshaw point-blank: Is it safe to eat fish from Lake Michigan?</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;as long as you follow the various advisories that have been issued for Lake Michigan fish.&rdquo;</p><p>If you&rsquo;re wondering what Captain Reiser meant by &ldquo;moderation,&rdquo; you might start with the<a href="http://www.ifishillinois.org/regulations/consumption.html"> general fish consumption advisory</a> from the Illinois Department of Public Health.</p><p>State agencies keep<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/index.htm"> a running list of current fish advisories statewide</a>, which vary by species and body of water. They also change over time. On a <a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/lakemichigan.htm">page that&#39;s specific to Lake Michigan catch</a>, the agency provides warnings for&nbsp;10 fish species. The DNR doesn&rsquo;t recommend you eat any of them more than once a week, and some come with the unequivocal advice: &ldquo;<strong>Do Not Eat.</strong>&rdquo; This applies to lake-caught carp and channel catfish.</p><p>The advisories vary based on the fish&rsquo;s size, in some cases. Take the yellow perch,<em> Perca flavescens</em>. Fish less than 11 inches long, the Illinois DNR says, should be eaten at most once per week. But you should only eat perch larger than 11 inches once per month. Likewise lake trout, a popular sport fish can that grow up to three feet long, carries three tiers of advisories: less than 25 inches? One meal per month; 25-29 inches? Six meals per year; larger than 29 inches? Do not eat.</p><p>If you fish in Wisconsin, use that state&rsquo;s<a href="http://dnr.wi.gov/FCSExternalAdvQry/FishAdvisorySrch.aspx"> online query tool</a> to check on the water you&rsquo;ll be fishing. Indiana, too,<a href="http://www.in.gov/isdh/23650.htm"> updates its fish consumption advisories online</a>.</p><p><strong>PCBs: What&rsquo;s all the fuss about?</strong></p><p>One of the major culprits are a group of chemicals known as PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/fishadvisory_qa_pcb.htm"> are a group of man-made chemicals useful in a variety of industrial processes</a>, including the insulation and cooling of electrical equipment. EPA banned their use in 1979, after it was widely recognized PCB pollution had caused skin conditions and immune system disorders. Studies have also linked the chemicals to cancer. We produced more than one billion pounds of the stuff in the U.S., about half of which made its way into the environment.</p><p>They take a long time to break down, so PCBs are still prevalent in the environment.<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/waukegannorthharbor.htm"> There is a specific advisory for Waukegan North Harbor</a>, where Outboard Marine Corp.<a href="http://newssun.suntimes.com/news/14980816-418/waukegan-harbor-pcb-mess-finally-getting-scrubbed.html"> dumped PCBs</a> as a byproduct of their manufacturing process. That cleanup is ongoing.<a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-07/news/ct-met-waukegan-harbor-cleanup-20120907_1_susie-schreiber-cleanup-sites-epa-remedial-project-manager"> EPA is dredging the harbor</a>, a <a href="http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/" target="_blank">Superfund site</a> once called the &ldquo;world&rsquo;s worst PCB mess.&rdquo;</p><p>But PCB pollution continues long after its source is cut off. PCBs still find their way into the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a> through a process called<a href="http://www.epa.gov/glindicators/air/airb.html"> atmospheric deposition</a>. They travel around the world through the atmosphere, falling out of the sky at high latitudes. That&rsquo;s why scientists have found high levels of the stuff in the Arctic, thousands of miles from the factories that pumped out PCBs in the 1970s.</p><p>At this point Hornshaw, the EPA toxicologist, says atmospheric deposition is probably the primary source of PCBs in the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a>. He says there&rsquo;s a simple, one-word answer for what it will take for Lake Michigan fish to become safer for consumption.</p><p>&ldquo;Time,&rdquo; he says. Not 10 years, but less than 100. These chemicals take a long time to break down, but they&rsquo;re not invincible. Beth Murphy, who manages EPA&rsquo;s Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance program, passed along this graphic showing PCB declines against a 1994-95 baseline (the red line):</p><p><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/trout%20chart.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="" /></p><p>The graph suggests that by 2035, assuming progress continues, you should be able to eat all the Great Lakes lake trout filets that you want without fear of PCBs.</p><p>Lake and river sediments are especially good at holding onto PCBs, so bottom-dwelling fish tend to have higher levels (hence the &ldquo;Do Not Eat&rdquo; advisory on carp and channel catfish in Lake Michigan). PCBs also accumulate in fatty tissues, so it&rsquo;s important to filet wild-caught fish properly before eating them.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fish%20cutting.gif" style="float: left;" title="" /></p><p>PCBs aren&rsquo;t very soluble in water, so swimming isn&rsquo;t going to result in dangerous exposure.</p><p><strong>Getting the good stuff</strong></p><p>It turns out Captain Reiser&rsquo;s suspicion that government agencies were covering &ldquo;their own tail&rdquo; is correct.</p><p>&ldquo;The advisories may be overprotective for women beyond childbearing age and for adult men,&rdquo; reads<a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/fishadvisory/fishadvisory_qa_pcb.htm"> an FAQ from the Illinois Department of Public Health</a>. That&rsquo;s especially true for<a href="http://www.epa.gov/hg/exposure.htm"> mercury &mdash; a potent pollutant found in fish from Lake Michigan and around the world</a>.</p><p>Fetuses, nursing babies and young children are especially vulnerable, so the advisories are drafted with a low tolerance for risk. Mercury can severely hinder development of the fetal nervous system. EPA found<a href="http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/technical.cfm#tabs-4"> mercury levels in women of childbearing age dropped 34 percent from a survey conducted in 1999-2000</a>, but it&rsquo;s still a concern.</p><p>But eating fish has a lot of health benefits, too, so long as you don&rsquo;t exceed the advisories. Eight Great Lakes states are two years into a study funded by the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/great-lakes"> Great Lakes</a> Restoration Initiative, weighing the benefits of eating fish against the risks. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re trying to come up with ways of incorporating the benefits of eating fish along with the deleterious effects,&rdquo; Hornshaw says, &ldquo;so we can have a more focused advisory.&rdquo;</p><p>Pat McCann, a fish advisory specialist with Minnesota&rsquo;s Department of Public Health says it&rsquo;s important to keep in mind the big picture.</p><p>&ldquo;The benefits do outweigh the risks if you eat fish that are low in contaminants,&rdquo; McCann says. &ldquo;So the challenge is to get people information about which fish are low in contaminants, and get it to them in a way that&rsquo;s understandable and that they can adopt in their normal life.&rdquo;</p><p>A lot of people swear off fish altogether, but McCann says that&rsquo;s actually counterproductive. Take the group of people most sensitive to mercury contamination: pregnant women. Mercury impairs neurological development in fetuses. But the McCann says that doesn&rsquo;t mean women should avoid all fish entirely.</p><p>&ldquo;Women of childbearing age and pregnant women need to eat fish, because fish have Omega-3 fatty acids, and other good nutrients, and it&rsquo;s a good source of protein,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;And so those things are good for the baby. So if they stop eating fish that&rsquo;s a negative thing.&rdquo;</p><p>Concentrations of mercury and PCBs are above guidelines for walleye and lake trout in all of the Great Lakes. Mercury levels were getting worse in Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie when <a href="http://binational.net/solec/sogl2011/sogl-2011-technical-report-en.pdf">EPA and Environment Canada released their 2011 &quot;State of the Great Lakes&quot; report</a>.</p><p><strong>Reeling it in</strong></p><p>One place you&rsquo;ll find Great Lakes fish on sale in Chicago is Market Fisheries at 7129 S. State St., in the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/greater-grand-crossing"> Greater Grand Crossing</a> neighborhood. They&rsquo;ve been owned and operated by the Brody Family since 1957.</p><p>Curtis Alexander, the market&rsquo;s manager, shows me around. The market&rsquo;s busy. People pull numbers and step up to order catfish or perch, while an employee behind the counter scales and hacks up fish.</p><p>Alexander says their suppliers are mostly based in Canada, so they don&rsquo;t sell Lake Michigan fish. But they&rsquo;ll gladly clean your catch.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of time I clean fish that people go and catch from Lake Michigan,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;You got the yellow lake perch over there, you got the little bluegills, walleye pike, you know bigmouth bass &mdash; there&rsquo;s a lot of fish that they catch from Lake Michigan. People go fishing, they bring them in here, sometimes we clean it up for them.&rdquo;</p><p>No one brings in fresh-caught fish from Lake Michigan while I&rsquo;m there. But trout fishing season in Illinois starts April 5, and Alexander may have new customers soon. IDNR added four new areas for rainbow trout fishing this year, including Chicago&rsquo;s Wolf Lake&mdash;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-can-you-hunt-chicago-108954">one of two hunter-friendly oases in the city proper</a>.</p><p>Our question-asker, Steve Ediger, knows a few people who might take advantage of that new fishery. In an informal survey of his fishing friends, Ediger found that concerns over PCBs and mercury aren&rsquo;t deal-breakers for avid anglers.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll tell you the one thing everybody says,&rdquo; Ediger says. &ldquo;They were less suspect of the fish they catch than the fish they get in the supermarket.&rdquo;</p><p>Mercury and PCB pollution are problems for fisheries all over the world &mdash; not just Lake Michigan. Clean-up efforts here have come a long way, but new pollutants could set us back. A BP refinery in Northwest Indiana <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-23/news/ct-met-bp-mercury-20130623_1_bp-refinery-whiting-refinery-oil-company-bp">came under fire last year</a> when it missed a federal deadline to put in place new pollution controls for mercury (state regulators gave them an exemption).</p><p>And if <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/asian-carp">the threat of invasive species like Asian carp</a> proves as devastating as some studies predict, Great Lakes fisheries could collapse whether or not we continue to clean up the water.</p><p>So, a corollary to Tom Hornshaw&rsquo;s one-word answer to our question: What will it take to make Lake Michigan fish safe to eat? Time, and our attention.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong><a name="addendum"></a>Addendum: other chemicals</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Mercury and PCBs are the major chemicals that Illinois&rsquo; state EPA tests for and regulates, but <a href="http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/monitoring/fish/">there are other contaminants worth considering</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Many other chemicals meet the two main criteria for raising fish contaminant concerns: <a href="http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-54783_54784_54785_54800-256866--,00.html">they&#39;re bioaccumulative and persistent</a>. That means they build up in the tissues of aquatic organisms, and they stick around. They can broadly be categorized by the term the EPA uses, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/international/toxics/pop.html">persistent organic pollutants</a>.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Besides mercury and PCBs, a few other common contaminants fit the bill: pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, and dieldrin; and dioxins, a carcinogenic group of chemicals created in the course of many industrial processes. (Dioxins are chemically similar to PCBs, which could themselves be counted under that blanket term.)</p><p dir="ltr">More recently, Great Lakes environmental agencies <a href="http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/monitoring/fish/pbde.html">have tracked the dilution of another potentially harmful contaminant</a>. A group of flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) were phased out starting in 2004. Measurements by Environment Canada <a href="http://www.epa.gov/grtlakes/monitoring/fish/pbde.html">show</a> declines in PBDE concentrations across the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan, but Illinois EPA doesn&rsquo;t track PBDEs in fish. As toxicologist Tom Hornshaw explains, the reason isn&rsquo;t lack of concern &mdash; it&rsquo;s lack of funding.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Currently PBDEs are not addressed in our fish advisory program&mdash;our lab is not set up to do PBDEs and it would require purchase of an expensive piece of equipment to analyze for them,&rdquo; Hornshaw writes in an email.</p><p dir="ltr">It&rsquo;s important to note in this addendum that the chemicals we&rsquo;re phasing out now don&rsquo;t disappear immediately. That&rsquo;s why they call them persistent pollutants. PCBs, DDT and other chemicals in the Great Lakes are contaminants largely inherited from a time roughly 50 years ago. We have to wonder what legacy today&rsquo;s garbage will have on future Great Lakes residents.</p><p dir="ltr">Already <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/31/us-usa-pollution-greatlakes-idUSBRE96U03120130731">tiny plastic beads pose a threat</a> to fish health and environmental quality in the region.</p><p dir="ltr"><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City, and a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:13:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/fish-and-risks-eating-lake-michigan-catch-109808 EcoMyths: Effect of Global Warming on freshwater fish http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-effect-global-warming-freshwater-fish-109240 <p><p><strong><u>Let&rsquo;s Get Reel: Warmer Lakes and Streams Devastate Freshwater Fish </u></strong></p><p>If you had wonderful, lazy days fishing at the lake with your grandpa, you would bait the hook, reel in a couple of good sized perch, and bring them back for Grandma to cook.&nbsp; Those days are under threat now, and not just because of our obsession with Twitter and <em>Angry Birds Star Wars</em>.</p><p>We&rsquo;ve all heard about many changes due to of global warming like melting glaciers and unstable, unpredictable weather. But did you know it also affects freshwater fish? Today, Jerome and I talked with <a href="http://www.nwf.org/">National Wildlife Federation</a> spokesperson Frank Szollosi, M.S. to find out why some of our favorite fish species are declining or under threat.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/121871672" width="100%"></iframe>Recreational fishing is a big industry with $26 billion spent by consumers every year, according to a newly released <a href="http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/Media-Center/Reports/Archive/2013/09-04-13-Freshwater-Fish-Climate-Change-Report.aspx">study on freshwater fish by the National Wildlife Federation</a>. Climate change is warming water to the point that cold-water fish species are not only driven north, but are dying. Frank told us that fish species are grouped into three different types of species: cold water, cool water, and warm water fish. Cold water fish become very vulnerable with increasing temperatures, making fish more susceptible to &ldquo;pollution, parasites, and disease&rdquo; according to the study. Species that are unable to migrate to colder, more hospitable waters often fail to reproduce in their native habitat and the populations die out.</p><p>Warmer air temperatures cause increased water temperatures, Frank says. In addition, warm air causes greater evaporation and can lower water levels, resulting in warmer water. Pollution also compounds the impact of warming waters. In the Great Lakes, the western basin of Lake Erie has a significant problem with enormous algae blooms that deplete oxygen from the water, making the water uninhabitable for fish.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="182" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ecomyths fish.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Data from this test is posted and available to Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network, an international group that assesses the impact of climate change and other conditions on freshwater lakes. These scientists maintain that as summer wears on and the water heats up, nitrogen and phosphorous from waste emptying into the lake will increase the growth of algae, turning Lake Lillinonah in Bridgewater, CT into a thick, smelly and slimy green soup. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)" width="275" /></div><p>Climate Change will accelerate unless we cut our carbon footprints. Frank reminded us that we can make small daily choices that add up. Easy energy efficient changes at home can make a difference, like lowering the thermostat a few degrees in the winter and switching out some of your light bulbs for fluorescents or LEDs. It may not seem like much, but when thousands of us cut our energy usage, we cut down global-warming producing carbon into the atmosphere. Frank gave us hope, but also made it clear that we have to play our part to ensure we don&rsquo;t lose precious fish species in the wild.</p><p>Learn more about this myth! Listen to the podcast of today&rsquo;s show or go to the <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/">EcoMyths Alliance website</a> to learn more about global warming impacts on freshwater fish.</p></p> Mon, 25 Nov 2013 10:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-effect-global-warming-freshwater-fish-109240 Attorney General Madigan files lawsuit against Koch brothers’ firm http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/attorney-general-madigan-files-lawsuit-against-koch-brothers%E2%80%99-firm-109079 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP120209138862 (1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Attorney General&rsquo;s office filed a lawsuit Monday against KCBX Terminal Co. of Chicago, for allegedly releasing pet coke on the city&rsquo;s far Southeast side.</p><p>The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court.</p><p>Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, says the lawsuit is intended to get KCBX to keep the dust-like substance from flying into homes and businesses around the Calumet River.</p><p>&ldquo;The piles of refinery waste at this site are growing by the day without the appropriate protections to ensure nearby residents&rsquo; health and safety,&rdquo; Madigan said in a written statement. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s critical that KCBX quickly installs safeguards to protect the surrounding community.&rdquo;</p><p>KCBX Terminals is a subsidary of Koch Industries. The attorney general&#39;s lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which is investigating KCBX and other firms with ties to the company.</p><p>The company is contracted by oil giant BP to store tons of pet coke, a by-product from refining crude oil.&nbsp;Pet coke, short for petroleum coke, is often used as a low cost fuel in overseas markets.&nbsp;</p><p>BP trucks in the pet coke from its refinery in Whiting, Indiana, a short distance from the Southeast side.</p><p>According to the lawsuit, the company receives coal by rail, truck, barge or vessel and stores it in large, uncovered piles on its 90 acre property.</p><p>The coal is believed to be coming from local steel manufacturers. The pet coke and coal ash is virtually indistinguishable from each other but is very ash-like and can float into the air. &nbsp;</p><p>Between December 2012 and last August, KCBX had six 35-foot high water sprinklers to control dust in the southwest portion of the site and one 8,000 gallon water truck to control dust from the pet coke.&nbsp;The attorney general alleges that KCBX &ldquo;threatened or caused&rdquo; emission of dust from the pet coke and coal piles due to unloading and loading of the substance.</p><p>On Aug. 30, &ldquo;a visible cloud of black dust from the petroleum coke and coal located at the site was observed off-site blowing into the surrounding residential neighborhood,&rdquo; the lawsuit states.</p><p>The dust, also known as particulate matter, can get into people&rsquo;s eyes, can be inhaled and threatens human health. The lawsuit orders KCBX to undertake all necessary corrective action to prevent the release of the dust.</p><p>The attorney general says KCBX could be subjected to civil penalties of $50,000 for each violation of pollution laws and an additional penalty of $10,000 a day for each violation.</p><p>KCBX declined comment on the lawsuit filed by Madigan&rsquo;s office but referred to its original statement from last month when residents began to complain about the dust.<br />.<br />&ldquo;KCBX Terminals Co. has handled various bulk products, including pet coke, in Chicago for more than 20 year,&quot; the statement said. &quot;In December of 2012, KCBX acquired the Chicago Fuels Terminal from DTE Energy Co. We are in the final stages of constructing more than $10 million in upgrades, including improvements to the dust suppression capabilities. KCBX puts a priority on regulatory compliance and managing operations in a manner that protects the health and safety of employees, the community, and the environment</p><p>The Attorney General&rsquo;s lawsuit comes on the heals of four Southeast side families filing a lawsuit against KCBX and several other defendants who are owned by Koch Industries or are assisting KCBX with the handling of the pet coke and coal.</p><p>In addition, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency filed a complaint last week against Beemsterboer for failing to cover its own piles of ash and for not filing necessary reports with the state.</p><p>Beemsterboer is based in Hammond, Indiana and has been in business for 70 years, mostly handling steel slag, another byproduct in the steelmaking process that is often used in concrete.</p><p>Beemsterboer officials have not responded to repeated attempts for comment.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ reporter Michael Puente&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>&nbsp;and on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/WBEZ-Northwest-Indiana-Bureau/701257506570573?ref=br_tf" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 05 Nov 2013 10:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/attorney-general-madigan-files-lawsuit-against-koch-brothers%E2%80%99-firm-109079 Bridges that span the river and the decades http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/topper%20bridge%20house%20mindfrieze%20flickr.jpg" title="The Kinzie Street rail bridge and deteriorated bridgehouse. (Flickr/Mindfrieze)" /><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F114901925&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>If you&rsquo;re admiring great architecture in the Loop, chances are you&rsquo;re looking at skyscrapers. But if you crane your neck a bit less, you might notice an often overlooked catalogue of Chicago&rsquo;s architectural movements. It&rsquo;s the parade of bridgehouses along the Chicago River. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, Modernism &mdash; all the major architectural styles that typify the city are on display in the bridgehouses that line the river.</p><p>It can be enough to drive one to distraction, as it once did for Jim Brady.</p><p>&ldquo;I almost had an accident one time when I thought I saw a light in one of them,&rdquo; Brady says. &ldquo;I had to put my eyes back on Wacker Drive. So I never answered my question of if there&rsquo;s any life up there.&rdquo;</p><p>Brady, a journalist turned telecommunications specialist who lives in River Forest, tried to rectify this when he asked Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Who stays in guard houses along Chicago bridges, and what do they do all day?&rdquo;</em></p><p>As we found out, the quick answer to Jim Brady&rsquo;s question is: Most of the time, nobody! But these beautiful structures still serve a function. Stories about the downtown river bridges and the workers who once tended them solidify the claim that Chicago&rsquo;s relationship with its river is every bit as notable as the one it has with Lake Michigan.</p><p><strong>Bridges to innovation</strong></p><p>Chicago has the most movable bridges<a href="http://www.landmarks.org/ten_most_2013_chicago_bascule_bridges.htm" target="_blank"> of any city in the world</a>. There are 37 in total, including 18 along the river&rsquo;s main branch downtown. Most are of a style called Bascule, from the French word for teeter-totter &mdash;&nbsp;drawbridges that lift up instead of swinging to the side.</p><p>Like a lot of its most impressive feats of architecture and engineering, the city&rsquo;s record-setting collection of drawbridges has its origin in a very practical concern.</p><p>&ldquo;We had all these big boats coming through and a pretty narrow river, so you couldn&rsquo;t really build those big bridge spans that would clear those large boats,&rdquo; says Ozana Balan-King, a <a href="http://www.chicagoriver.org/" target="_blank">Friends of the Chicago River</a> employee who helps run the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bridgehousemuseum.org/home/" target="_blank">&nbsp;McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum</a>.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jim Brady and bridge museum lady.jpg" style="height: 231px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="Our question asker Jim Brady with Ozana Balan-King, who helps run the McCormick Bridgehouse &amp; Chicago River Museum. (Flickr/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>She adds that since our bridges needed to move out of the way quickly, &ldquo;A lot of the movable bridge innovation in the world has really taken place here in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Now, a bridge for two seasons</strong></p><p>In 1920, the modern Michigan Avenue bridge&rsquo;s first year of operation, it opened 3,377 times. Back then bridgehouses were staffed around the clock and opened on demand. But the law began to favor landlubbers over boat traffic on the Chicago River, especially as commercial shipping shifted south to the Calumet Harbor.</p><p>Now bridges open only two times per week during a few months of the year:<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/apr/spring_bridge_liftsmarksstartoftheboatingseason.html" target="_blank"> Between April and June</a>, bridges open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to let sailboats into Lake Michigan. On the same days<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> from late September until mid-November</a>, they open again so sailboats can return to the Chicago River system before winter.</p><p>That system has been in place since 1994. Since they&rsquo;re no longer staffed 24 hours a day, bridgehouses are usually unoccupied, though the 18th Street bridge is still staffed around the clock.</p><p>During bridge lifts, seven crews from the Chicago Department of Transportation work to open and close 27 city-owned bridges. Crews leapfrog one another to keep the process moving, but it can take up to five hours. They start between 9 and 10 a.m. to avoid the worst of the morning and afternoon rush hours.</p><p>Boat owners can talk to their boatyards about signing up for a bridge lift. To find out when lifts are scheduled, CDOT spokesman Peter Scales says to<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/bridge/news/2013/sep/fall_bridge_liftschedule.html" target="_blank"> look out for press releases</a>. James Phillips, who runs the website<a href="http://www.chicagoloopbridges.com/" target="_blank"> ChicagoLoopBridges.com</a>, also<a href="https://twitter.com/chicagobridges" target="_blank"> tweets the dates of confirmed bridge lifts</a>.</p><p><strong>The grinding gears of bridge duty</strong></p><p>Back when bridgehouses were staffed, bridge tending often meant more than just making sure boat traffic ran smoothly.</p><p>&ldquo;There was always something burning in this area here,&rdquo; said Bruce Lampson, 67, a former bridgetender. &ldquo;I had two telephones: one directly to City Hall, and one to &mdash; in those days &mdash; the Illinois Bell Telephone Company.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WEB lampson-at-z-1 by Virginia Lampson_Bruce mom.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Bruce Lampson operating the former Z-1 bridge. His mom came to visit and snapped a few shots. (Courtesy Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>From 1961 until he was drafted by the Army in 1965, Lampson ran the Z-1 bridge that used to carry railroad tracks northeast across the river just north of Kinzie Street. He grew up in the area and had learned to operate the bridge by watching people work the control panel when he was a child. Instead of going to high school, Lampson lied about his age and got the job when he was just 14 years old.</p><p>&ldquo;I was very tall for my age,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They never asked any questions. They just asked, &lsquo;Can you operate a bridge?&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>He worked from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for six days at a time, earning two days off and $65 &mdash; not much less than his mother made working as a secretary in City Hall. In addition to opening the bridge, he sometimes had to direct street traffic with red flags when extreme heat or cold would jam the gates that kept motorists from driving into the river at the neighboring Kinzie Street bridge. But, he says, sometimes they did so anyway. He says he was once at his post on the east bank of the river when a man committed suicide.</p><p>&ldquo;I watched a man jump off the [Kinzie Street] bridge, go down, pop back up almost back up to the bridge, go back into the water and that&rsquo;s it. I never saw him. He just floated away under the water,&rdquo; Lampson says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve seen cows, horses, livestock floating down. I&rsquo;ve seen pieces of boats floating down. Anything that floated would float past you like that.&rdquo;</p><p>Z-1 was a bob-tail swing bridge that spun sideways instead of lifting up like a bascule bridge. It no longer exists, but the Z-2 bridge on North Avenue has a similar design.</p><p>In the summer of 2013, Chicago Tribune reporters Hal Dardick and John Byrne <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-06/news/ct-met-dick-mell-interview-20130706_1_alderman-70-jobs-popsicle">interviewed departing Alderman Richard Mell</a>, who says he &quot;put four kids through college as bridge tenders&rdquo;:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;I would get them on the second shift, from 3 to 11, where they could do their homework. Or 11 to 7, where they&#39;d sleep, and they were getting electrician&#39;s pay, and it was great. I helped.&rdquo;</em><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/z-1-bridge%20by%20Virginia%20Lampson%20web.jpg" style="height: 251px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="A look at the former Z-1 bridge. (Courtesy of Virginia Lampson)" /></p><p>Boat traffic on the Chicago River has dried up a bit since then, and the crew that operates the city&rsquo;s movable bridges has followed suit. Darryl Rouse, CDOT&rsquo;s Assistant Commissioner and Superintendent of Bridges, said his staff is down from hundreds of employees during the 1970s to just 51 today. The days of sleeping or doing homework on the job, he says, are long gone &mdash; the crew is too small, Rouse says, to give bridge tenders any time to slack off.</p><p>If our question asker, Jim Brady, wants a glimpse of the way things used to be, he can drop by five bridges in the Calumet system that are staffed 24 hours a day. Milwaukee also<a href="http://milwaukeeriverkeeper.org/content/milwaukee-bridge-overview"> still has several staffed bridgehouses</a>, although many of that city&rsquo;s bridges are operated automatically or by remote.</p><p>But maybe the bridgehouses themselves are enough, as Jim Brady and I learn when we tour the Bridgehouse Museum.</p><p>Brady leans out the window over Michigan Avenue. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a part of Chicago that Chicago can just walk right by if you&rsquo;re late for your 10 a.m. appointment,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s a lot going on that we just don&rsquo;t see.&rdquo;<a name="bridgevideo"></a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/a6r_Wee7BxA" width="420"></iframe><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/mJhnaTKEPOU" width="560"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for Curious City. Follow him at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Oct 2013 13:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/bridges-span-river-and-decades-108903 Reporter's Notebook: What happens inside Chicago's river bridgehouses http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporters-notebook-what-happens-inside-chicagos-river-bridgehouses-108772 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/bridge tender view flickr tom gill.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Curious Citizen Jim Brady from West Suburban River Forest says he&#39;s always found bridge houses on Chicago&#39;s rivers fascinating, not just to look at but also to let his imagine run wild as to what goes on inside. So naturally he asked us, &quot;Who stays in guard houses along Chicago rivers, and what do they do all day?&quot;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">WBEZ&#39;s Chris Bentley jumped at the chance to report this story. He&#39;s also an architecture buff and has long appreciated the variation in bridgehouse design. Chris and Jim are pairing up to find answers and you can follow their adventures via this reporter&#39;s notebook below. If you are a bridgetender, you know one, or you have stories about the goings-on inside those mysterious structures, please comment below! We&#39;d love to get in touch.&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="750" src="http://embed.verite.co/timeline/?source=0AgYZnhF-8PafdGduVjBNZWpZSGJqOWRzdXNDdlJ5RUE&amp;font=PTSerif-PTSans&amp;maptype=toner&amp;lang=en&amp;hash_bookmark=true&amp;width=620&amp;height=750" width="620"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/about-curious-city-98756">Curious City</a>&nbsp;is a news-gathering experiment designed to satisfy the public&#39;s curiosity. People like you&nbsp;<a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">submit questions</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/ask">vote&nbsp;</a>for their favorites, and WBEZ reports out the winning questions in real time on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/curiouscityproject">Facebook</a>,&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#!/WBEZCuriousCity">Twitter&nbsp;</a>and the reporter&#39;s notebook above.</p></p> Thu, 26 Sep 2013 08:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/reporters-notebook-what-happens-inside-chicagos-river-bridgehouses-108772 EcoMyths: Does antibacterial soap make us safer than regular soap? http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-does-antibacterial-soap-make-us-safer-regular-soap-108709 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/washing-hands-plain-soap.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>When I go to the store to buy a refill for my home liquid soap dispensers, it is nearly impossible to find liquid soaps that are not &ldquo;antibacterial.&rdquo; I have heard for years that antibacterial soaps are suspected of helping to create antibiotic resistant bacteria.</p><p>So it got us thinking&hellip;does using antibacterial soap get us cleaner than regular soap and does it impact the environment the same way that antibiotics do? That is, does it get into natural systems and then back into our own?</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F105290486" width="100%"></iframe>To help us sort out the issues about antibacterial soaps, today on <em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview" target="_blank">Worldview</a></em>, host Jerome McDonnell and I discussed it with our friend and water expert, Olga Lyandres. Olga is research manager at the <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org" target="_blank">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>.</p><p>Olga confirmed that antibacterial soap is being found more frequently in our drinking water. In fact, she said that the main active ingredient in antibacterial soap, triclosan, is number 14 on the Alliance&rsquo;s list of emerging contaminants of concern in water. &ldquo;There is a misconception that these products are protecting you more than regular soap,&rdquo; Olga stated, adding &ldquo;washing hands with regular soap is just as effective at preventing the spread of disease.&rdquo;</p><p>The problem is that triclosan is a broad-range antibacterial, meaning that it kills good bacteria right along with the bad. It is a myth, Olga reminded us, that all bacteria are bad! In fact, we have tons of beneficial bacteria throughout our bodies and in our guts. So much so that when we take prescription antibiotics to cure bacterial infection, we can get stomach upset for awhile because our good bacteria is being beaten back at the same time as the disease-inducing bacteria.</p><p>Hand washing is a worldwide priority for promoting health and preventing disease. The Centers for Disease Control and the Global Partnership for Hand Washing are among the groups that promote <a href="http://globalhandwashing.org/ghw-day" target="_blank">Global Hand Washing Day</a> every year on October 15th. This initiative promotes washing hands with plain old soap, instead of just plain water. They do not at all promote antibacterial soap. Many people around the world are unaware of the need to wash hands with soap, especially after using the toilet to remove traces of fecal matter and the germs associated with it. Hand washing with soap prevents disease by removing bacteria and viruses from hands.</p><p>To learn more about this myth check out the full EcoMyth <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2013/08/antibacterial-soap-myth/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p></p> Tue, 13 Aug 2013 09:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-does-antibacterial-soap-make-us-safer-regular-soap-108709 Centered: Photo of the Day - July 11, 2013 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/photo-day/2013-07/centered-photo-day-july-11-2013-108034 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ratulm/9256332207/in/pool-32855810@N00/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="370" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/POTD_Centered.jpg" title="Centered (Flickr/Ratul Maiti)" width="620" /></a></div></p> Thu, 11 Jul 2013 16:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/photo-day/2013-07/centered-photo-day-july-11-2013-108034 With fracking bill on Quinn's desk, environmental groups hold out hope for revisions http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/fracking-bill-quinns-desk-environmental-groups-hold-out-hope-revisions <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fracking-wrigley.jpg" title="Outside Wrigley Field, members of The Illinois Coalition for a Moratorium on Fracking protest a regulatory bill that recently passed the state legislature. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div><p>Amid a warbling Lowery organ rendition of &ldquo;Build Me Up Buttercup&rdquo; blasting from pre-game Wrigley Field, environmental groups gathered outside Wrigley View Rooftop to make their voices heard on pending <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/fracking" target="_blank">fracking</a> regulations.</p><p>The targets of their signs and chants were state governors in town for the Democratic Governors Association, meeting this week in Chicago. In addition to Gov. Pat Quinn, whose signature is expected soon on <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/bill-passage-illinois-fast-track-fracking-107488" target="_blank">a regulatory bill passed recently by the state legislature</a>, protestors watched for Maryland Gov. Martin O&rsquo;Malley and California Gov. Jerry Brown &mdash; two leaders similarly <a href="http://fuelfix.com/blog/2013/06/08/fracking-foes-push-california-governor-for-ban/" target="_blank">mulling over</a> whether to permit the controversial process for natural gas and oil extraction in their states.</p><p>While Quinn greeted news of the bill&rsquo;s passage by promising his signature, protestors pointed out the governor could veto certain provisions in the massive regulatory bill, sending it back to the General Assembly, even if he does not block its passage into law. Some environmental groups are still holding out hope for an outright ban on fracking in Illinois. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/madigan-mell-push-two-year-ban-fracking-106109" target="_blank">Politicians previously floated bills calling for a two-year moratorium on fracking in both the house and senate</a>.</p><p>The groups, who are organized under The Illinois Coalition for a Moratorium on Fracking, cite relatively lax standards regarding setbacks, or how far from certain areas drillers are allowed to dig wells. Setbacks from rivers and lakes are only 300 feet in the regulatory bill, while environmental groups <a href="https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=2&amp;ved=0CDYQFjAB&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dontfractureillinois.net%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2013%2F05%2FLobby-Day-Prof-bill-Rau-breaks-the-regulatory-bill-down-May21st.odt&amp;ei=RcO4UZ6sMcO9yQG2loGgCw&amp;usg=AFQjCNECR6_Hh092OBfhq16slDgUjXRBiA&amp;sig2=UqA_0xRoAbe6MgQIaanCsA&amp;bvm=bv.47810305,d.aWc" target="_blank">have called for a buffer zone 11 times wider</a>. They also challenge statements that fracking will bring significant revenue and jobs to Illinois, pointing out that <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-19/news/ct-biz-0331-fracking-state--20130331_1_severance-tax-tax-rate-tax-holiday" target="_blank">tax rates are low compared to other states and a relatively small portion of taxes collected go to drilling counties</a>.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cubs-sign.jpg" style="height: 203px; width: 305px; float: left;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" />&ldquo;There are serious holes in this bill,&rdquo; said Lora Chamberlain, a member of the moratorium coalition.</p><p>In the bill&rsquo;s year-long march towards becoming law, major environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council were given unusual access to a process typically maligned for ignoring such advocacy and consumer groups. Supporters of the bill say scrupulous collaboration with green groups resulted in the nation&rsquo;s toughest regulatory bill. Many of those groups support a moratorium publicly, but offered their guidance during the drafting of the bill rather than be shut out.</p><p>With Quinn on record&nbsp;&ldquo;look[ing] forward to signing the legislation,&rdquo; the groups looking for revisions or an outright ban have an uphill fight. Still, Chamberlain said, it&rsquo;s worth trying.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re doing everything we can,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>As the assembled governors watched the Cincinnati Reds wallop the Cubs Tuesday, activists with <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/risingtide_chi/9022932362/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_blank">Rising Tide Chicago unfurled a banner in Wrigley</a> that read &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t Frack [Illinois].&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/risingtide_chi/9022932362/sizes/z/in/photostream/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rising%20tide%20chicago.jpg" style="height: 450px; width: 610px;" title="(Rising Tide Chicago)" /></a></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="http://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@Cementley</a>.</em></div></p> Wed, 12 Jun 2013 14:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/fracking-bill-quinns-desk-environmental-groups-hold-out-hope-revisions Fisk site future sharpens, new park space ideas proposed http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/fisk-site-future-sharpens-new-park-space-ideas-proposed-107595 <p><p>Potential buyers for Midwest Generation&rsquo;s defunct coal plant sites on the city&rsquo;s southwest side could come before a Mayor-appointed task force soon.</p><p>At a meeting in Pilsen Wednesday, Jerry Mead-Lucero, who heads the <a href="http://www.pilsenperro.org">Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization</a> (PERRO), said the group&rsquo;s original plans for a park (pictured below) that would span South Throop and Halsted Streets with a riverwalk were beginning to seem unlikely.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/PERROProposalGreenSpaceFisk.jpg" style="height: 296px; width: 610px;" title="PERRO's original plan for a riverwalk emanating out from a small park on the Fisk site. (PERRO)" /></div><p>The former parking lot, outlined in blue above, will be retained by the future owner. The new owner&rsquo;s identity is still up for grabs, but Mead-Lucero said to his knowledge it&rsquo;s down from dozens of interested buyers to just two developers.</p><p>Instead Midwest Generation offered a parcel behind Chitown Futbol on South Throop Street, which could foster a smaller riverwalk west of the Fisk site. ComEd would maintain high-tension power lines overhead, however, which could mar the image of a hard-won riverfront park.</p><p>The Fisk site&rsquo;s future is a hot topic in Pilsen, where activists struggled for years to close the polluting power plant. As Mead-Lucero noted, its smokestacks still visually identify the neighborhood from miles around.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re kind of at a crossroads,&rdquo; Mead-Lucero said. &ldquo;Do we keep trying to fight for the vision that we had, which is probably a lost cause at this point &hellip; or do we try to improve upon it?&rdquo;</p><p>The alternative park location could actually be bigger than PERRO&#39;s original ask, Mead-Lucero said, but that depends on how much land ComEd and Midwest Generation agree to give up.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MG-ComEd-Delta-City-GreenSpaceAtFiskProposal-ComEdMGLand.jpg" style="height: 263px; width: 610px;" title="The new green space idea proposed by Midwest Generation and ComEd. The yellow outline bounds Midwest Generation's land. ComEd has offered the red portion, where powerlines run overhead. (PERRO)" /></div><p>Located in a park-poor industrial corridor, the Latino neighborhoods of Pilsen and Little Village have pushed for both new jobs and public green space. Last year the Mayor&rsquo;s task force <a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6258">investigated potential reuse options for the 132 acres that make up both sites</a>. The task force <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel-announces-plans-fisk-crawford-coal-plant-sites-102605">issued recommendations last fall</a>, calling for light industrial uses, retail development and public park space.</p><p>PERRO had hoped to tie in with an existing but little known riverwalk behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield building on W. Cermak Road. Patricia Saldaña Natke, principal &nbsp;of architecture and planning firm UrbanWorks, who <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/architect%E2%80%99s-pilsen-vision-green-and-fashion-friendly-107256">completed a master plan</a> for the neighborhood, <a href="http://youtu.be/54P8SlcYgzM?t=21m50s">called that riverwalk segment &ldquo;a hidden jewel.&rdquo;</a></p><p>In March EPA officials said tests for air quality and radiation around the Fisk and Crawford sites <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/fisk-and-crawford-pass-air-and-radiation-tests-lead-persists-nearby">showed no lingering pollution in the immediate area</a>.</p><p>But soil tests revealed lead contamination at troubling levels. The most affected areas were near copper smelter H. Kramer and Co., which&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/epa-lead-levels-too-high-pilsen-air-87913">was the subject of lead-emissions complaints in 2011</a>, and the old Lowenthal lead smelter site, where EPA tests in December found lead contamination 65 times the legal limit.</p><p>PERRO said EPA representatives <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20130606/pilsen/contaminated-soil-near-community-garden-getting-cleaned-up-epa-says">could begin soil removal at the former Lowenthal site</a> by June 24.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at @Cementley.</em></p><p>Read <a href="https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9_FvLqe8tUyVU9sU1lDbzBJakU/edit?usp=sharing" target="_blank">PERRO&#39;s remediation and redevelopment plan for the Fisk site here</a>. Watch a presentation on UrbanWorks&rsquo; Pilsen master plan here, courtesy <a href="http://www.architecture.org/">Chicago Architecture Foundation</a>:</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="343" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/54P8SlcYgzM" width="610"></iframe></p></p> Fri, 07 Jun 2013 15:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-06/fisk-site-future-sharpens-new-park-space-ideas-proposed-107595