WBEZ | Science http://www.wbez.org/news/science Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Suspicion lingers over Ebola treatment http://www.wbez.org/news/suspicion-lingers-over-ebola-treatment-110977 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/african food truck.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last Friday, Illinois health officials presented plans to deal with any future Ebola cases in the state. These include establishing a test lab, taking the temperature of some foreign travelers, and forming a task force aimed at better communication.</p><p>But a trip to a nearby West African lunch truck revealed that big communication gaps still remain in some parts of the city.&nbsp;</p><p>As the West African vendor served up plates of fufu and goat, he said that, so far, he hadn&rsquo;t seen any shortages in ingredients imported from Africa.&nbsp;<br /><br />But a customer standing in line thought the vendor was, instead, being asked about the safety of West African food.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Ebola cannot infect our food,&rdquo; said the cab driver who only wanted to be identified as Chris. &ldquo;Because our food is properly cooked. It is cooked to at least 90 degrees.&rdquo;</p><p>Chris continued by sharing his view on the true origin of Ebola.</p><p>&ldquo;That thing (Ebola) is a white man&rsquo;s disease,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;They created it in a lab to kill us, and to make the pharmaceutical companies rich.&rdquo;</p><p>Within minutes, fellow cab drivers joined in the conversation, asking &ldquo;Why is it that the black man who came from Africa, he died? But the white man lived. We won&rsquo;t let anyone fool us anymore.&rdquo;</p><p>While some of these views may seem extreme, they echo a larger question in the world health community about why an Ebola vaccine has been so long in coming.&nbsp;</p><p>Laurie Garrett is a Senior Fellow for Gobal Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. She said market forces affect the development of these medications.</p><p>&ldquo;Because it&rsquo;s so rare, and it occurs among very poor people, where is the financial market incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to get in there and commercialize it?&rdquo; she asked.</p><p>Indeed, until recently, that incentive has not existed. But it did get a big push last month when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $50 million to addressing Ebola.&nbsp;</p><p>Still, Garrett says there are other factors that have slowed progress on an Ebola vaccine.</p><p>&ldquo;How do you clinically test a vaccine against a disease that you cannot possibly ethically induce in your test subjects, and that occurs so rarely,&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;Also, you don&rsquo;t really have a population that is routinely exposed in order to test how well the vaccine really works.&rdquo;</p><p>One Liberian-born, American professor offered up an answer to that question. He believes human trials have already begun...on unsuspecting Africans as part of a plan by the U.S. Department of Defense. The Delaware State plant pathologist detailed these suspicions in a letter that went viral last month in Liberia&rsquo;s largest daily paper, further fueling speculation.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>This and other factors have driven continuing suspicion about a racial component to the outbreak.<br /><br />&ldquo;The white woman who went to England: she was healed,&rdquo; Chris, the cab driver, noted. &ldquo;The nurse who went to Spain: She was healed. The white boy who who came to America. He was healed. But the black man who came to Texas, in America&mdash;in America he died.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>Last week, Illinois&rsquo; Director of Public Health LeMar Hasbrouck stressed that communication will be key in the Ebola fight. And that the new task force would have to: &ldquo;Coordinate public messaging so we are not giving different messages to different audiences, so we are all on the same page there.&rdquo;</p><p>WBEZ asked Hasbrouck&rsquo;s department how and if it planned to address some of the racially-based perceptions on Ebola. The department did not respond.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at <a href="http://twitter.com/monicaeng" target="_blank">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/suspicion-lingers-over-ebola-treatment-110977 The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chinese.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Each year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin&rsquo;s Population Health Institute put out the County Health Rankings. The rankings show how counties across the country match up on things like life expectancy and residents&rsquo; health.</p><p>Julie Willems Van Dijk is one of the directors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason we do it is to raise awareness about how healthy our communities are, and how healthy they&rsquo;re not. To do so in a way that piques people&rsquo;s interest by comparing them to other counties in their community. And ultimately in a way that helps everybody see &hellip; that health in your community is not just about what the doctors and nurses do. But it really is about decisions that are made by businesses, by government,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>Most of the counties around Chicago do really well,&nbsp; but Cook County is way down near the bottom - 75 out of 102 Illinois counties in health outcomes.</p><p>Twenty spots down the list from Cook is Edwards County. Edwards County ranks 96th of all Illinois counties for health outcomes. It&rsquo;s worth looking at because unlike most of the sickest counties, it isn&rsquo;t particularly poor. Edwards County&rsquo;s poverty level is better than the state average.</p><p>&ldquo;Income, and especially poverty are definitely drivers of health,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not what&rsquo;s happening in Edwards County.</p><p>Edwards is due south from Chicago, down near where Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana meet. It&rsquo;s incredibly sparse with just 30 people per square mile. The Illinois average is almost eight times as much.</p><p>Misty Pearson is the administrator of the Edwards County Health Office.</p><p>Edwards is one of only two counties in Illinois without an official health department. That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s called a health office, instead of a department of health like in almost every other county.</p><p>&ldquo;We are not certified by the state of Illinois, by choice, I guess. Not my choice, I would change that if I could,&rdquo; Pearson says.</p><p>The health office isn&rsquo;t certified because Edwards County leaders are so against the state being involved in their county they refuse to take health funding from Illinois because it comes with strings attached - like state oversight.</p><p>&ldquo;Food sanitation, we don&rsquo;t have that. None of our restaurants are inspected. It does [make me nervous]. There are certain restaurants I won&rsquo;t eat at,&rdquo; Pearson says. &ldquo;The only thing we can do that a health department does is vaccines for children.&rdquo;</p><p>So Edwards County - despite its low health ranking and relative economic strength - isn&rsquo;t the best indicator of the state&rsquo;s health needs overall.</p><p>The state government can&rsquo;t force people to vaccinate their kids or make counties take its money.</p><p>Still, experts say Illinois needs to come up with policies that work for Edwards County with 30-people per square mile, and Cook County with 5,500-people per square mile.</p><p>They say it can be done. Because despite their differences in population and demographics the two counties face similar health challenges.</p><p>At the top of the list is access to doctors.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Public Health has a map of areas with a dearth of primary care providers.</p><p>There are a lot of downstate counties shaded in - but there&rsquo;s also a bunch of Chicago neighborhoods -- from Rogers Park up north to Austin on the West Side and Chicago Heights down south.</p><p>Harold Pollack with the University of Chicago says the state could help poor people in urban and rural areas by raising Medicaid rates, or just paying its bills on time.</p><p>&ldquo;I can tell you that as someone who takes care of an adult on Medicaid that there are services that we can&rsquo;t use because the providers that we&rsquo;d like to use don&rsquo;t accept Medicaid,&rdquo; Pollack says.</p><p>So physician shortages might not be the happiest point of unity, but Misty Pearson in Edwards County and Harold Pollack in Chicago say they - and others - will be thinking of it when they go into the voting booth.</p><p>In a little more than a week there will be millions of people at the polls. They&rsquo;ll each have different experiences and different expectations, but they&rsquo;ll all be voting on the future of one state.</p><p>&ldquo;How are we going to make these budget numbers work &hellip; and also pay for the services that people in the state actually want and will continue to demand,&rdquo; says Pollack..</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Reporter/Producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 Push for solar power comes to Chicago's Southeast Side http://www.wbez.org/news/push-solar-power-comes-chicagos-southeast-side-110897 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Solar Chicago 2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Not long ago in a small storefront on Baltimore Avenue near the Indiana border a handful of folks got schooled on solar energy.</p><p>It was part education, part sales pitch put on by Seth Johnson, policy advocate with the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;Right now, we see a lot of fluctuation with energy prices. They seem every day to go up and down, up and down,&rdquo; Johnson said at the office of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago&rsquo;s Hegewisch neighborhood in late September. &ldquo;What you do with solar energy is you lock in that price. You make that upfront investment but then you levelize your cost in the long run.&rdquo;</p><p>Johnson&rsquo;s been making these types of sales pitches throughout the Chicago area since July.</p><p>He&rsquo;s trying to get people to take advantage of incentives offered by the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago before the October 10 deadline.&nbsp;</p><p>Peggy Salazar is with the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force, which hosted the informational meeting. Her group is on the front lines of banning companies from storing potentially harmful pet coke nearby.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re the ones that deal with the air emissions from the pet coke being stored. We have the BP refinery that is just across the border,&rdquo; Salazar said. &ldquo;But the emissions from the actual refinery don&rsquo;t stop at the Indiana border, they blow toward us.&rdquo;</p><p>Salazar says eventually they want to attract cleaner energy companies to the Southeast side.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s what we would love to see in this area. So, it&rsquo;s very important that we work hard to at least help direct people to new, cleaner renewable energy,&rdquo; Salazar said.&nbsp;</p><p>Local resident Maria Gallegos said she was on the fence, but wants to do something to help curb fossil fuels -- especially in her own backyard.</p><p>&ldquo;This is an industrial area. Pollution has been a big problem,&rdquo; Gallegos said.</p><p>Gallegos said the main issue with a solar panel system is the cost factor.</p><p>&ldquo;Even though there&rsquo;s some incentives, right out of the bat it&rsquo;s pretty expensive,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Depending on the solar panel system, a customer can expect to shell out $8,000 to $18,000.</p><p>And that return of investment in lower ComEd bills may not be realized for at least seven years.</p><p>That may be one reason why only about 100 people have signed up to purchase a solar panel system in Greater Chicago since July, according to Johnson.</p><p>But Luis Rojas is giving solar energy a try. Rojas is a construction manager with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. The 59-year-old lives on Chicago&rsquo;s Southeast Side on Avenue H.</p><p>Rojas said his investment in solar makes sense in the long run.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m really excited about it,&rdquo; Rojas said. &ldquo;Lately, I&rsquo;ve been putting a lot of attention to the efficiency of my house and the footprint that we all leave just by living.&rdquo;</p><p>He&rsquo;s already installed barrels next to his two-flat to capture rainwater that he uses to water the grass.</p><p>Now, after years of considering solar energy, Rojas says it finally makes financial sense.</p><p>&ldquo;Solar PV panels, they were always really expensive to install and the second things was the efficiency rating of them,&rdquo; Rojas said. &ldquo;The efficiency looks like it has quadrupled in the last five or six years so I&rsquo;m in for it.&rdquo;</p><p>A dozen solar panels, each about the size of a flat-screen TV, will be installed on Rojas&rsquo; roof in the next few weeks.</p><p>The system would normally cost $12,000 but with the state and city incentives, Rojas expects to only pay half that much.</p><p>And eventually, it will cut his electricity bill by more than half.</p><p>&ldquo;If you can save money and then at the same time do some good to the environment, well, here&rsquo;s my two pennies,&rdquo; Rojas said.</p></p> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 13:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/push-solar-power-comes-chicagos-southeast-side-110897 After the march, what's next for climate change? http://www.wbez.org/news/after-march-whats-next-climate-change-110837 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/global warming.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">In the days leading up the 2014 <a href="http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/" target="_blank">UN Climate Summit</a>, thousands of people marched through New York to bring attention to climate change. Millions around the world joined in the effort, but will the movement last?</p><p>One expert says most of that hinges on whether people think climate change is real. A <a href="http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/files/Climate-Beliefs-April-2013.pdf" target="_blank">2013 study</a> by Yale and George Mason universities found nearly two out of three people in the U.S. believe global warming is occurring, but a small percentage of Americans say climate change is all hype.</p><p>Tim Calkins, a marketing professor in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, says the campaign faces a unique challenge because it has to prove there&rsquo;s a problem. Calkins&nbsp;says the movement is getting it right by providing solid evidence that temperatures are rising.</p><p>In August, scientists at the National Climatic Data Center reported the highest global average of land and ocean temperatures since the center began keeping records in 1880.</p><p>&ldquo;By doing that, all of a sudden it takes that raw data and makes it more personal for people,&rdquo; Calkins&nbsp;said. &ldquo;And when you can really see a picture of it, you say &lsquo;my goodness, look at that it is a problem,&rsquo; and it keeps the belief going.&rdquo;</p><p>Calkins&nbsp;says the effort should be prepared to lose momentum post-march.</p><p>&ldquo;The real issue is how do you keep it going, year after year, because this isn&rsquo;t a problem that you solve one time and then you&rsquo;re done,&rdquo; Calkins&nbsp;said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s sort of an ongoing challenge for all of us.&rdquo;</p><p>Calkins&nbsp;says interest in climate change peaked in the mid-2000s, but lost steam in the last few years. Pointing to the success of public health campaigns for <a href="http://komen.org/" target="_blank">breast cancer</a> and the <a href="http://www.alsa.org/" target="_blank">ALS ice bucket challenge</a>, he says climate change falters because advocates struggle to explain why it matters on a deeper level.</p><p>&ldquo;When you have a disease, and there&rsquo;s some diseases that sort of lend themselves perfectly to engagement, there people see it,&rdquo;&nbsp;Calkins&nbsp;said. &ldquo;They say &lsquo;I know somebody who has this and so it matters a ton. Unless they consistently make it relevant for people, it&rsquo;s going to be tough to keep people fired up over time.&rdquo;</p><p>Confusion over what people can actually do to combat climate change is another issue. Most people agree with the primary point that climate change is a problem and and needs to be addressed, but Calkins says it&rsquo;s the secondary point of what action individuals can take that remains unclear.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s this goal to get a lot of action going, and the challenge is that progress is likely to come in little steps,&rdquo; Calkins said. &ldquo;The risk in that is you don&rsquo;t want people to get discouraged.&rdquo;</p><p>Beyond the <a href="http://peoplesclimate.org/" target="_blank">Climate March</a>, Calkins predicts the movement will be around for years. But for those involved, he says the biggest challenge will be keeping the issues at the front of peoples&rsquo; minds.</p><p>&ldquo;The problem today that people get all excited about something, but then they very quickly move on,&rdquo; Calkins said. &ldquo;The digital world we are in encourages that, because there&rsquo;s so many things that pop up that distract everybody.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Updated Sept. 24, 2014: This story was changed to correct the spelling of the name of professor Tim Calkins.</em></p><p><em>Mallory Black covers water, energy and the environment as WBEZ&rsquo;s Front and Center reporting intern. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/mblack47" target="_blank">@mblack47</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 23 Sep 2014 15:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/after-march-whats-next-climate-change-110837 Blue-green algae back with a vengeance http://www.wbez.org/news/science/blue-green-algae-back-vengeance-110822 <p><p>Residents of Toledo, Ohio are still worried about drinking their water after toxic algae got into the water system in August and caused a two-day shutdown. Legislators and scientists are scrambling to find solutions to the growing problem with algae blooms in midwestern water.</p><p>It&rsquo;s an issue that affects the entire Great Lakes region, but for now, all eyes are on Toledo and the shallow western basin of Lake Erie, where the problem is concentrated. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/great-lakes-brace-more-toxic-algae-110112">That pollution actually starts far upstream</a> &mdash; and it&rsquo;s not just about the algae.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Annie, Fannie and Mike</span></p><p>First, a few names you&rsquo;ll need to know: Annie, Fannie and Mike.</p><p><em>&ldquo;</em>Annie stands for Anabaena, Fannie stands for Aphanizomenon, and Mike stands for Microcystis,&rdquo; explains Chris Winslow, associate director of the Stone Lab at Ohio State. We&rsquo;re out on a pontoon boat with a group of scientists taking water samples. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re the three major players that are in the lake. &ldquo;</p><p>These three types of greenish little cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, bloom in warm, shallow parts of Lake Erie in the summer and early fall, and can release <a href="http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/plants/algae/publichealth/generalcyanobacteria.html">toxins that are unsafe to drink in high concentration</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;Even if you look over the edge of the boat, you will see tiny green flecks in the water,&rdquo; Winslow explains. &ldquo;That is the cyanobacteria that you&rsquo;re seeing.&rdquo;</p><p>The water is choppy and blue, but Annie, Fannie and Mike are lurking down below, and what comes up in the sample is a thick green goo that someone jokes looks like a vegetable smoothie.</p><p>The last few years the blooms in Lake Erie have been out-of-control, with <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/science/index.ssf/2013/04/record-sized_lake_erie_algae_b.html">the worst bloom on record taking over the Maumee Bay area in 2011,</a> and bad blooms returning in 2012 and 2013. Their growth is stimulated by natural and commercial fertilizers that run off from farm fields, manure from livestock, and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731">sewage overflows from aging city water systems</a>.</p><p>Nitrogen and phosphorous concentrate in the shallowest part of Lake Erie and feed blooms of the toxic cyanobacteria in the summer. Later, massive die-offs of the algae eat up oxygen at the bottom of the lake, creating <a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/because-climate-change-fears-great-lakes-%E2%80%98dead-zone%E2%80%99">dead zones</a> that can span up to half the lake&rsquo;s surface area.</p><p>One of this year&rsquo;s blooms, though not as expansive as some other years, ended up directly over the water intake for the city of Toledo in early August. When water officials tested the water and found cyanotoxins at above one part per billion, the limit recommended by the World Health Organization, they shut down water services to an estimated 450,000 people for two days.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Toledo pays the bill</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DSCN2519_1.jpg" title="Water is mixed with chemicals that bond with and separate out cyanobacteria and other tiny pieces of matter at Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant. (Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>People in Toledo are living with the consequences of the dispersed pollution.</p><p>&ldquo;I won&rsquo;t drink the water because even though they said it was safe, I don&rsquo;t believe them,&rdquo; said Aasiyah Taalib-deen, an 18-year-old first year college student who grew up in Toledo.</p><p>She says water trouble is bad for the economy &mdash; her workplace closed during the water shutdown. &ldquo;If the water crisis keeps going on it can shut somebody&rsquo;s business down, and that can affect a lot of people&rsquo;s money.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s already affecting a lot of people&rsquo;s money &mdash; mainly, the people who pay for Toledo water, and water users in surrounding areas that get their water from Lake Erie. In 2013 nearby Carroll Township&rsquo;s water system was shut down by the algae, a sneak preview of what happened in Toledo that some were <a href="http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2013/09/15/Carroll-Township-s-scare-with-toxin-a-wake-up-call.html">hoping would be a wakeup call</a>.</p><p>Over at the Toledo water treatment plant, lake water gets mixed up with a chemical that bonds with the cyanobacteria to separate them out in giant gray vats. Right now the city spends about $1 million a month to separate out Annie, Fannie and Mike, plus the costs of regular, voluntary test for the toxins.</p><p>Each test is over $400 to run and about a half a day&rsquo;s work for one person; during the algae-heavy summer months, the city generally tests once a day. In the coming year, the city plans to invest in temporary barriers that would keep more of the algae from even entering the system.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re treating symptoms of a bigger problem,&rdquo; says Tim Murphy, Toledo&rsquo;s head of water treatment. &ldquo;We need to get to the bigger problem or else we&rsquo;re gonna keep having this battle, and not just us but every drinking water facility located in the western basin is gonna have this problem, and probably others.&rdquo;</p><p>Smaller lakes across the midwest are getting clogged up every summer; they just happen not to be drinking water sources, but those algal blooms can lead to swim and fish advisories.</p><p>Still, Murphy says he believes the problem can be solved. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a hundred percent fixable.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The problem starts upstream</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DSCN2481_1.jpg" title="Paul Herringshaw farms 1500 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans outside Bowling Green. (Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p>The fixes start a long long way from the coast of Lake Erie. The watershed that drains into the lake at Toledo, the Maumee River watershed, extends all the way to Indiana, and more than a hundred miles south into Ohio. Countless farms, golf courses and lawns wash out into it, and right now there&rsquo;s not much in place that limits fertilizer use.</p><p>Still, farmers say they have plenty of interest in solving the problem.</p><p>&ldquo;My largest expense is fertilizer,&rdquo; says Paul Herringshaw, who farms 1500 acres outside Bowling Green and sits on the board of the <a href="http://ohiocorn.org/about/">Ohio Corn Marketing Program</a>. &ldquo;If I&rsquo;m losing it down the stream, then I&rsquo;m literally throwing money down the stream.&rdquo;</p><p>Herringshaw drives his truck out over a wide strip of grass that separates a soybean field from a drainage ditch. Conservation strips like this are a relatively easy way farms can absorb some of the runoff before it hits the water, but the nutrients aren&rsquo;t just running off the field from the top; Herringshaw&rsquo;s farm, like many in the region, uses what&rsquo;s called a tiling system to keep the field well-drained from below.</p><p>Herringshaw says that&rsquo;s necessary to farm this land.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a saying that the old-timers had, and it is so very true, that &lsquo;in a dry year a farmer around here worries to death, in a wet year around here he starves to death.&rsquo; We suffer more from too much moisture than we do from not enough moisture,&rdquo; he explains. &ldquo;So this tile system here is designed to get rid of the water so that we&rsquo;re able to farm the ground.&rdquo;</p><p>A lot of farmers just let this water flow out through the underground tiling, but Herringshaw has installed controls on his &mdash; he&rsquo;s put in a dam system so he can close up the outlet at the edge of the field and keep it from draining out. He also uses an acre-by-acre grid to determine how much fertilizer to use in different areas, and avoid over-fertilizing.</p><p>Even these simple controls, though, are an expense. A new state law will eventually require farmers here to get permits to fertilize, and the training would teach them about responsible fertilizing practices, but right now nothing requires Ohio farmers to limit runoff from their fields.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Climate change worsens the threat</span></p><p>There&rsquo;s probably going to be more runoff as intense downpours become more common due to climate change. Although this summer was something of a break from the heat, predicted warmer water temperatures in the lakes also encourage bacteria to grow in the summer.</p><p>Climate change is just one of several factors that has scientists concerned that this problem will become even more widespread in the Great Lakes. Invasive zebra and quagga mussels have played a role in giving the toxic cyanobacteria a competitive advantage in Lake Erie&rsquo;s ecosystem; the aggressive invasives consume the &ldquo;good&rdquo; algae rapidly, leaving even more space for the toxic cyanobacteria to thrive.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s gonna take a combination of efforts throughout the entire ecosystem,&rdquo; says Stuart Ludsin, a biologist with Ohio State. &ldquo;We need to think about the climate, we need to think about invaders, we need to think about nutrients, you can&rsquo;t do them in isolation of one another.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://wyso.org/post/ohios-us-senators-introduce-legislation-address-toxic-algae">Ohio&rsquo;s senators have introduced a few bills</a> in recent weeks that would put some more responsibility on the feds to monitor the situation, but there&rsquo;s no real central leadership; the solutions remain a patchwork of local, state and federal efforts.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DSCN2516_1.jpg" title="Stone Lab researcher Justin Chaffin with Ohio’s Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, seeing “Annie, Fannie and Mike” cyanobacteria in person for the first time. (Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Why the land wins and the water loses&rsquo;</span></p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s multi-jurisdictional, and that&rsquo;s why I say the federal government needs to step up,&rdquo; says Sandy Bihn, an environmental advocate with Lake Erie Waterkeeper.</p><p>She wants to see the EPA get involved, starting with <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/08/11/watching-toledos-toxic-water-troubles-with-a-wary-eye-and-few-regulations/">regulating the toxins </a>from cyanobacteria. Chicago and other cities ran voluntary tests after Toledo&rsquo;s shutdown, but right now there&rsquo;s no federal protocol or drinking water standard; cities like Toledo who test regularly aren&rsquo;t required to do so under any law.</p><p>Bihn says there&rsquo;s another shift that needs to happen. She says right now, the land, and its uses for farming, industry and development, is taking precedence over water.</p><p>&ldquo;I would venture to say that most people, when their water runs off their land would not know where their streams are,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;How it connects to the lake...most people have no clue.&rdquo;</p><p>Watersheds cross state lines, but water policy often doesn&rsquo;t. Bihn thinks that needs to change in the Great Lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;I mean we have, what, 20 percent of the world&rsquo;s fresh water supply here in the Great Lakes, 95 percent of the U.S. surface freshwater? This is the greatest economic opportunity we&rsquo;ll ever know,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Water is becoming a more scarce resource...and shame on us if we keep giving excuses for why the land wins and the water loses, which is pretty much what I see.&rdquo;</p><p>She says when she first moved out here, she used to go out to the beach and swim. That was a minor miracle: Lake Erie had just been cleaned up after decades of industrial pollution.</p><p>Now, when she wants to swim, she heads for her swimming pool.</p><p><a href="http://wyso.org/people/lewis-wallace"><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter for WYSO</em></a><em>, the public radio station for Dayton, Springfield and Yellow Springs, Ohio. </em></p><p><em>Front and Center is funded by the Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.</em></p></p> Fri, 19 Sep 2014 08:34:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/blue-green-algae-back-vengeance-110822 Great Lakes racing to prepare for a new kind of oil spill http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-racing-prepare-new-kind-oil-spill-110797 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/boom2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The <a href="http://www.uscg.mil/d9/">U.S. Coast Guard&rsquo;s Ninth District</a> is in charge of protecting the maritime interests of the Great Lakes. Those interests include industries like shipping, fishing, and tourism that create billions of dollars in revenue for the Great Lakes basin each year. And so, the agency is always thinking about oil spills. It conducts dozens of tabletop and real world preparation exercises every year to prepare.</p><p>But the oil spill game is changing.The explosion in tar sands production in western Canada means increasing amounts of crude oil is making its way to the American Midwest. Imports of crude oil to the Midwest reached a record high earlier this month, according to the Energy Information Association. Tar sands bitumen is different than traditional crude oil. It&rsquo;s heavier and it sinks in freshwater. And that has caught the attention of the people in charge of cleaning up oil spills, including the U.S. Coast Guard.</p><p>&ldquo;The Midwest and the Great Lakes lie at a virtual crossroads of production and transportation and distribution. And because those things carry inherent risk. we&rsquo;re faced with some tough questions about how to deal with that,&rdquo; says Rear Admiral Fred Midgette, who commands the U.S. Coast Guard&rsquo;s Ninth District.</p><p>&ldquo;From my perspective, clearly one of the most important things that are going to happen in the next decade is how we handle this issue of heavy oil. We need to get it right,&rdquo; he told a crowd last week in Detroit at the <a href="http://www.spillcontrol.org/">International Spill Control Organization</a>&rsquo;s annual forum. ISCO has been around for decades, but this was the first time its annual forum focused exclusively on responding to heavy, Group V oils that can sink in water.</p><p>The reason why has a lot to do with what happened four years ago in the small town of Marshall, Michigan. On July 26, 2010, a 30-inch pipeline belonging to Enbridge Energy Partners LLP burst and spilled over a million gallons of tar sands oil into Talmadge Creek. From there, it made its way to the Kalamazoo River where it traveled over 35 miles downstream, coating birds, turtles, and other wildlife with oil.</p><p>Cleaning up the river took longer than anyone expected. That&rsquo;s because tar sands oil is too thick to move through a pipeline on its own--imagine a kind of shiny, black peanut butter. It&rsquo;s thinned out with other chemicals to get it flowing. But when the mixture is exposed to air, those chemicals gradually evaporate over a period of several days or weeks. At the Kalamazoo River, that left behind over a million gallons of heavy, sticky goo at the river bottom. Crews are finally wrapping up the dredging process four years and nearly $1 billion later.</p><p>&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t speak for a lot of the other players, but I know for us the EPA response and the Enbridge response to the Kalamazoo, I think opened a lot of people&rsquo;s eyes in that the threat is real from heavy oils and what they can do to the environment,&rdquo; says Jerry Popiel, incident management advisor for the Coast Guard&rsquo;s 9th District.</p><p>Popiel says there aren&rsquo;t any vessels carrying tar sands crude oil on the Great Lakes right now, but at least one company--<a href="http://www.calumetspecialty.com/">Calumet Specialty Products Partners</a> in Indianapolis--has expressed interest in the idea. And that has Popiel thinking about the challenges of responding to a such a spill in the Great Lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s one thing when you have 10 feet of water, 5 feet of water, or maybe 30 feet of water. Well, okay there are tethers and things and divers you might potentially use for there. That&rsquo;s one set of problems. If it happens in Lake Superior in 800 feet of water, that&rsquo;s a different set of problems,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Right now, those are problems without good solutions. The Coast Guard&rsquo;s trying to change that, and so is a whole industry that&rsquo;s grown up to respond to oil spills. In 2011, the Coast Guard awarded $2.5 million to three companies. They were asked to develop technologies that could better detect and recover sinking oils.</p><p>Some of those technologies were on display at last week&rsquo;s forum, including one from <a href="http://www.alionscience.com/">Alion Science and Technology</a> called the Seagoing Adaptable Heavy Oil Recovery System or the SEAHORSE. The SEAHORSE looks more like a giant carburetor than a dainty ocean creature. But Al Arsenault, an engineer with the company, says it&rsquo;s safer and more effective than traditional methods.</p><p>&ldquo;The scenarios in the past have used divers. It&rsquo;s a dirty job, it&rsquo;s a very dangerous job to send divers down when this product is on the water column, on the surface, and on the bottom. It sticks to you like peanut butter,&rdquo; Arsenault explains.</p><p>The SEAHORSE doesn&rsquo;t use any divers. Instead, its trio of remotely operated vehicles scans the seafloor for oil and pumps it back up to the surface. SEAHORSE and other new technologies let responders reach spills hundreds of feet under water and can detect and recover oil at the same time. The Coast Guard says these new technologies are promising, but they aren&rsquo;t widely available and can be costly to build.</p><p>Emergency responders in our region may still have some time to sort out those problems. It isn&rsquo;t clear yet that Great Lakes shipping is going to be a good option for moving tar sands oil. For one thing, the lakes are frozen over for several months every year.</p><p>&ldquo;The other big issue is competition. Shipping oil on the Great Lakes will make sense if it&rsquo;s less expensive than shipping it by rail,&rdquo; says Steve Fisher, Executive Director of the <a href="http://www.greatlakesports.org/">American Great Lakes Ports Association</a>. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Fisher says a lot would have to change before tankers full of tar sands crude oil set sail on the Great Lakes. It would require the oil industry to make long-term commitments with shipping companies to entice them to make investments in new ships and shoreside loading facilities.</p><p>Still, environmentalists say economic pressures are building.</p><p>Several refineries in the region, including one just south of Chicago in Whiting, Indiana, have been upgraded to process tar sands oil. Lyman Welch, Water Quality Program Director at the <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>, says shipping by vessel on the lakes also opens up a route for transport to refineries on the East Coast.</p><p>Welch says right now, a lot of the decisions that could set the scene for shipping this kind of oil on the Great Lakes are happening at a state or local level. And he says that patchwork approach could have consequences for the entire region.</p><p>&ldquo;A spill could happen anywhere, not just in the state where the initial dock is built to allow for this shipment,&rdquo; says Welch.</p><p>The dock he&rsquo;s referring to is owned by Elkhorn Industries in Superior, Wisconsin. The company reapplied for a permit to upgrade the dock in August after its first application was rejected by the state earlier this year. It&rsquo;s considered a first step in the project proposed by Calumet Specialty Products, though Elkhorn says they don&rsquo;t have concrete plans to partner with the company yet.</p><p>But the possibility that it could worries Welch, who says existing spill response preparation measures are inadequate when it comes to responding to a spill of tar sands oil.</p><p>There are increasing efforts to beef up those measures. Emergency responders like the Coast Guard and EPA are starting to include heavy oil spills in their preparation exercises. And the spill response industry continues to develop new and better technology for dealing with heavy oil spills.</p><p>But Welch says we shouldn&rsquo;t accept the shipment of tar sands oil on the Great Lakes as inevitable, even as we work out the regulatory kinks.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s vital that our Great Lakes region and community has a discussion as to whether the Great Lakes should become this thoroughfare for tar sands crude oil shipping. Are we prepared to accept that risk?&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s not a question, Welch says, for industry or government, but for each of the 34 million people who call the Great Lakes basin home.</p><p><em>April Van Buren is an assistant producer at WKAR in East Lansing. You can follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/aprilveebee">@aprilveebee</a>.</em></p><p><em>Front and Center is funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-racing-prepare-new-kind-oil-spill-110797 A last chance for a better life http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781 <p><p>On a warm summer morning, Julia is seated in her kitchen, watching a small flatscreen on a kitchen counter. Julia, 10, smiled as she watched pictures of her family. Meanwhile, her mother Lisa, rummaged through a black and white square bag loaded with pills and bottles. It&rsquo;s Julia&rsquo;s morning routine. A pill crusher is used to grind up the medication. According to Lisa, 11 pills are needed in the morning, more at night.</p><p>Lisa and Julia are using pseudonyms for privacy reasons.</p><p>According to Lisa, Julia is thin for her age because she never has an appetite, something Lisa claimed is a side effect from all the medication. But Lisa said the pills do very little to get her daughter through the day.</p><p>An hour after she took her medicine, Julia wanted to go to a friend&rsquo;s house to see a dog named Wrigley. But she didn&rsquo;t walk to the door to leave. Julia sat frozen on the couch and just stared straight ahead. All of a sudden, Julia screamed &ldquo;Wrigley! I want to see Wrigley!&rdquo;</p><p>She did this for about 10 minutes straight. As she screamed, she leaned forward as her arms and legs stiffened. It was as if she was restrained by some kind of invisible rope.</p><p>Lisa said her daughter&rsquo;s epilepsy isn&rsquo;t the kind which manifests in convulsions. Julia&rsquo;s epilepsy renders her almost motionless. She cried with no tears. This type of seizure can happen at least once a day, sometimes more often at school.</p><p>&ldquo;When we have bad days, they&rsquo;re very bad. I can be crying, the caregiver is crying,&rdquo; said Lisa with a sigh. &ldquo;Because we can&rsquo;t do anything to help her.&rdquo;</p><p>Julia has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. While there&rsquo;s no cure for either, epilepsy is one of 40 illnesses approved in Illinois to be treated with medical marijuana.</p><p>To get it for her daughter, Lisa will have to fill out a nine-page application, including a form signed by Lisa&rsquo;s doctor saying she&rsquo;d benefit from using the drug. Because Julia is a minor, Lisa will get fingerprinted. Many have said that requirement likens them to criminals. I asked Lisa if she&rsquo;s ever thought about doing what hundreds of families have done: moving to Colorado for a special strain of marijuana many say reduces seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;On bad days, yes, I have,&rdquo; said Lisa. &ldquo;But my help is here. My family is here.&rdquo;</p><p>If Julia can use medical marijuana, Lisa hopes she can get it at one of the state&rsquo;s 60 licensed dispensaries in or near her home in McHenry County. Lisa is prepared to get a second opinion if her daughter&rsquo;s doctor doesn&rsquo;t approve.</p><p>&ldquo;Because I would like to see all these medicines diminish and cut back. I mean they have horrible side effects.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Epilepsy2_140909_yp.jpg" style="height: 188px; width: 250px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="“Julia” holds a picture of herself the day she was born. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, epilepsy a year later. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" />Everything from rashes to liver damage and even blindness. For Lisa, and countless others, what some in the medical profession think about using pot to treat serious illnesses has little influence on their decision. The American Medical Association discourages the use of cannabis. But the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago has come out in support of using medical marijuana. There are approximately 130,000 people in the Chicago metro area who suffer from epilepsy. Around 30,000 of them are children.</p><p>&ldquo;There are members of our professional advisory board that kind of felt along the same way that some parents felt (that) trying CBD oil could, in no event, be any worse than what they&rsquo;re already going through,&rdquo; said Kurt Florian, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. &ldquo;Given the successes we&rsquo;ve been hearing about, it would make sense to give it a try.&rdquo;</p><p>The strain of marijuana known to reduce seizures is called Charlotte&rsquo;s Web. It&rsquo;s named after a Colorado girl whose family fought to use it. It has little to no THC levels, the hallucinogenic property in marijuana. But it&rsquo;s high in cannabidiol or CBDs, the component said to reduce the number of seizures.</p><p>&ldquo;We had very motivated parents who had kids having anywhere from 100 to 1,000 seizures a day,&rdquo; Florian said. &ldquo;And witnessing the devastating impact those seizures were having on their children, we&rsquo;d love to see marijuana, CBD oil available in Illinois.&rdquo;</p><p>If the American Medical Association is opposed to it and the Epilepsy Foundation supports for it, an organization representing more than 140 thousand doctors, is somewhere in the middle. The American College of Physicians doesn&rsquo;t advocate using outright. But it wants more research to see whether it helps. Dr. David Fleming is the organization&rsquo;s president.</p><p>&ldquo;What we&rsquo;re attempting to garner is a better handle on that data,&rdquo; said Fleming. &ldquo;A handle on the science. So that we can advise our patients more effectively.&rdquo;</p><p>To do that, the federal government has to declassify the drug, now listed as a Schedule 1. That&rsquo;s in the same category as heroin. That restructuring could be more than a decade away. But some people aren&rsquo;t waiting years to get medical marijuana. Some aren&rsquo;t even waiting until next spring when it would be available in Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;Mike&rdquo; from Rockford has traveled to Colorado a few times to get the prized CBD oil for his son, who suffers from autism and epilepsy. Mike doesn&rsquo;t want his real name used. He knows he broke a few laws that carry prison time if caught. When I bring up the consequences, he shrugged his shoulders, unfazed.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re not breaking any laws so that we can enrich ourselves,&rdquo; said Mike. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not harmful to nobody if it&rsquo;s going to help him.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Reporter/anchor Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;&amp; <a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub">Google+</a>&nbsp;</em></p></p> Thu, 11 Sep 2014 07:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/last-chance-better-life-110781 Explosion at BP refinery, no injuries reported http://www.wbez.org/news/explosion-bp-refinery-no-injuries-reported-110719 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/whiting.png" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated Aug. 28, 7:47 a.m.</em></p><p>WHITING, Ind. &mdash; A fire broke out after an explosion at a BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, which rattled nearby homes.</p><p>BP America spokesman Scott Dean said early Thursday that the refinery, which is just east of Chicago, had &quot;an operational incident&quot; on a process unit about 9 p.m. He said in a statement that the plant&#39;s in-house fire department responded, and the fire was out by 10:55 p.m.</p><p>Dean said refinery operations were &quot;minimally&quot; affected and that one employee was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but was later released.</p><p>A Whiting Fire Department spokesman said the explosion could be heard clearly several blocks from the plant.</p><p>The Chicago Sun-Times said Wednesday was the anniversary of a 1955 explosion in Whiting that killed two people.</p></p> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 00:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/explosion-bp-refinery-no-injuries-reported-110719 Great Lakes' low water levels captivate, worry artists http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 <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/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_2.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder’s pictures of the lakeshore capture the eerie effect of Lake Michigan’s receding water levels. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>The Great Lakes have been facing some serious challenges, from algae blooms in Lake Erie, to the loss of ice cover in Lake Superior. Water levels in lakes Michigan and Huron have been mostly below their long-term average for fifteen years. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-if-water-lake-michigan-keeps-disappearing-104748">At the start of 2013, they hit record lows</a>, but a long winter with a lot of snow and ice has brought the lakes back up.</p><p>Michigan and Huron, which rise and fall together and have been the hardest-hit by the low water, peaked <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">just around their long-term average in July</a> (although they&rsquo;re still several inches below their average for this time of year, when the water is typically highest). If the levels in Michigan-Huron stay above the overall average, it will be the first sustained rise since 1998.</p><p>WBEZ has reached out to scientists, fishermen, shippers &mdash; anyone who could shed light on what&rsquo;s happening. It turns out, some of the sharpest observers of the lake&rsquo;s wild swings the last few years are artists. We talked to a photographer and a landscape painter, both of whom look at the same lake, but don&rsquo;t necessarily see the same things.</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/Lewis-Pier-Photo.jpg" title="Tim Schroeder is a photographer and long-time resident of St. Joseph, Michigan. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>St. Joseph, Michigan is a small town on Lake Michigan about 100 miles from Chicago, a weekend getaway spot.</p><p>At the beach on a bright day, sailboats cruise out of the St. Joseph river and onto the open water. Tim Schroeder says he comes down here all the time to take pictures, or just to observe.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve done a lot of photographs of fishermen and stuff on the pier, just the mood of the lake, the atmosphere,&rdquo; he says. Schroeder, 62, has been a <a href="http://www.twsphotography.com/">professional photographer</a> in St. Joseph for 40 years.</p><p>The lakefront is always changing, and Schroeder&rsquo;s photographs show that. They&rsquo;re kind of eerie, mystical photos featuring rocks jutting out into misty skies, the remnants of rotting piers.</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/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_1.jpg" title="A photo of Lake Michigan from Tim Schroeder’s collection (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I can see things now that may not have even been visible before, old pilings, breakwaters, stuff like that,&rdquo; says Schroeder. He says the low water has revealed a lot of visually interesting things that use to be submerged.</p><p>Further north in Michigan, <a href="http://maryeandersen.com/art/">painter Mary Andersen</a> keeps a studio in Grand Rapids. Her house is full of her impressionistic, abstract paintings of the lakeshore, all pale colors and light.</p><p>She often goes back to the same spot over and over as it changes, and just like Tim Schroeder, Andersen has been watching the lake her whole life.</p><p>&ldquo;I grew up looking at it, swimming in it, traveling to the beaches,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>She loves how the shoreline shifts and moves, she says. &ldquo;I find it interesting and exciting. If it was always the same, how boring.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Mary-Andersen-Pic-1.jpg" title="Painter Mary Andersen isn’t particularly worried about the water levels fluctuating. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>Schroeder agrees: The constant transformation is inspiring. But back out at the lakefront, he gestures towards a stepladder that goes off the edge of the pier. It&rsquo;s the kind you climb down to get in for a swim, but we&rsquo;re still yards from the actual water and the ladder goes straight into the sand.</p><p>This change &mdash; the water receding &mdash; makes Schroeder uncomfortable.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like seeing the lake levels lower, because I think it&rsquo;s a little unnerving,&rdquo; he says. Like a lot of folks, Schroeder&rsquo;s not exactly sure why the water tends to be lower these days.</p><p>Part of it may be man made; a shipping channel on the other side of Lake Huron has been deepened over and over to keep it passable. Most researchers agree that&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/once-steady-great-lakes-flow-altered-by-dredging-dams-and-now-warming-temperatures-217150821.html">lowered Lake Michigan and Huron by 10-18 inches</a>. In general though, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262">lake levels fluctuate based on climate: precipitation and evaporation</a>. The record lows in 2013 were caused by a hot summer and drought, and this past winter&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637">Polar Vortex</a>, complete with loads of snow and ice, helped bring them back up.</p><p>But now some scientists are saying droughts and lack of ice cover could cause Lakes Michigan and Huron to stay low over the long run. The Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) <a href="http://councilgreatlakesregion.org/projects/low-water-blues/">commissioned a study</a> of a worst-case scenario.</p><p>&ldquo;If we were to see a future, as a result of climate change where water levels in the Great Lakes region would be at their lows for an extended period of time, what would the economic impact be?&rdquo; asks Mark Fisher, CEO of the CGLR.</p><p>The report finds cargo ships would have to reduce their loads for every inch the lakes go down. There are also costs for the exposed and rotting infrastructure Schroeder likes to photograph; tourism and the region&rsquo;s indigenous communities would take a hit, and lakefront property values could also suffer.</p><p>Between now and 2030, the report estimates a potential economic loss of $9.6 billion in the U.S. and Canadian areas surrounding the Great Lakes. By 2050, it would add up to almost $19 billion across the region.</p><p>This is just one scenario, and water levels are difficult to predict beyond about 6 months out. But Fisher says many of the estimates are conservative, and regardless, we need to look at the short-term changes as part of a bigger picture.</p><p>&ldquo;The challenge with climate change is that it&rsquo;s subtle, it&rsquo;s incremental. It&rsquo;s sometimes hard to see depending on where you are in the basin,&rdquo; he says.</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/Mary-Andersen-Pic-2.jpg" title="Mary Andersen does most of her painting in her home in Grand Rapids, but she also spends hours at the lakeshore observing. (Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio)" /></div><p>But not everyone is worried about all this &mdash; artist Mary Andersen knows the lake better than most, and she says last year&rsquo;s record low water didn&rsquo;t faze her. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Because I grew up along the lake, I have witnessed the fluctuation in the lake levels three times over my lifetime, from severe lows to record highs,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>In fact, she remembers extremely high water in the 1980s being destructive in its own way, causing erosion on the lakefront, and sometimes flooding low-lying areas.</p><p>Andersen says she is worried about <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">water scarcity and drought in other places</a>, but she&rsquo;s not sure about climate change. She thinks the lake&rsquo;s changes are a natural cycle.</p><p>&ldquo;The fluctuation of the lake levels is not our fault,&rdquo; Andersen says.</p><p>When it comes to fluctuation, most scientists would agree that it is a natural cycle: <a href="http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/dashboard/GLWLD.html">The levels have gone from low to high every 10-25 years</a> since humans started recording it about 100 years ago. &nbsp;The concern is that climate change could mean the lows keep getting lower, and the highs never get quite as high.</p><p>But the extremes associated with climate change means it&rsquo;s difficult for scientists to predict; after all, in the middle of winter 2012-2013, no one had any idea the lake levels would <a href="http://w3.lre.usace.army.mil/hh/ForecastData/MBOGLWL-mich_hrn.pdf">rise by several feet in just over a year.</a></p><p>And, lower water levels is only a piece of what could be coming to the Great Lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;It almost feels like death by a thousand cuts to the Great Lakes region,&rdquo; says Beth Gibbons, the project manager with the Great Lakes Climate Change Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C) in Ann Arbor. &nbsp;</p><p>Gibbons is focused on adaptation and preparedness for climate change. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t wait for a single event &mdash; sea level rise to pass &lsquo;X&rsquo; threshold, a Hurricane Sandy to come up the coast, a wildfire that&rsquo;s burning 800 acres to suddenly threaten one of our major cities. We need to be able to look at this day by day, storm by storm.&rdquo;</p><p>She says we need <a href="http://graham.umich.edu/glaac/great-lakes-atlas">to take stock of what&rsquo;s coming</a> in order to plan for more climate extremes. Most cities in the region haven&rsquo;t even estimated the costs.</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/SCHROEDER_WBEZ_7.jpg" title="Photographer Tim Schroeder looks forward to a time when human activity doesn’t threaten the Great Lakes’ health. (Tim Schroeder/TWS Photography)" /></div><p>&ldquo;We can live beautiful lives, we don&rsquo;t have to mess everything up while we&rsquo;re doing it,&rdquo; says Tim Schroeder.</p><p>The photographer insists he&rsquo;s not an activist, but he wants to see all the lake&rsquo;s problems turn around. &ldquo;I mean, there has to be a way to figure out how to do this without poisoning our waterways and without ruining landscapes...I mean, there&rsquo;s just gotta be a balance.&rdquo;</p><p>Schroeder takes in the scene at the lakefront &mdash; it&rsquo;s quiet except for a few kids, and an occasional charter boat coming into the channel.</p><p>&ldquo;I look at these kids playing around on the beach, and one of those kids might be eight years old, well I&rsquo;m 62, so what&rsquo;s it gonna be like when he&rsquo;s 62?&rdquo; Schroeder ask. &ldquo;Is it gonna get to the point where we&rsquo;re using so much water for everything that these piers will basically just become a monument on sand?&rdquo;</p><p>He says he&rsquo;d love to come back to Lake Michigan with his camera in a hundred years, just to see what it looks like then.</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter and host at WYSO, the public radio station for Ohio&rsquo;s Miami Valley region. Follow him </em><a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants"><em>@lewispants</em></a><em>.</em></p><p><em>Reporter Lindsey Smith of Michigan Radio contributed to this story.</em></p></p> Tue, 19 Aug 2014 08:09:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/science/great-lakes-low-water-levels-captivate-worry-artists-110672 Where do Chicago's bats hang out? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-do-chicagos-bats-hang-out-110578 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bats/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/BATS%20TOPPER%20FOR%20WEB5.jpg" title="" /></a></div><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/161019975&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-do-chicagos-bats-hang-out-110578#bio">Rory Keane</a> was ambling around Chicago&rsquo;s downtown a few years back when he stumbled upon what looked like a piece of fried chicken glistening on the sidewalk. But it didn&rsquo;t take long for him to be disabused.</p><p>&ldquo;I saw it twitch real quick,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;The next thing I knew, it grew wings and it was flying around my ankles and then right past my face.&rdquo;</p><p>It was a bat, in broad daylight, just doing its bat thing downtown. Soon after, Rory collected himself from fright and submitted these questions to Curious City:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>How many bats are in Chicago&rsquo;s Loop? What are their favorite hangouts?</em></p><p>Spoiler alert: Our experts say we can&rsquo;t pinpoint exactly how many bats call the Loop home. Nor can we locate particular buildings the critters like, either. (Alas, someone else will have to explore whether the <a href="https://www.flickr.com/search/?l=commderiv&amp;q=wrigley%20building%20chicago" target="_blank">gothic tower atop the Wrigley Building </a>acts a bat-magnet). But experts<em> can </em>say which types of environments Chicago&rsquo;s bats like to hang out in and how popular those sites are.</p><p>The takeaway is that these furry fliers are likely closer than you think. And, beyond that: All this bat activity&rsquo;s a good sign, given that there&rsquo;s an ominous threat to their very existence.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Where local bats <em>aren&rsquo;t</em></span></p><p>In 2012 researchers at the Lincoln Park Zoo&rsquo;s Urban Wildlife Institute embarked on a study to measure the Chicago-area bat population. They wanted to learn more about which bat species call Chicago home (or were at least recurring squatters), gauge their numbers and determine their favorite haunts, all with the hopes of keeping close tabs on bat species affected by the fatal spreading disease called &ldquo;<a href="https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/" target="_blank">White Nose Syndrome</a>.&rdquo;</p><p>By 2013, the scientists had set up 18 bat detectors in various habitats around Cook and Kane counties: forest preserves, golf courses and at the Lincoln Park Zoo&rsquo;s Nature Boardwalk. As much as we hate to let Rory down, none of these detectors was in the Loop.</p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bats/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/eastern-pipistrelle-little-guy.png" style="float: right; height: 116px; width: 180px;" title="An eastern pipistrelle." /></a>That&rsquo;s for several reasons.</p><p>The first one: Bats probably aren&rsquo;t hanging out downtown. Liza Lehrer, a research coordinator at UWI, says bats might fly through the Loop looking for food, but likely wouldn&rsquo;t make a home in urban infrastructures like skyscrapers. But if we were to try to pinpoint a bat hangout in the Loop, Lehrer says, be on the lookout for older, cozier buildings with lots of nooks and crannies.</p><p>&ldquo;They like old churches, barns, things like that &mdash; areas with lots of older architecture with attics that are easy to get into through roofs,&rdquo; Lehrer says. &ldquo;Maybe the Bucktown, Wicker Park areas, but I&rsquo;m sure anywhere around the city where they can use those spaces they&rsquo;re probably using them.&rdquo;</p><p>Lehrer says it&rsquo;s hard to put a number to how many bats hang out in urban infrastructure. But she wouldn&rsquo;t be surprised if there were 1,000 or more bats living in older Chicago neighborhoods.</p><p>&ldquo;Maternity colonies can have hundreds of individuals in one colony,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s very possible there are thousands in the Chicago area for sure.&rdquo;</p><p>The second reason why UWI didn&rsquo;t place bat detectors in the Loop has to do with sound.</p><p>Julia Kilgour, a former UWI bat researcher, says the sheer noisiness of the Loop makes it a bad environment to pick up bat calls, and it&rsquo;s even noisier for the bats themselves.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/sonobat.jpg" title="A screenshot from Sonobat software that shows bat call frequency and species. Researchers can use this to determine how active certain sites are. (Photo courtesy UWI)" /></div><p>If you were sick the day they talked about <a href="http://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/bat2.htm" target="_blank">echolocation</a> in school, here&rsquo;s how bats navigate the world. Their eyesight isn&rsquo;t so hot, but their hearing is. Bats send out ultrasonic calls, which bounce off trees, buildings and prey. They listen to these echoes to locate who and what is around them.</p><p>Echolocation is not a problem in quiet, rural areas; but in dense, urban areas like the Loop, bats have a harder time pulling it off.</p><p>Rory himself was on to that explanation: &ldquo;I imagine if I&rsquo;m a chic urban bat and looking for a place to live, the Loop would be accommodating ... but it would be noisy.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">Where the bats </span><em style="font-size: 22px;">are</em></div><p>UWI researchers had plenty of other locations to gather data from; they&rsquo;ve analyzed thousands, if not millions, of bat calls gathered from forest preserves and golf courses around the Chicago area. Liza Lehrer says she&rsquo;s counted up to 3,000 calls from one detector in a single night.</p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bats/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/forgotten bat 2.png" style="height: 242px; width: 180px; float: left;" title="A silver-haired bat" /></a>&ldquo;What&rsquo;s really exciting about what we&rsquo;ve found so far is we see a lot of bats in Chicago, both in urban and rural areas,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We actually see more bats using Cook County sites in the height of the summer, but out in rural areas we saw more consistent numbers.&rdquo;</p><p>Another interesting finding? Bats really like golf courses.</p><p>&ldquo;You may not consider that an area for wildlife, but there&rsquo;s lots of bat diversity in golf course sites,&rdquo; Lehrer says.</p><p>Golf courses aren&rsquo;t as dense as the city&rsquo;s forest preserves and typically contain a small body of water, so they appeal more to tree-roosting bats, such as the hoary bat and the eastern pipistrelle.</p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bats/" target="_blank">(To see a breakdown of favorite bat habitats around Chicago, check out our visualization by artist Erik Rodriguez, based on research provided by the UWI).</a></p><p>But the finding Lehrer says she&rsquo;s most excited about is that all seven species common to Northeastern Illinois have been detected at the <a href="http://www.lpzoo.org/nature-boardwalk" target="_blank">Lincoln Park Zoo&rsquo;s Nature Boardwalk</a>, a mere three miles north of the Loop.</p><p>&ldquo;[Bats are] living right here in Chicago, right in the middle of the city, right here at the zoo,&rdquo; Lehrer says. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fortunate to have an amazing array of green space in the city so they&rsquo;re able to take advantage of that as much as possible.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The dreaded white-nose</span></p><p>Finding all seven bat species so close to a dense metropolis is especially exciting, Lehrer says, because several species are directly threatened by <a href="https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/" target="_blank">white-nose syndrome</a>.</p><p>A bat afflicted by the white fungal disease can wake up early during winter hibernation. Affected bats become active right when nature designed them to conserve energy and do as little as possible: when food stores are low and temperatures are dangerous. Lehrer draws an analogy that Chicago-area residents can certainly relate to. &ldquo;If you think about if you emerged from hibernation during our polar vortex,&rdquo; she says, &ldquo;there&rsquo;d be nothing for you to eat. It&rsquo;d be very difficult for you to survive if you were a bat. So, thats what&rsquo;s happening. They emerge from wintering spots and aren&rsquo;t able to survive or find food.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/bats/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LITTLE BROWN BAT WEB.jpg" style="height: 430px; width: 620px;" title="Little brown bat populations, illustrated above, have been decimated by white-nose syndrome in the northeastern U.S., but researchers have detected bat calls from them at the Lincoln Park Zoo's nature boardwalk." /></a></div><p>Since white-nose syndrome spreads when bats are hibernating in close proximity, Lehrer says, &ldquo;some caves have found up to 90 to 100 percent mortality.&rdquo; According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, the disease has killed millions of bats across the U.S. and Canada. There have been <a href="https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/resources/map" target="_blank">confirmed sightings</a> in Illinois, as well as several neighboring states.</p><p>The disease is <a href="https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/about/bats-affected-wns" target="_blank">hitting some bat species harder than others</a>. Of the seven species that call the Chicago area home, the big brown bat (<em>Eptesicus fuscus</em>), the little brown bat (<em>Myotis lucifugus</em>), and the tri-colored bat (<em>Perimyotis subflavus</em>) have been susceptible.</p><p>The UWI study is one effort to monitor bat populations, health and behavior while scientists find cures for the disease.</p><p>So while bats may be on the top of the list of scary creatures for many Chicagoans, the scarier proposition is that there would be no bats left. At least, that&rsquo;s how Rory Keane feels about it.</p><p>&ldquo;When you come across something really puzzling like WNS &hellip; it&rsquo;s troublesome,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;If it spells the end for bats it&rsquo;s just one more fixture in the ecosystem that&rsquo;s going to throw things out of balance for us as we experience it every day.&rdquo;</p><p>He points to a scene most Chicagoans can relate to. &nbsp;</p><p><a name="bio"></a>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re driving down Lake Shore Drive and it&rsquo;s a clear day and you can see the skyline in front of you,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;you marvel at the success we&rsquo;ve built up around us. &hellip; But could it have all worked out without the contributions of even these tiny, erratically-flying, illogical mammals we call bats?&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rory%20mug%20FOR%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 199px; width: 200px;" title="(Photo courtesy Rory Keane)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Rory Keane</span></p><p>Chicagoan Rory Keane got us looking into bat habitat a few years after he nearly stomped on one that was hanging out in the Loop. A graduate from Northwestern&rsquo;s Medill School of Journalism, he&rsquo;s worked as an English teacher in China and is currently working as a digital marketer in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;I guess you could characterize me as a curious person,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I have a little bit of a curiosity when it comes to travel and seeing the world from a different perspective.&rdquo;</p><p>So, he&rsquo;s no stranger to new experiences, but he still didn&rsquo;t expect to get a new perspective from that one, tiny bat in his hometown.</p><p>&ldquo;It was already an incredibly precious encounter given that you would never expect it,&rdquo; Rory says of the eastern red bat he nearly squashed. &ldquo;It took a bat to startle me into realizing what was going on around me [in the natural world] on an everyday basis.&rdquo;</p><p>Did we mention Rory also does a fantastic Werner Herzog impression? You gotta listen to his speculations on what life as a Chicago bat is like:</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/161020052&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em><a href="https://twitter.com/JnnBrndl" target="_blank">Jennifer Brandel</a> is Curious City&#39;s senior producer and <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">Logan Jaffe</a> is Curious City&#39;s multimedia producer. Bat and habitat illustrations by <a href="http://www.erographics.com/">Erik Nelson Rodriquez</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-do-chicagos-bats-hang-out-110578