WBEZ | environment http://www.wbez.org/tags/environment Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Looking out for climate change in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/looking-out-climate-change-chicago-109968 <p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: <a href="#event">Key interviews that contributed to this story</a> about climate change and the future of Chicago were first presented during <a href="#event">The Raw Report,</a>&nbsp;a live media event co-produced by WBEZ and <a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a>, a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.&nbsp;</em></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FOR%20WEB%20family%20photo.jpg" style="height: 267px; width: 200px; margin: 5px; float: right;" title="Mark Mesle, center, asked his question out of concern for his family, including wife Abby and daughter Parker. (Photo courtesy of Mark Mesle)" />Some people find it hard to get worked up about the fate of future generations. But Mark Mesle, who came to Curious City with a big question about climate change, has no problem putting a face on future environmental anxieties.</p><p>Her name is Parker. She&rsquo;s Mark&rsquo;s 18-month-old daughter. He and his wife Abbey have another kid on the way, and it got him wondering:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How will climate change impact Chicago?</em></p><p>Mark runs a website, <a href="http://www.50yearforecast.org" target="_blank">www.50yearforecast.org</a>, devoted to raising awareness on climate change, so he&rsquo;s no stranger to the topic. What he asked us for was a higher-resolution picture of the problem: a better understanding of how greenhouse gases might change life for his kids here in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;You always see 2100 projections,&rdquo; said Mark, who is 33 years old. &ldquo;How about 2045, when my daughter is my age?&rdquo;</p><p>Mark wants to know what kind of world his kids will grow up in, so understandably he asked for a high degree of detail.</p><p>&ldquo;Do the Cubs not play August games anymore?&rdquo; he asked, for example.</p><p>But here&rsquo;s the thing: Mark&rsquo;s asking for something that we don&#39;t have a clear answer for, according to Liz Moyer, an assistant professor of atmospheric chemistry and transport at the University of Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;We know physically that climate change will happen. We know geologically what&rsquo;s happened to species in the past,&rdquo; Moyer said. &ldquo;How do you turn that into saying, &lsquo;It&rsquo;s going to cost this much, it&rsquo;ll change our economy in this way.&rsquo; That&rsquo;s something we&rsquo;ve had trouble doing, and the economic models are set up to reflect that.&rdquo;</p><p>The basic science is settled. Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, most notably) trap heat within the atmosphere, causing a global temperature rise. As it gets warmer, sea level rises due to the physical expansion of heated water and melting ice around the globe.</p><p>What all this means for Chicago is harder to say &mdash; the<a href="http://www.ipcc-data.org/guidelines/pages/gcm_guide.html" target="_blank"> climate models scientist use don&#39;t provide that kind of resolution</a>. But the situation could be improving. <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/03/19/climate-data-initiative-launches-strong-public-and-private-sector-commitments" target="_blank">In March the federal government announced</a> it would release data from NOAA, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Defense, and other Federal agencies on its website, climate.data.gov, <a href="http://resilience.maps.arcgis.com/home/" target="_blank">to help cities and regions plan</a> for climate change. The <a href="http://www.sws.uiuc.edu/warm/cdflist.asp?typ=a" target="_blank">Illinois Climate Network&#39;s data</a> is part of that growing cache of information.</p><p>Globally, though, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/climate-change-warnings-sharp-relief-104942" target="_blank">scientists are concerned</a>. A<a href="http://whatweknow.aaas.org/" target="_blank"> report issued March 18</a> by the American Association for the Advancement of Science warns, &ldquo;We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.&rdquo;</p><p>So, if we won&rsquo;t be able to give a foolproof picture of what Chicago&rsquo;s climate will be like in 2045, is there any insight we could send Mark&rsquo;s way?</p><p>It turns out there is.</p><p>We found scientists, economists, activists and Chicago officials who are on the lookout for local effects of climate change. While none gives a full-blown prediction, each identifies which areas of life &mdash; the local economy, the lake, whatever &mdash; are most vulnerable and why Mark (and the rest of us) should consider them.</p><p><strong>What&rsquo;s on Chicago&rsquo;s radar</strong></p><p>The city <a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/climate_change_and_chicago/5.php" target="_blank">laid out what it knows</a> in its<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/research___reports/8.php" target="_blank"> Climate Action Plan</a>, which was adopted in 2008. City Hall has three main concerns:<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/temperature/20.php" target="_blank"> it will get hotter</a>, exacerbating<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-05/weary-high-chicago-asthma-rates-some-lobby-washington-107461" target="_blank"> problems with air quality</a> and perhaps making<a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/consecutive-days-warm-temperatures-could-break-1995-record-97332" target="_blank"> deadly heat waves</a> stronger and/or more common;<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/precipitation/21.php" target="_blank"> flooding could get worse</a> as intense<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/climate-change-could-worsen-chicago-floods-106174" target="_blank"> rainstorms become more common</a>, further burdening<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/heavy-rain-overwhelms-combined-sewer-system-106731" target="_blank"> an already swollen sewer system</a>; and<a href="http://www.chicagoclimateaction.org/pages/ecosystems/22.php" target="_blank"> Chicago&#39;s native ecosystems could change</a>, forcing farmers, gardeners and landscapers to change their habits.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/THUMB%20flickr%20seth%20anderson%20-%20possible%20thumb.jpg" style="float: right; height: 260px; width: 325px; margin: 5px;" title="The Fisk generating plant in Chicago was closed in 2012. (FLickr/Seth Anderson)" />High school students at Robert Lindblom Math &amp; Science Academy in the West Englewood neighborhood are working on that last problem, studying which tree species are best suited to a warmer climate. So Parker Mesle and her forthcoming sibling will likely plant different saplings than her father, our question asker.</p><p>In the future there might be less Lake Michigan than Mark&rsquo;s used to, if <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-causing-record-low-levels-lake-michigan-105262" target="_blank">a trend toward low lake levels</a> continues. On average, warmer average temperatures should mean less ice cover during winter, which means the Great Lakes may evaporate faster than they&rsquo;re recharged. That could change coastal ecosystems <a href="http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/low-waters-and-high-anxiety/?_php=true&amp;_type=blogs&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">and hurt the lucrative shipping industry</a> in the region, which <a href="http://www.marad.dot.gov/documents/US-Flag_Great_Lakes_Water_Transportation_Industry_Final_Report_2013.pdf" target="_top">the U.S. Department of Transportation says</a> supplies $14.1 billion in annual income to U.S. citizens, and $33.6 billion in annual U.S. business revenues.</p><p>The city&rsquo;s thinking through effects of climate change that may not be so dire, however. If Mark&rsquo;s kids choose to live in Chicago, they could have plenty of company. That&rsquo;s because, under some scenarios, transportation (especially forms that involve climate-changing fossil fuels) could become more expensive, making life in the dense, urban core more attractive.</p><p>Chicago is thinking through encouraging or adapting to higher residential density, and strategies include everything from neighborhood walkability to <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/city_sustainability_is_about_t.html" target="_blank">historic preservation and affordable housing</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;If you think big picture, a lot of this is about creating a really livable, really competitive and really livable city,&rdquo; said Karen Weigert, Chicago&rsquo;s chief sustainability officer. She said urbanites have a lower per capita carbon footprint than those in less densely populated communities, which tend to have higher transportation emissions.</p><p>&ldquo;Living in an urban environment, as a start,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;is actually a pretty good climate choice.&rdquo; <a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6218" target="_blank">Even suburbs are starting to reinvest in transit-oriented development</a> and walkability&mdash;characteristics traditionally associated with inner cities. Reducing the distance people need to travel reduces their fuel use, which can save <a href="http://www.nhc.org/media/documents/pub_heavy_load_10_06.pdf" target="_blank">money as well as greenhouse gas emissions</a>. So it&rsquo;s likely Mark&rsquo;s kids will have more transit options (not to mention <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/54-mpg-argonne-natl-lab-wins-grant-fuel-efficiency-research-90433" target="_blank">more fuel-efficient vehicles</a>) wherever they decide to live.</p><p><strong>Knocking on Chicago&rsquo;s door?</strong></p><p>But what if rising seas in Florida and New York &mdash; let alone Bangladesh &mdash; send &ldquo;climate refugees&rdquo; flocking to Chicago? This is an example of an indirect &ldquo;knock-on&rdquo; effect of climate change that came up during <a href="#event">our panel discussion </a>in February. As University of Chicago Law Professor David Weisbach said, however, the Chicago area might be well-positioned to handle newcomers and other unforeseen impacts.</p><p>&ldquo;We have a temperate environment. We have a highly diversified economy &mdash; it&rsquo;s not dependent on any one sector. We have a stable fresh water supply,&rdquo; Weisbach said. &ldquo;If you think about what the effects of climate change will be in Chicago, it&rsquo;s going to be the knock-on effects. We&rsquo;re connected to the rest of the world, and what matters to the rest of the world matters to us. That will affect us potentially very, very deeply.&rdquo;</p><p>When we try to figure out what those potential impacts will be, we&rsquo;re inevitably speculating about the ability of our city to respond to change. One key problem with that is our ability to cope with challenges isn&rsquo;t uniform. Poorer communities, or those with less political clout, get passed over.</p><p>That&rsquo;s true in Chicago,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/qa-kim-wasserman-little-villages-coal-crusader-106742" target="_blank"> according to Kimberly Wasserman Nieto</a>, who is executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. During <a href="#event">our event in February</a>, she said sustainability efforts need to address communities all around the city &mdash; not just on the North Side.</p><p>&ldquo;If it&rsquo;s about saving the butterflies and building green streets in Lincoln Park, that&rsquo;s great for them,&rdquo; Wasserman said, &ldquo;but what does that do for the people on the Southwest Side of Chicago?&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20rainforest%20action%20network.jpg" style="float: left; height: 222px; width: 335px; margin: 5px;" title="Activists from the Little Village Environmental Justice organization protested in 2011 against the Crawford coal plant, which closed in 2012 (Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)" />She said local efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions can help marginalized communities take control of their future, possibly creating jobs in turn.</p><p>&ldquo;For us it&rsquo;s about showing how a local economy can help a community and how that in change can also help turn the impacts of climate change,&rdquo; Wasserman said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re working, breathing, living in our communities, fighting for our environment, and we want to showcase that bringing it local is really one of the only ways that we can save our environment.&rdquo;</p><p>Climate justice is a global issue, too, because the poorest countries also happen to be those that will get hit hardest by the effects of climate change. Countries in the tropics tend to have both fewer resources and far greater biodiversity than countries in temperate zones. Sea-level rise in Bangladesh alone<a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/04/14/us-bangladesh-climate-islands-idUSDHA23447920080414" target="_blank"> is expected to displace tens of millions of people</a>.</p><p>Northwestern University Economist Benjamin Jones recently co-authored <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/files/9138" target="_blank">a study</a> examining the connection between severe weather and economic impacts. He and his colleagues found there&rsquo;s a surprisingly large range of possible economic outcomes.</p><p>&ldquo;For example, it&rsquo;s increasingly clear that when you have extreme heat in the U.S., that you see a large negative impact on agricultural output. It&rsquo;s increasingly clear that very high heat leads to at least temporary large spikes in mortality, especially among the very old and very young,&rdquo; Jones said. And, he said, it can impact economic growth on a large scale. With colleagues at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jones <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/files/9138" target="_blank">statistically analyzed the connection between severe weather, climate change and economic impacts</a>. One degree Celsius of warming could curb a country&rsquo;s growth by as much as one percentage point &mdash; a huge effect, considering the U.S. growth rate <a href="http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth" target="_blank">was around 3 percent in recent years</a>.</p><p><strong>Climate of opportunity</strong></p><p>But figuring out how to respond to change &mdash; what experts are calling climate &ldquo;resiliency&rdquo; &mdash; could create huge opportunities, too.</p><p>Jones said if Chicago innovates within the low-carbon tech sector, it can make money and jobs while coping with climate risk.</p><p>Chicago is<a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-10-19/changing-gears-will-advanced-batteries-charge-midwest-economy-93278" target="_blank"> the nation&rsquo;s hub for battery technology</a>. The<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> wind energy industry is big here</a>, too, as is<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> energy efficiency</a> and<a href="about:blank" target="_blank"> water technology</a>. Perhaps Mark Mesle&rsquo;s children will be among the scientists and engineers who will help us adapt to climate change.</p><p>&ldquo;Necessity is the mother of invention. We&rsquo;re already seeing a lot of innovation around clean energy, around agriculture,&rdquo; Jones said. &ldquo;If there is a lowest-cost way out, it will be that route.&rdquo;</p><p>Ultimately it&rsquo;s a question of managing short-term shocks and long-term changes. A short-term influx of climate refugees could be a good thing, providing skilled labor and boosting the local tax base. But too much too fast could overburden city services, especially if those services are already strained by severe weather.</p><p>In the six years since Chicago set out on its climate action agenda, the city has implemented a few notable initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ratepayers voted to buy power through municipal aggregation,<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003" target="_blank"> which doubled the share of wind energy in the city&#39;s electricity supply</a>. That followed the<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129" target="_blank"> closure of two coal-fired power plants on the Southwest Side</a> ahead of schedule. And last year Chicago<a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6798" target="_blank"> directed landlords of buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, which account for 15 percent of the city&rsquo;s total energy use, to report their energy consumption</a>. That&rsquo;s expected to improve the rate of energy efficiency improvements already hastened<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/env/retrofit_chicago.html" target="_blank"> by a slimmed-down approval process</a> for retrofits.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/flickr%20steven%20vance.jpg" style="float: right; height: 289px; width: 385px; margin: 5px;" title="A stretch of Cermak Road in Chicago is meant to serve as a model for sustainable streetscape. (Flickr/Steven Vance) " />And parts of Chicago itself may look different for our question asker&rsquo;s children. Chicago has invested in green infrastructure, including<a href="http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6409" target="_blank"> a stretch of Cermak Road meant to serve as a model for sustainable streetscapes</a>. With rain gardens and smog-eating pavement, Sustainability Chief Karen Weigert said &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the kind of infrastructure that will be strong and critically important going forward.&rdquo;</p><p>That project cost less than competing proposals, city officials said when it was announced in 2012, but not all climate resiliency infrastructure projects are easy sells. Potential costs are huge, but so are upfront investments.<a href="http://www.cnt.org/2013/05/14/urban-flooding-is-chronic-and-costly-but-not-correlated-with-floodplains/" target="_blank"> The Center for Neighborhood Technology found</a> floods cost Chicagoans $660 million between 2007 and 2011 (just based on insurance claims paid out), for example. But, as we learned from atmospheric chemist Liz Moyer, cash-strapped governments don&rsquo;t typically make major investments to fend off future pain that is <a href="http://www.cicero.uio.no/media/9411.pdf" target="_blank">inherently uncertain</a>.</p><p><strong>Global citizens</strong></p><p>Absent national movement on a carbon tax or trading scheme that might catalyze development for climate-resilient infrastructure, Chicago will probably continue to lean on its most reliable resource: its people. As Weigert said, the city&rsquo;s motto is <em>Urbs in Horto</em> &mdash; city in a garden.</p><p>And that city is increasingly connected to others around the world. Whether it&rsquo;s in response to business opportunities, climate refugees and other knock-on effects, or carbon emissions from around the globe, Chicago&rsquo;s going to change with the climate. Our question asker Mark Mesle hopes we&rsquo;ll rise to the occasion. So for the sake of his kids, he&rsquo;s urging action.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve sort of always felt there needs to be international cooperation,&rdquo; he said at <a href="#event">our panel event</a> in February. &ldquo;That doesn&rsquo;t happen unless U.S. politicians care about it, and U.S. politicians don&rsquo;t care about it unless you tell them to care about it.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley</a> is a reporter for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City, and a freelance journalist. <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">Follow him on Twitter at @Cementley</a>.</p><p><strong><a name="event"></a>The Raw Report: An experiment in live media-making</strong></p><p><strong><iframe frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/29067314&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe></strong></p><p>In February 2014, WBEZ and <a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a> (a program of the Illinois Humanities Council) co-produced &nbsp;&ldquo;The Raw Report,&quot; an experiment in live media-making. The event, held at the Jim &amp; Kay Mabie Studio at Chicago Public Media, included a <a href="#sources">panel of knowledgeable sources</a> that answered Mark Mesle&rsquo;s question in front of a live audience. Teams of young and newly-minted reporters interpreted that answer and created their own original audio presentations in real time, which they reported back to the audience.</p><p>Moderator Laura Washington led a follow-up discussion that explored questions such as: How do the stories generated by the teams of young reporters differ and why? How important is it to realize that each story we consume in media is only one of an infinite number of ways to tell that same story?</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="352" scrolling="no" src="http://files.slidemypics.com/app/js/iframe.html?bg_color=1f1f1f&amp;amp;hash=ab3ebd6dc91362591b5843aca1360030&amp;amp;r=0.32371021481230855" width="526"></iframe></p><address style="text-align: center;">(Full set of photos and more info in WBEZ&#39;s Flickr pool:&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.is/1pXyf5r" target="_blank">http://wbez.is/1pXyf5r</a>)</address><p><strong><a name="sources"></a>Sincere thanks to our panelists:</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~moyer/MoyerWebsite/Home%20Page/HomePage.html" target="_blank">Elisabeth Moyer</a>, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Transport at the University of Chicago. Moyer&rsquo;s research explores climate modeling and impact assessment. As a researcher with the <a href="http://www.rdcep.org/" target="_blank">Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate &amp; Energy Policy</a> (RDCEP), she&rsquo;s interested in sizing up and dealing with the uncertainty involved with making climate change predictions &mdash; case in point, a recent paper, &ldquo;<a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2312770" target="_blank">Climate Impacts on Economic Growth as Drivers of Uncertainty in the Social Cost of Carbon</a>.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Kimberly Wasserman Nieto, executive director, <a href="http://lvejo.org/" target="_blank">Little Village Environmental Justice Organization</a>. She&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/news/activists-rejoice-coal-fired-plants-shut-down-102129" target="_blank">led the charge to close Midwest Generation&rsquo;s Crawford coal plant in her Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, as well as the Fisk power plant in Pilsen</a> &mdash; an effort for which she <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/news/chicago-activist-wins-goldman-environmental-prize-106645" target="_blank">won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize</a> in 2013. LVEJO&rsquo;s success has been recognized worldwide, but Wasserman says the attention has only sharpened her focus on environmental justice in Chicago.</p><p><a href="http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/weisbach" target="_blank">David Weisbach</a>, Walter J. Blum Professor of Law and Senior Fellow, the Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. Trained as a mathematician and lawyer, Weisbach is primarily interested in issues relating to federal taxation and to climate change.</p><p><strong>Thanks, too, to our teams of journalists, who represented the following organizations:</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.chicagoreporter.com/" target="_blank">The Chicago Reporter</a>: An investigative news organization that identifies, analyzes, and reports on the social, economic, and political issues of metropolitan Chicago with a focus on race and poverty.</p><p><a href="http://themash.com/" target="_blank">The Mash</a>: A weekly newspaper and website written largely by, for, and about Chicago high school students.</p><p><a href="http://www.freespiritmedia.org/" target="_blank">Free Spirit Media</a>: An organization that provides education, access, and opportunity in media production to underserved urban youth.</p><p><a href="http://www.karilydersen.com/teaching.html" target="_blank">The Social Justice Chicago Reporting Fellowship program</a>&nbsp;at Northwestern University&rsquo;s Medill School of Journalism</p><p><a href="http://www.colum.edu/Academics/Journalism/" target="_blank">Columbia College Journalism Department</a></p><p><strong>Thanks to our partner for the Raw Report:&nbsp;</strong></p><p><a href="http://www.prairie.org/programs/public-square" target="_blank">The Public Square</a>&nbsp;is a program of the Illinois Humanities Council.&nbsp;</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/IHC-Logo_Color_Plain.jpg" style="margin: 5px; height: 89px; width: 400px;" title="" /></div></p> Thu, 03 Apr 2014 19:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/looking-out-climate-change-chicago-109968 Hawks on the rise http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/hawks-rise-109889 <p><p><a href="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/hawks/#/page1" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bird%20TOPPER.jpg" title="" /></a></p><p><em>Artwork by Chicago-based artist <a href="http://dianasudyka.com/">Diana Sudyka</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/140433257&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true" width="100%"></iframe><em>Editor&#39;s note: This episode of the Curious City podcast includes a story about the resurgence of Cooper&#39;s Hawks in Chicago. It starts at 4 minutes, 45 seconds into the program.&nbsp;(Subscribe via&nbsp;<a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/curious-city/id568409161" target="_blank">iTunes&nbsp;</a>or&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CuriousCityPodcast" target="_blank">Feedburner</a>!)&nbsp;</em></p><p>This story about hawks was a long time coming for Carole Zemont of Chicago&rsquo;s Norwood Park neighborhood. Carole thinks she&rsquo;s &ldquo;genetically predisposed&rdquo; to be interested in birds, after growing up watching them at the bird feeder her mother put up in their backyard.</p><p>That lifelong interest &mdash; as well as a recent hawk sighting of hers &mdash; led Carole to ask Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Is anybody studying the increasing hawk activity in Chicago&rsquo;s neighborhoods?</em></p><p>Her question covers several topics, including the people on the lookout for hawks, but we thought we owed it to Carole to suss out whether &mdash; in fact &mdash; there&rsquo;s a local population of hawks on the rise. While tracking this down, we came across a bit of a wildlife conservation success story.</p><p><strong>(Chicken) hawks on the increase</strong></p><p>Observant bird-watchers like Carole suspect there are more hawks in the area, but have professional researchers taken note, too?</p><p>Well, there are several local researchers who study and document the goings-on of wild critters in our urban and suburban environment, but when it comes to studying hawks specifically, we can turn up only one: Mason Fidino of the Urban Wildlife Institute. Founded in 2009, the Institute&rsquo;s part of Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park Zoo.</p><p>For the first part of Carole&rsquo;s question, does Fidino&rsquo;s work show that there is an increased hawk population in Chicago? &nbsp;&ldquo;Yes! It&rsquo;s a pretty resounding yes,&rdquo; he says. Fidino is recreating a historic bird count that was conducted in Lincoln Park from 1897 to 1903, and he&rsquo;s able to compare current bird populations with this century-old data. One hawk in particular stands out in Fidino&rsquo;s studies: the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk, which he describes as the &ldquo;most abundant,&rdquo; frequently seen bird of prey in Lincoln Park. This is quite a change from the historic study, where the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk &ldquo;was not seen whatsoever.&rdquo;</p><p>These birds were once widely viewed as a menace and even hunted in the past. Nicknamed &ldquo;chicken hawks,&rdquo; they were despised as chicken thieves.</p><p>Fidino points me to the historical record, where we can find sentiments from people like Alfred O. Gross, a man who eventually became a respected ornithologist. In 1906 Gross conducted a bird census in Illinois. He described the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk as a &ldquo;handsome robber&rdquo; with a &ldquo;perverted taste for chicken.&rdquo;<a href="http://www.thinglink.com/scene/502929837053181952" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Cooper's Hawk inline image.jpg" style="height: 443px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Rendering of a Cooper's Hawk, otherwise known as a Chicken Hawk, by Chicago artist Diana Sudyka." /></a></p><p>Later, the <a href="http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/ddt-brief-history-status.htm" target="_blank">pesticide DDT </a>also damaged their population. Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks mostly eat other birds, so they would have ingested all of the DDT concentrated in their prey animals. The pesticide caused eggshells to thin, and they would crack under the weight of the large birds. The Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk was even on Illinois&rsquo; endangered species list from 1977 through 1997.</p><p>Eventually, human interference loosened: We stopped shooting &ldquo;chicken hawks,&rdquo; we banned DDT, and, according to Fidino, the hawks came back.</p><p><strong>How easy is it to see one?</strong></p><p>Mason Fidino says you can find hawks in the city if you look for them &mdash;especially Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks. &ldquo;Often enough you&rsquo;ll see hawks circling around,&rdquo; he says, adding you can also spot them perched on tree branches. Fidino advises curious residents to &ldquo;spend some time on a weekend, take a walk out in a park. You should be able to see a bird of prey or two.&rdquo;</p><p>Fidino says he sometimes even sees hawks hunting in Chicago&rsquo;s Lincoln Park. If you see something quickly zooming towards the ground, it could be a hawk looking for lunch. For his part, Fidino will see the hunting bird just out of the corner of his eye. It will be &ldquo;this really quick movement going from the top of the tree downwards to whatever it&rsquo;s trying to catch. Then its talons go out, and it grabs what it&rsquo;s going after and then it&rsquo;ll swing back up or land with it,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks have nests that are smaller than squirrels&rsquo; bulky, leafy nests. Another way to catch a glimpse of a hawk is to keep an eye on their nest &ldquo;and see who shows up,&rdquo; Fidino says.</p><p><strong>A possible hawk menace?</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s reassuring to see a previously struggling species thrive, but perhaps you&rsquo;re wondering about a downside. Cooper&rsquo;s Hawks survive mostly by hunting smaller birds. Will we be hearing about a &ldquo;save the chickadees&rdquo; campaign in a few years?<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Flickr_%20Mike%20Ormsby_Copper%27s%20Hawk.jpg" style="height: 346px; width: 275px; float: left;" title="Cooper's Hawks look very similar to Sharp-shinned Hawks, but differences can be detected with key details like tail feather shape. Our field guide gives more clues for distinguishing the species. (Flickr/Mike Ormsby)" /></p><p>Fidino is not worried. Populations of top predators like hawks tend to be much smaller than their prey species. The relatively few chickadees or pigeons who end up being a hawk&rsquo;s lunch shouldn&rsquo;t significantly damage their population. The various bird populations, Fidino says, &ldquo;should be able to work themselves out into what you&rsquo;d kind of consider an equilibrium.&rdquo;</p><p>Hawks mostly hunt birds, although they&rsquo;ll also dine on small mammals. It&rsquo;s very rare for pets to come under attack by raptors. However, when pressed, Fidino will advise that owners of small pets might want to &ldquo;be mindful of the species that they&rsquo;re adding to the ecosystem,&rdquo; and perhaps not leave especially tiny dogs unattended in the back yard.</p><p><strong>The adaptation game</strong></p><p>Carole wondered if we&rsquo;re seeing more hawks in Chicago because they&rsquo;ve developed adaptive behaviors to live in cities. Dr. Seth Magle, the Urban Wildlife Institute&rsquo;s director, says that&rsquo;s not the case. He described the concept of &ldquo;habitat analogs,&rdquo; where parts of our built environment function to animals the way their natural habitat does.</p><p>Magle provides the example of pigeons. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re cliff-dwelling species, but in cities we build these big tall buildings, so to pigeons they may kind of look like cliffs,&rdquo; and thus look like home, he says.</p><p>Hawk behavior is similar. Red-tailed hawks like to perch on something tall, and power lines along the highway function perfectly for that task. Other species, including the Cooper&rsquo;s Hawk, feel perfectly at home in trees near humans. And why not, now that we city-dwellers and suburbanites are more interested in watching hawks than shooting them.</p><p><em>Special thanks to the <a href="http://www.birds.cornell.edu" target="_blank">Cornell Lab of Ornithology</a> for permission to use images, bird listings and sound for this story.</em></p><p><em>Katie Klocksin is an independent producer. Follow her on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/katieklocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.<a name="hawkscreensavers"></a></em></p></p> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 17:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/hawks-rise-109889 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 Where can you hunt in Chicago? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-can-you-hunt-chicago-108954 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Hunting%20Topper.jpg" title="Hunting has been a tradition for generations of Chicagoans. (Courtesy of Chris Rollins)" /><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/115791960&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Curious citizen Andrew Eubank&rsquo;s hunting experience consists of exactly one unsuccessful Wisconsin expedition in pursuit of squirrel.</p><p>&ldquo;I shot nothing,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We saw one squirrel, and it got away.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s a different story for the Lincoln Square resident&rsquo;s downstate relatives.</p><p>His grandfather graduated third in his class from the University of Illinois, but decided to raise hogs back home in Willow Hill, Ill. &mdash; a village of 300 people. Andrew&rsquo;s father, Arthur Eubank, has fond memories of shooting squirrel, rabbits and quail downstate. They still visit their Jasper County relatives for holidays.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s that kind of cultural dissonance from here to down there and back,&rdquo; Eubank said. &ldquo;When one of my friends sees a rabbit in the park, they say &lsquo;It&rsquo;s a cute little bunny rabbit!&rsquo; And I kind of think of how it would taste in a stew.&rdquo;</p><p>So Andrew wanted to know:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>What are local policies on urban hunting?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s generally assumed that hunting in your backyard is something you need to give up when you move to the city. As distant as city life may at times seem from the rural lifestyle, food is one thing that unites the two &mdash; a trend explored at great depth in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/02/books/new-breed-of-hunter-shoots-eats-and-writes.html?_r=0" target="_blank">the recent wave of books in which previously unlikely sportsmen rediscover hunting</a>. Still, as Andrew points out, there is a cultural gap. But you don&rsquo;t have to travel to Jasper County to find out.</p><p><strong>Huntable lands</strong></p><p>So where can Chicagoans hunt? Well, <a href="http://fpdcc.com/preserves-and-trails/rules-and-regulations/" target="_blank">you can&rsquo;t hunt in any of the Cook County Forest Preserves</a>. And Chicago&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/island-gary-guns-or-laws-which-protects-us-better-106538" target="_blank">gun laws seem to constitute a de facto ban</a> on hunting in the city. But we wanted to know what was actually on the books.</p><p>Roderick Drew with the city&rsquo;s Department of Law <a href="http://chicagocode.org/8-24-050/" target="_blank">dug this up</a> from the city&rsquo;s municipal code (Prior code &sect; 193-32; Amend Coun. J. 5-16-90, p. 15819):</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Any person licensed to hunt under the provisions of The Illinois Wildlife Code, as amended, may hunt or kill game birds in the open season as provided by the laws of the state, within the following prescribed districts and portions of the city: upon Wolf Lake and along the shores thereof; upon Lake Calumet and along the shores thereof; and upon the Calumet River and along the banks thereof.</em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Provided, however, that no weapons shall be used for the purpose of&nbsp;hunting such birds, or killing or wounding, or attempting to kill or wound such birds, other than a shotgun, and that such shotgun shall not be discharged anywhere within 750 feet of (1) any building or structure used or intended for human habitation or employment, or to be used as a barn or stable; or (2) the centerline of the right-of-way of Stony Island Avenue.</em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be fined not less than $100.00 nor more than $250.00.&rdquo;</em></p><p>So, there are only two public hunting areas within city limits: <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r2/wmpow.htm" target="_blank">William W. Powers State Recreation Area </a>on the Illinois-Indiana border, and Lake Calumet just to the west. You have to get a <a href="http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/pages/gettingstarted.aspx" target="_blank">state permit</a>, obey state hunting season and limits, and you can&rsquo;t hunt there with anything except a shotgun.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WEB%2082-70-27.jpg" style="height: 233px; width: 400px; float: left;" title="Duck hunting at Wolf Lake has been a tradition for decades. (Photo courtesy of Chris Rollins)" /></p><p>Andrew could also take a boat onto Lake Michigan, where Chicago&rsquo;s jurisdiction only goes out one mile.</p><p>Better known as Wolf Lake, the state acquired the William W. Powers site in 1947. About half of its 800 acres lie in Illinois, where the state&rsquo;s Department of Natural Resources presides. (You can&rsquo;t hunt on the Indiana side.) In total you&rsquo;ve got 419 acres on which to shoot waterfowl.</p><p>As on most public lands, <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/Landmgt/hunter_fact_sheet/R2hfs/wlpw.htm" target="_blank">hunting on and around Wolf Lake is heavily regulated</a>. (Check <a href="http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/Documents/HuntTrapDigest.pdf" target="_blank">IDNR&#39;s annual hunting digest</a> for comprehensive information.) There are 26 duck blinds &mdash;&nbsp;huts built onshore or out in the lake, which is quite shallow throughout, and camouflaged with reeds and sticks. Hunters set up shop early in the morning during duck season, using duck calls and decoys to lull their game into a false sense of security, and fire from the blind.</p><p>Each blind has a direction &mdash; the local Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials regulate this to make sure hunters aren&rsquo;t firing toward one another. Access to the park is restricted each day during duck hunting season until 1:00 p.m., when hunting ends.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WEB%20IMG_1434.jpg" style="height: 116px; width: 175px; float: left;" title="A duck on Wolf Lake being shot, for now, by a photographer. (Courtesy of Chris Rollins)" /></p><p>The blinds are reassigned each year by public drawing. Anyone 16 years or older with a valid hunting license can apply, but there&rsquo;s more demand than supply &mdash;&nbsp;this year there were about 100 entrants. If a blind is unoccupied and you&rsquo;ve got your state permit in order, it&rsquo;s fair game to use a blind even if you didn&rsquo;t win the public drawing. But those hunters who did get priority.</p><p><strong>Southeast side oasis</strong></p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s kind of one of those sportsman&rsquo;s secrets,&rdquo; said Chris Rollins, who manages Wolf Lake for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Rollins grew up in Quincy, Ill., where he hunted waterfowl. &ldquo;I thought I&rsquo;d seen a lot of ducks in my day,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Here there&rsquo;s mergansers, teal, golden-eye ducks &mdash; lots of species.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-happened-nike-missile-sites-around-chicago-105087" target="_blank">Once a Cold War-era Nike missile base</a>, William Powers is now part of a pastiche of natural areas and industrial sites that stretches from Chicago&rsquo;s far South Side into northwest Indiana.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bentley pic Chris Rollins DNR.jpg" style="height: 212px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Chris Rollins manages Wolf Lake for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He said the waterfowl hunting in this area is among the best in the state. (WBEZ/Bentley)" /></p><p>&ldquo;At Wolf Lake not only was the idea to preserve a natural environment, because a lot of the environment has been impacted by human activity, but it was also to preserve a way of life here,&rdquo; Rollins said. &ldquo;A lot of folks living on the southeast side are avid outdoorsmen. They&rsquo;re just as big on the outdoors as any northwoods guy you&rsquo;re gonna find.&rdquo;</p><p>So our question asker Andrew Eubank doesn&rsquo;t need to traverse the state to plumb the depths of that &ldquo;cultural dissonance&rdquo; he associates with hunting.</p><p>One Chicago-area hunter, Kraig Kaatz, told me he comes to Wolf Lake in part to escape the hustle of Chicago and its sprawling suburbs.</p><p>We went out on the lake one morning in his 12-foot metal boat, joined by his wife Arlene and four-year-old retriever Buddy. It wasn&rsquo;t hunting season yet (that starts Oct. 19), so Kaatz tested his duck calls and decoys while Buddy splashed around.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re in the rural culture more than in the city culture,&rdquo; he said. Kaatz grew up in northeastern Wisconsin, so it&rsquo;s easy to see which one he prefers. &ldquo;The hum of a motor is a lot better than the honk of a horn at a stoplight.&rdquo;</p><p>On our way back to shore, Kaatz said he thought Wolf Lake could stand to have more hunters.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bentley%20pic%20Buddy%20and%20blind.jpg" style="height: 200px; width: 320px; float: left;" title="Buddy the dog and a duck blind on Wolf Lake near the Illinois and Indiana state border. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></p><p>&ldquo;Years and years ago everyone hunted,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Not having a place to hunt is obviously the biggest deterrent. People hear bad things about public hunting areas, and if they don&rsquo;t experience it for themselves they don&rsquo;t know.&rdquo;</p><p>The number of hunters in the U.S. is actually up after years of decline, <a href="http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/NationalSurvey/2011_Survey.htm" target="_blank">according to the U.S. Fish &amp; Wildlife and Wildlife Service&#39;s latest report</a>. If the trend continues, urban hunters may have to go farther afield than the southeast side. Rollins said the number of duck blinds at Wolf Lake isn&rsquo;t likely to change soon.</p><p><strong>Other options</strong></p><p>So there isn&rsquo;t much hunting in Cook County. But Chicago isn&rsquo;t very far from several public hunting areas in the region. To name a few: <a href="http://www.dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/R2/Chaino.htm" target="_blank">Chain O&rsquo; Lakes</a> in Spring Grove; <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/Lands/landmgt/parks/R2/MAZONIA.HTM" target="_blank">Mazonia/Braidwood</a> in Grundy County; and Will County&rsquo;s <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/PARKS/I&amp;M/EAST/DESPLAIN/Park.htm#Shooting" target="_blank">Des Plaines Conservation Area, which offers the largest pheasant hunting (by permit only) facility</a> in the state.&nbsp;<a name="HUNTINGMAP"></a></p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="475" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/hunting/HuntingEmbed.html" width="610"></iframe></p><p>Northeast Illinois hunters made <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/programs/Hunting/Iphar/10Table2.pdf" target="_blank">more than 35,000 trips on public lands during the 2010-2011 season</a>, according to IDNR records, bagging more than 27,000 animals. The bulk of that (71 percent) was pheasants.</p><p>Until December Wolf Lake&rsquo;s steward Chris Rollins was the regional land manager for IDNR, meaning he watched over state sites in Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties.</p><p>&ldquo;Hunters have some wonderful choices here in the Chicagoland region,&rdquo; Rollins said. &ldquo;Man, I would stack this region up against any region in the state as far as waterfowl hunting goes, for the people who would seek it out.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The kicker: Trapping</strong></p><p>Andrew also wondered about trapping, and for Chicagoans the situation is similar to hunting &mdash; in the city your options are limited, but you don&rsquo;t need to go too far. In Northeast Illinois there are three IDNR areas that allow trapping: <a href="https://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/hunter_fact_sheet/R2hfs/dsp_archerydeer.htm" target="_blank">Des Plaines Game Propagation Center</a>, <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/i&amp;m/main.htm" target="_blank">I &amp; M Canal State Trail</a>, and <a href="http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r2/kankakee.htm" target="_blank">Kankakee River State Park</a>.</p><p>Trapping requires a state permit separate from hunting. The state issues limited licenses for &ldquo;nuisance animals,&rdquo; say a bat caught in your attic, and&nbsp;there are plenty of private animal control firms that will do that work for you, too &mdash; <a href="http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/professionals.cfm#nwco" target="_blank">the state maintains a list of licensed operators</a> by county.</p><p>But it&rsquo;s a different story if you want to keep the trapped animal to eat. IDNR regulations &ldquo;prohibit commercialization or other use of animals taken under authority of a Nuisance Animal Removal Permit.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Animal Control can trap animals, but they won&rsquo;t set a trap for rabbits pillaging your backyard garden; only if it&rsquo;s a direct threat to public health or safety &mdash; like coyotes behaving aggressively.</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley</a> reports for Curious City. Follow him at <a href="http://twitter.com/cementley">@cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/where-can-you-hunt-chicago-108954 Food aid and the psychology of helping the environment http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-09-30/food-aid-and-psychology-helping-environment-108802 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Mothers...improve_food_security fixed_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We&#39;ll examine U.S. policy on international food aid with Catherine Bertini, the 2003 &nbsp;World Food Prize Laureate. &nbsp;Mary Pipher joins us to discuss her new book, &#39;The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-food-aid-and/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-food-aid-and.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-food-aid-and" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Food aid and the psychology of helping the environment" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 30 Sep 2013 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-09-30/food-aid-and-psychology-helping-environment-108802 Angry beekeepers swarm Chicago garden show http://www.wbez.org/news/angry-beekeepers-swarm-chicago-garden-show-108486 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/bees.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>If you attend the garden show at Navy Pier this weekend, you might be offered a honey stick by people dressed as bees. While you are enjoying your sweet treat, they may say, &ldquo;Do you like food? Because if you do, you need to be thinking about us.&rdquo;</p><p>The bees are part of a group of beekeepers and activists who are angry about this year&rsquo;s <a href="http://igcshow.com/igc2013/public/enter.aspx">Independent Garden Center show</a>. They say Bayer, one of this year&rsquo;s garden show sponsors, sells pesticides that harm bees.</p><p>Rebecca Ets-Hokin flew in from the Bay Area to participate. She says she has lost half of her hives in the last five years. But it&rsquo;s not only her garden and honey she&rsquo;s worried about.</p><p>&ldquo;Since I eat a lot of food, like a lot of people do, I have a fear that half of our crops are pollinated by bees and other native pollinators, and they are dying out at alarming rates because of pesticides,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Bob Montano, head of customer service for <a href="http://www.bayeradvanced.com/">Bayer Advanced</a>, disagrees.</p><p>&ldquo;The studies that we&rsquo;ve done that these products, when used by labeled instruction, do not cause a health hazard to bees,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The activists say the research is biased and point to <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jan/16/insecticide-unacceptable-danger-bees">European studies</a> that show the harmful impact of the pesticides.</p><p>The beekeepers and activists say they were denied a garden show booth and have been threatened with lawsuits if they protest.</p><p>They attempted to deliver 140,000 signatures opposing the pesticides into the show but were stopped by security before getting to the Pier&rsquo;s entrance. For now, they are standing in a nearby park.</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/shannon_h" target="_blank">@shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Wed, 21 Aug 2013 17:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/angry-beekeepers-swarm-chicago-garden-show-108486 In Archer Park, an odor at large http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/archer-park-odor-large-108436 <p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Topper_WEB.jpg" title="Curious city-dweller Juliet Martinez and reporter Annie Minoff do their best to follow their noses to track down the mysterious scent. (WBEZ/Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F105626316&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr">Juliet Martinez is the first to admit she&rsquo;s &ldquo;olfactory-oriented.&rdquo; Ask her about living in Chicago and she responds with a catalogue of smells.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to live in Logan Square, and you could always smell coffee and burnt toast&rdquo; she says, balancing three-year-old son Diego on one hip. &ldquo;And then I lived in Bridgeport, and you could smell blueberry muffins. Not always, but just if the wind was a certain way.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s a gorgeous Friday afternoon in July, and we&rsquo;re walking through Archer Park with Diego and Juliet&rsquo;s nine-year-old daughter Paula. We&rsquo;ve gone in search of Juliet&rsquo;s latest smell interest, an odor she noticed last fall when Paula was taking tumbling classes at the park. While Paula practiced forward rolls, Juliet and Diego killed time at the playground. And that&rsquo;s where she smelled it: the unmistakable, nostalgic odor of Silly Putty.</p><p>Haven&rsquo;t heard about Silly Putty in a while or maybe never? Well, it&rsquo;s the putty that bounces, stretches, and (most bizarrely) snaps when given a blow, and it comes in a plastic egg. According to Juliet, it also has a distinctive &ldquo;plastic-y chemical type of smell.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s this smell she recalls wafting over the playground from Archer Park&rsquo;s industrial western edge on those fall evenings.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/factory park_WEB.jpg" style="height: 242px; width: 400px; float: right;" title="South Kilbourn Avenue runs alongside the industrial western edge of Archer Park. It draws a distinct different in usage for either side. (Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p>&ldquo;There were definitely times when I felt like, &lsquo;what am I inhaling?&rsquo;&rdquo; she remembers. And so she asked Curious City:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>&ldquo;Where does the Silly Putty smell in Archer Park come from, and is it healthy for the homes that surround the park?&rdquo;</em></p><p>In a city of thousands of smells, Juliet asked us about just one. But our search for this one smell would bring us nose-to-nose with the immense challenges of keeping an entire city&rsquo;s odors in check. In pursuit of putty, we&rsquo;d learn how noxious neighborhood odors get &ldquo;official,&rdquo; how smell mysteries are (sometimes) solved, and how a smell&rsquo;s capture can involve ridiculous looking nasal enhancements. And we&rsquo;d gain a newfound appreciation for the city&rsquo;s odor investigators: those hardworking men and women on the front lines of city stink.</p><p><strong>A walk down Kilbourn Avenue</strong></p><p>At Archer Park, our effort to answer Juliet&rsquo;s question faces one immediate setback: the Silly Putty smell is nowhere to be sniffed. Juliet has a hunch: &ldquo;In the fall, pretty much the main wind comes from the West, Northwest. I think it just blows right over those factories over there, and washes the park in the aroma of Silly Putty.&rdquo; Today the air is still. So we decide that if the smell won&rsquo;t come to us, we&rsquo;ll go to it. Silly Putty eggs in hand, we head towards the park&rsquo;s northwest edge, in the direction of those autumn winds.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/family%20shot%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 203px; width: 270px;" title="Juliet, Diego, and Paula Martinez on the smell trail on Kilbourn Avenue (Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p>You can think of Archer Park as a buffer between the single-family and two-flat homes to its east and the railroad lines and factories to its west. On the western side of South Kilbourn Avenue, industrial blond-brick buildings sport non-descriptive names like &ldquo;Skolnik Industries&rdquo; and &ldquo;A. Lava &amp; Son Co.&rdquo; We begin our Silly Putty search at &ldquo;Cotton Connection,&rdquo; a decidedly odorless t-shirt warehouse where a few hungry employees are observing the final hours of their Ramadan fast. No smell here the office workers say, but maybe check out the mattress manufacturer next door?</p><p>At A. Lava &amp; Son, things get a bit smellier, but not much. We head into the facility&rsquo;s open loading area and Juliet spots a box filled with cut fabric. She holds up a handful of scraps and takes a whiff.</p><p>&ldquo;I mean these fabrics do have that kind of [a] petroleum smell,&rdquo; she says. But even on a windy day, she adds, she &ldquo;wouldn&rsquo;t imagine that it would stink up the park.&rdquo;</p><p>Omar Bermudez &mdash; who&rsquo;s driving a nearby forklift &mdash; agrees. Has he ever smelled anything here? &ldquo;Not really&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s the trash cans.&rdquo;</p><p>At last, we trek one business over to Home Products International Inc. A trucker loitering in his cab tells Curious City producer Jennifer Brandel that Home Products makes plastic bins. As we round the building corner looking for an entrance, Paula pipes up.</p><p>&ldquo;It smells weird over here. And there are these vents,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Maybe &hellip;.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/peering%20around%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 182px; width: 270px; float: right;" title="Sniffing outside the vents at Home Products International Inc, we look for a place to ask employees about a smell. (Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p>Just a few paces away from the vents: nothing. But as we approach the warm air blasting out of the building&rsquo;s side: something. Juliet says she&rsquo;s getting &ldquo;that strong kind of petroleum-like component&rdquo; and an undertone of alcohol. Then she takes a deep breath.</p><p>&ldquo;I feel like this is it,&rdquo; she says. &nbsp;</p><p>We pass through a factory filled with huge machines (and yes, a lot of plastic bins) only to find that the office staff has left for the day. Inside, the astringent, chemical smell is moderately stronger. Is it our Silly Putty smell? Juliet&rsquo;s confident, but not certain.</p><p><strong>Smell investigation 101</strong></p><p>Our search &mdash; promising as it is &mdash; raises a good question: Could this &ldquo;sniffing around&rdquo; really be how professional smell investigators do it? The answer is both &ldquo;yes&rdquo; and &ldquo;no.&rdquo; Otis Omenazu is Chief Air Engineer at the Chicago Department of Public Health, the agency tasked with addressing odor complaints in the city. While the investigative process he describes is not wildly different from our Archer Park sleuthing, it is more systematic.</p><p>CDPH receives most of its odor complaints via 311, the city&rsquo;s non-emergency hotline. Complaints range from vague (&ldquo;Chemical odors in the area&rdquo;) to specific (&ldquo;Caller states that smell coming from restaurant barbeque wood charcoal is too strong&rdquo;).</p><div><p style="margin-bottom:3px"><a href="https://data.cityofchicago.org/Environment-Sustainable-Development/CDPH-odor-complaints-over-the-past-year/q56j-n2vq" style="font-size:12px;font-weight:bold;text-decoration:none;color:#333333;font-family:arial;" target="_blank">CDPH odor complaints over the past year</a></p><iframe frameborder="0" height="425px" scrolling="no" src="https://data.cityofchicago.org/w/q56j-n2vq/3q3f-6823?cur=snPo3uiZ6D8&amp;from=root" title="CDPH odor complaints over the past year" width="620px">&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a data-cke-saved-href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;https://data.cityofchicago.org/Environment-Sustainable-Development/CDPH-odor-complaints-over-the-past-year/q56j-n2vq&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;https://data.cityofchicago.org/Environment-Sustainable-Development/CDPH-odor-complaints-over-the-past-year/q56j-n2vq&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; title=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;CDPH odor complaints over the past year&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; target=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;_blank&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;CDPH odor complaints over the past year&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;</iframe><p><a href="http://www.socrata.com/" target="_blank">Powered by Socrata</a></p><p><em>Smell complaints submitted to Chicago&#39;s Department of Public Health between Aug 1, 2012 and today. Press the bullet list left of a record to see that record&#39;s details.</em></p></div><p>While the department&rsquo;s goal is to address complaints within 24 hours, Omenazu admits there&rsquo;s a certain amount of triage that happens. Gas, chemical smells, and anything that&rsquo;s causing people to feel sick, &ldquo;that&rsquo;s priority number one,&rdquo; he says. And then there are complaints like the one Omenazu got last week, from a man claiming to smell the asbestos removal happening fourteen floors below his apartment.</p><p>&ldquo;How do you smell asbestos?&rdquo; Omenazu demands, incredulous. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just like sand. It&rsquo;s a rock! It doesn&rsquo;t smell!&rdquo; He&rsquo;s smiling, but quickly checks himself.</p><p>&ldquo;I mean it&rsquo;s not a funny thing,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We take all complaints seriously.&rdquo;</p><p>And, judging by the numbers, they do: Omenazu&rsquo;s department has investigated approximately 200 odor-related complaints so far this year.</p><p>How do odor investigations work in Chicago? City inspectors carry portable gas meters called EntryRAEs capable of detecting dangerous volatile organic compounds such as chlorine, methane, and carbon monoxide.</p><p>There are other means of determining a smell&rsquo;s provenance, though, according to expert sniffer Dr. Alan Hirsch, the Director of Chicago&rsquo;s Smell &amp; Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been called in to analyze Chicago smells, called into landfills,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We collect smells and do chromatography, and we use a Nasal Ranger to do intensity.&rdquo;</p><p>Given an air sample, a gas chromatograph can reveal a smell&rsquo;s constituent chemical elements. But this is dubiously helpful, Hirsch says, when you don&rsquo;t know what smell the chromatograph&rsquo;s chemical analysis corresponds to. The hilariously named Nasal Ranger on the other hand, can provide scientists like Hirsch with precise readings of odor strength in the field. What it won&rsquo;t do is tell them what the odor is.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Nasal%20Ranger%20polish%20get%20name.JPG" style="height: 227px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Field olfactometry practice with students trying out Nasal Rangers. (Wikimedia Commons/Kosmider)" /></p><p>From Hirsch&rsquo;s vantage, we need better noses, not necessarily better instruments. His favorite method of smell investigation is the &ldquo;smell panel,&rdquo; whose members rate smells by hundreds of different parameters (musty, moldy, etc.) and compare mystery smells to known odors such as rose or cinnamon (or Silly Putty).</p><p>Supersmellers, Hirsch says, &ldquo;can smell almost a thousand times better than you or I&rdquo; as a result of their unique genes or afflictions like Addison&rsquo;s disease and cluster headaches. Given the right panel of noses, Hirsch says, &ldquo;[supersmellers] can actually tell you what the smell is.&rdquo;</p><p>The city&rsquo;s public health inspectors might not be supersmellers, but Omenazu agrees that out in the field, inspectors&rsquo; noses are their most effective instruments. Once at a scene, inspectors analyze smells according to parameters like frequency, intensity, duration, and how offensive the odor is. If there are health effects, the inspector will describe them. He may also interview people in the area. (We did this too. No one at the Archer Park playground admitted smelling &ldquo;eau de silly.&rdquo;)</p><p>Based on the intelligence gathered, an inspector will decide whether the odor&rsquo;s perpetrators are in violation of city environmental code, which prohibits &ldquo;public nuisances,&rdquo; which Omenazu explains, could be &ldquo;anything that can impact negatively on you enjoying life or your property.&rdquo;</p><p>In the subjective world of smell, that broad definition sometimes has unexpected consequences. Take the West Loop&rsquo;s Blommer chocolate factory. Being bathed in the factory&rsquo;s fresh-ground cocoa scent may be a highlight of my daily commute, but not everyone is similarly enthusiastic.</p><p>&ldquo;There were some people who were really irritated by the smell of chocolate everyday, and we could sympathize with that,&rdquo; Omenazu says, recalling the city&rsquo;s 2006 cocoa crackdown. &ldquo;We had to work with Blommer&rsquo;s in this case to employ some &hellip; engineering controls to make sure that people [were] not inconvenienced.&rdquo; Blommer used a baghouse (a particulate filtering system) and Omenazu says the number of chocolate-related complaints has fallen. For CDPH, this is the best-case scenario. Businesses that fail to comply with environmental code can face hefty fines.</p><p>All this assumes of course that the city&rsquo;s odor detectives are successful in tracking down an odor&rsquo;s source. What happens, I ask, in cases like ours where investigators show up only to find that the smell has left the building? Omenazu says this happens a lot, and unfortunately, there&rsquo;s not much the city can do.</p><p>&ldquo;Odor is very transient,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It might be intense now, but in the next ten minutes, it&rsquo;s gone.&rdquo;</p><p>Smell also poses the additional challenge of being a moving target. &ldquo;Sometimes it&rsquo;s from Indiana&rdquo; Omenazu says. &ldquo;Sometimes it&rsquo;s from as far away as Peoria. There was a case of a gas smell that everybody was smelling. &hellip; People&rsquo;s Gas discovered that [the leak] wasn&rsquo;t even in Chicago.&rdquo; One complaint and one investigation may yield nothing, but Omenazu suggests persistence usually wins out. When I ask him how often he inspects facilities, he says if there are complaints &ldquo;then we visit them as many times as we get complaints.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The smell strikes back &hellip; Does Juliet?</strong></p><p>The Tuesday after our Archer Park excursion, I get an email from Juliet. &ldquo;The smell is back!!&rdquo; she writes. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to go &lsquo;sniffing around.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>As she tells me the next day, she was driving down Kilbourn Avenue, with her car windows open, and got a big ol&rsquo; whiff of putty right outside Skolnik Industries.</p><p>&ldquo;And this is the thing,&rdquo; she recalls, &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t sort of like the smell. It wasn&rsquo;t a faint, but you know, not-quite-the-same-chemical smell. It was definitely the exact same smell.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Paula%20silly%20putty%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 158px; width: 280px; float: left;" title="Paula Martinez plays with putty. We brought it along on the investigation to remind our noses of the scent we were tracing. (Jennifer Brandel)" /></p><p>Near Skolnik shipping and receiving, Juliet had found &ldquo;Danny,&rdquo; a self-described Skolnik welder, taking a smoke break. She captured the moment (and his comments) on her phone.</p><p>&ldquo;That smell that you smell,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s from the weld, from the federal welder.&rdquo; And the aroma, he agreed, is like Silly Putty.</p><p>Which now makes Juliet feel a bit vindicated: &ldquo;It&rsquo;s great to not feel like I&rsquo;ve been having olfactory hallucinations, you know?&rdquo;</p><p>Danny told Juliet that Skolnik Industries produces steel drums, the kind used to contain toxic waste, for example. On the phone, Howard Skolnik, the company&rsquo;s President, confirms this, but he denies that the welding and painting the company does creates an odor. As for Juliet&rsquo;s Silly Putty suspicions?</p><p>&ldquo;I have no idea what she&rsquo;s referring to,&rdquo; Skolnik says.</p><p>Perhaps this is simply a case of a businessperson protecting his interests, but when I speak to CJ Sikora, an industrial welding instructor at Daley Community College, she agrees that Skolnik could be right. Certain kinds of small-scale welding (probably not the kind going on at Skolnik) can create localized fumes, Sikora says. But nothing you&rsquo;d smell a block away. And then there&rsquo;s the fact that we couldn&rsquo;t independently confirm that Danny works at Skolnik. After one tantalizing clue, our smell trail has once again gone cold.</p><p>Again, when Chicagoans face weird odors, they have two options: call 311 and register an odor complaint, or shrug it off. Juliet&rsquo;s still curious about Archer Park&rsquo;s Silly Putty smell, but she hasn&rsquo;t complained to the city and doesn&rsquo;t plan to.</p><p>&ldquo;I should be more concerned,&rdquo; she says, &ldquo;but the jet fuel exhaust from Midway airport, the diesel exhaust from the Stevenson [Expressway] and the noxious emanations from the water treatment plant are probably clouding my mind. Seriously, and sadly, in this part of the city there is no lack of air pollution.&rdquo;</p><p>Juliet Martinez has made her own kind of peace with the putty.</p><p>&ldquo;There are only so many things in life that you can stop yourself from doing because of potential hazards,&rdquo; she says, as kids splash in the park&rsquo;s water feature behind her. &ldquo;The smell of Silly Putty may not be that high on my list of risks in life.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Happen to live or be passing through Chicago&rsquo;s Southwest Side? If you have Silly Putty smell leads, send them to us: <a href="mailto:curiouscity@wbez.org">curiouscity@wbez.org</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 18:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/archer-park-odor-large-108436 Deep cuts proposed to funding for Great Lakes http://www.wbez.org/news/deep-cuts-proposed-funding-great-lakes-108157 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Great Lakes.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">A U.S. house subcommittee proposed a bill that would reduce the <a href="http://greatlakesrestoration.us/">Great Lakes Restoration Initiative</a> budget from $285 million dollars to just $60 million, a nearly 80% cut.</p><p>&ldquo;When we first saw these numbers I could surmise that somebody miscounted and thought there was just one Great Lake,&rdquo; said Todd Ambs, the campaign director for the <a href="http://healthylakes.org/about/">Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.</a></p><p>Since 2009, the initiative has tackled some of the Great Lakes&rsquo; biggest ecological problems, including <a href="http://greatlakesrestoration.us/projects/index.html">invasive species, runoff, and contamination.</a> Many proponents say the initiative will become even more important with climate change, which will have a drastic impact on the lakes.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got these toxic hot spots that need to be cleaned up. And if we don&rsquo;t do it now it&rsquo;s just going to cost more in the future&rdquo; said Ambs.</p><p>The Great Lakes funding was not alone in the potentially drastic <a href="http://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/bills-113hr-sc-ap-fy2014-interior-subcommitteedraft.pdf">cutbacks.</a> The bill proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency&#39;s budget by over 30% and the National Endowment for the Arts&rsquo; budget by nearly 50%.</p><p>Sub-committee representatives said the bill made the hard choice of cutting &ldquo;<a href="http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=343384">nice to have&rdquo; programs, in order to save &ldquo;need to have&rdquo; programs.</a> But Joel Brammeier, president of the <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>, said that even in this tough budget year, programs like the Great Lakes Initiative are singled out for disproportionate cuts. &nbsp;&quot;Cuts of this magnitude would bring Great Lakes programs to a halt,&quot; he said.</p><p dir="ltr">The bill is unlikely to be discussed by the full house until this fall, at which point it could be drastically revised during continuous budget negotiations in both the House and Senate. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Shannon Heffernan reports for WBEZ. You can follow her<a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h"> @shannon_h</a></em></p></p> Tue, 23 Jul 2013 16:37:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/deep-cuts-proposed-funding-great-lakes-108157 Chicago electricity and fracking: An update http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 <p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130#janice">this story has been updated</a> with our question-asker&#39;s progress.&nbsp;</em></p><p>A few weeks back, we looked at this question from Curious Citizen Janice Thomson:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s municipal electricity aggregation deal (approved by voters in 2012) <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">left Janice and other proponents of renewable energy feeling duped</a>, as the city&rsquo;s pledge to eliminate coal from its fuel mix didn&rsquo;t necessarily translate into a big push for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. &nbsp;</p><p>When it comes to fracking (technically &ldquo;high-volume hydraulic fracturing&rdquo;), though, here are the takeaways from our first answer: &nbsp;</p><ul><li><p>Chicago&rsquo;s new energy supplier, Integrys, has a portfolio that is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</p></li><li><p>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking, which is being <a href="http://phys.org/news/2013-05-fracking-ground.html">scrutinized as a possible source of groundwater contamination</a>.</p></li><li><p>At least some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but it&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much because the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</p></li></ul><p>But shortly after <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">our story</a> came out, Chicago&rsquo;s City Hall announced that&nbsp;the electricity aggregation deal will <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">double the city&rsquo;s share of wind power to 5 percent of the total</a>, and even tied that directly to two downstate wind farms. But it&rsquo;s also clear that the deal largely traded one fossil fuel for another; yes, the city would stop using coal to supply electricity and 5 percent will come from wind, but nearly all of the rest (about 95 percent) will be derived from burning natural gas.</p><p>So, what &mdash; if anything &mdash; changes when it comes to answering Janice&#39;s question?</p><p><strong>More power from PA, U.S.A &nbsp;</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Capture4.GIF" style="float: right; margin: 5px; height: 139px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson's question inspired our survey on energy choices. A link on the top left of this post leads you there. You can see results there, too. " />Integrys, the city&rsquo;s new energy supplier, will need to make sure Chicago has enough non-coal electricity on hand to meet demand. To do that, the company&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">tapped a previously underused natural gas power plant</a> in Pennsylvania. <a href="http://www.nexteraenergyresources.com/content/where/portfolio/pdf/Marcus_Hook.pdf/">The Marcus Hook power station</a>, located about 20 miles south of Philadelphia, is set to meet the 95 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity supply not coming from Illinois wind.</p><p>As Marcus Hook revs up to provide the equivalent of most of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity needs, should Janice be more or less concerned about fracking?</p><p>Unfortunately, plant owner NextEra Energy Resources would not disclose the source of its natural gas, but nationally about a third of domestically produced natural gas is obtained through fracking &mdash; a number expected to top 50 percent by 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Likewise Pennsylvania&rsquo;s natural gas resources are predominantly obtained via fracking, but that doesn&rsquo;t mean Marcus Hook is necessarily buying Pennsylvania gas. The state <a href="http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=2870">accounts for almost two-thirds</a> of northeast natural gas production, however, and 80 percent of that is from fracking.</p><p>Without other definitive sources available, though, we&rsquo;re right back where we started: It&rsquo;s extremely likely that some of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is now coming from natural gas derived from fracking, but we can&rsquo;t be precise with the amount.</p><p><strong>Are there other benefits to report?</strong></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/janice%20thomson_2.jpg" style="margin: 5px; float: left; height: 160px; width: 250px;" title="Janice Thomson asked Curious City about natural gas and its relationship to Chicago's electricity aggregation contract. (Photo courtesy of Janice Thomson)" />Janice&rsquo;s question is about fracking, but she&rsquo;s also interested in sustainability in general, and judging from responses we&rsquo;ve gotten to our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey on energy choices</a>, plenty of other people are interested, too.</p><p>One source on this is a <a href="http://www.perfectpowerinstitute.org/sites/default/files/Chicago%20CCA%20Preliminary%20Report.pdf">report by the Illinois Institute of Technology&rsquo;s Perfect Power Institute</a>.</p><p>PPI laid out at least three points that get into whether there&rsquo;s improvement. On the side of air quality, the report suggests Chicago&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal, including the new provision for local wind power and natural gas, reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 98 percent. NOx, as it&rsquo;s called, is a known contributor to local ozone pollution as well as acid rain. &nbsp;</p><p>The report also suggests the city&rsquo;s electricity aggregation deal will conserve water that&rsquo;s used in the process of making electricity &mdash; the equivalent of the annual consumption of about 12,500 households. These calculations were made using data Marcus Hook reported to the federal government.</p><p><strong>The carbon question</strong></p><p>But what about climate change? The bottom line for the city&rsquo;s carbon footprint is complicated. Before Chicago ratepayers voted to let the city buy electricity in bulk on their behalf, about 40 percent of their power came from coal-fired power plants. Another one third came from nuclear &mdash; a much larger share than is typical, due to Illinois&rsquo; relatively high number of nuclear power plants. Except when Marcus Hook is down due outages, Integrys will be buying little nuclear power on Chicago&rsquo;s behalf. Essentially zero-carbon energy, nuclear power has a very small greenhouse gas footprint. By comparison, coal makes a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions per unit of power produced.</p><p>The PPI report said that the city&rsquo;s switch from a combo of coal and nuclear to (mostly) natural gas led to a 16 percent reduction in carbon emissions. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If it [the sources the deal replaced] had been all coal,&rdquo; said the Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s John Kelly, &ldquo;we would have been talking about easily more than a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions.&rdquo;</p><p>Kelly added that the city&rsquo;s power supply emissions report will be updated every year to reflect the Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s performance.</p><p>The 16 percent reduction figure, though, depends on methane leakage figures that are the subject of scientific debate. Gas burns much more cleanly at the power plant than coal. But while leakage during combustion gets attention, not as much is known about greenhouse gas leakage during the delivery and processing of natural gas &mdash; activities that have ballooned in recent years as a result of the U.S. shale gas boom.</p><p>As the PPI report itself mentions, &ldquo;Methane escapes in the harvesting of natural gas from wells, during the processing that cleans it up for use, and from distributing it through the pipeline transmission networks. CO2 also leaks or is generated in gas production, processing and delivery systems.&rdquo; Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.</p><p>The PPI study was actually rare among such studies in its attention to the issue of methane leakage. Nationally the boom in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has raised the issue of methane leakage, as national energy policy proposals attempt to reconcile an increase in domestic fossil fuel production with the potentially conflicting goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>Steven Stengel, a spokesman for the company, said the piping that supplies Marcus Hook with gas &ldquo;doesn&rsquo;t come anywhere near&rdquo; the EPA&rsquo;s reporting requirement threshold of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Perfect Power Institute&rsquo;s calculation for greenhouse gas emissions from methane leakage, therefore, came from national averages for so-called fugitive emissions.</p><p>&ldquo;EPA has really cracked down on the gas industry about letting the methane leak,&rdquo; said PPI&rsquo;s John Kelly. &ldquo;Over the last two years these numbers have come down.&rdquo;</p><p>Earlier this year<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-04/epa-rolls-back-methane-emissions-natural-gas-106891"> EPA revised down its estimate of methane emissions from natural gas between 1990 and 2010</a> to reflect changing industry practices. The Marcus Hook plant&rsquo;s design, for example, is more efficient than older models, which let a substantial portion of gas get through.</p><p><strong>Other options</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth remembering that Janice&rsquo;s original question was about the fuel mix for Chicagoans&rsquo; default electricity provider. As we mention in our <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077">survey post</a> and <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">original answer</a>, though, there are alternative suppliers. The bad news is that the options are sometimes hard to compare with one another or, as is the case with our look into Integrys&rsquo; portfolio, data are limited and can&rsquo;t illuminate every question we&rsquo;d have about those choices.</p><p><strong>An update from Janice<a name="janice"></a></strong></p><p>Our intrepid question-asker Janice decided to investigate the options further. We thought folks interested in alternative energy supply would be curious to know what she found. Here&#39;s an update from Janice on August 22, 2013. &nbsp;</p><p><em>As promised, I did investigate alternative electricity suppliers that would purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) on my behalf. The only supplier I could find that purchases RECs from Illinois was Viridian Energy. Most of the others seem to purchase RECs from wind farms in other states, especially Texas. These RECs are so cheap that the electricity cost was about the same as from Integrys. So switching would be painless and might send a message to Integrys that natural gas is not ok.</em></p><p><em>I want to help green the electricity grid that serves Chicago though, and purchasing RECs from Texas wind farms wouldn&rsquo;t do that. So I signed up for Viridian Energy&rsquo;s 100% wind power (Green-E certified &ldquo;green energy&rdquo;) fixed rate plan for 12 months. At .0649/kWh, it&rsquo;s slightly more expensive than the other suppliers, but not that much (Integrys currently charges 0.05589/kWh for mostly &ldquo;brown energy&rdquo;). The RECs are mostly from Illinois wind farms. Viridian Energy will also donate some funds (I couldn&rsquo;t get an answer as to how much exactly) to a local charity of my choosing. So it seemed the best I could do right now. I&rsquo;ll reevaluate my options in a year.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em>By the way, I was told some crazy things by electricity company reps. For example, a Verde customer service representative told me that they don&rsquo;t buy RECs and the electricity entering my home would literally come directly from renewable sources. Knowing this was untrue, I emailed Verde&rsquo;s corporate office to ask from where they purchased RECs. They then told me all of their electricity in Chicago was in fact &ldquo;brown&rdquo;!<br /><br />Finding a way to lobby the city to increase the percentage of renewable energy in the electricity aggregation contract is proving challenging! Most of what I found online is out of date. I e-mailed three environmental organizations about this topic, but haven&rsquo;t gotten any responses yet. &nbsp;</em></p><p>Thanks, Janice for your ace reporting and for asking a question that brought us so much new information!</p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment for WBEZ. Follow him at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley"> @cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 21 Jul 2013 23:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-electricity-and-fracking-update-108130 Power struggle: Who’s your energy provider? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rig_wind_river_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Curious City producers and reporters are usually hard at work answering your <a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/archive/all">growing list of questions</a>. But every now and then, an answer or even a listener comment stops us dead in our tracks, and we&rsquo;ll say to one another: Why don&rsquo;t we ask more people about this?</p><p>That&rsquo;s what happened after we took on this question from Janice Thomson of Chicago&rsquo;s North Center neighborhood:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Now that Chicago has a new electricity supplier, how much of the city&rsquo;s energy would ultimately come from natural gas via fracking?</em></p><p>We&rsquo;re curious how Chicagoans and others take something that Janice told us after environment reporter <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">Chris Bentley laid out an answer</a>. If you&#39;re already familiar with Janice&#39;s story and figure you&#39;re ready to weigh in, <a href="#Poll">our survey below awaits</a>. If you&#39;re still a little shaky on the details, though, we should first unpack her question just a bit. So, what is fracking (otherwise known as high-volume hydraulic fracturing)? Here&rsquo;s the skinny from Bentley:</p><blockquote><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;... drillers blast water, fine sand and chemicals to break up porous rock containing fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling, which allows a single rig to explore long, flat sedimentary rock formations thousands of feet underground without drilling straight down from the surface many times.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>As for that &ldquo;new electricity supplier&rdquo; bit? Well, Chicago switched energy providers late last year, and Integrys won the city&rsquo;s contract. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago%E2%80%99s-energy-deal-%E2%80%98f%E2%80%99-fracking-107932">The gist</a>:</p><ul><li>Integrys&rsquo; portfolio is &ldquo;primarily&rdquo; natural gas.</li><li>In 2012, 40 percent of the nation&#39;s natural gas production came from shale formations, and that percentage is rising. A good deal of that new production is derived from fracking.</li><li>It&rsquo;s impossible to know exactly how much of Chicago&rsquo;s electricity is generated from natural gas derived via fracking, but some of it is, since the nation&rsquo;s gas supply is not divided by fracked and conventional sources.</li></ul><p>Just last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office announced Chicago is <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/city%E2%80%99s-power-deal-boosts-wind-energy-108003">increasing its supply of wind energy</a>. A month ago, Illinois lawmakers passed the most restrictive high-volume oil and gas drilling regulations in the country.</p><p>News about fracking in Illinois is still rolling in. Yet, Curious City&rsquo;s investigation is making Thomson rethink her energy options right now.</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;As a consumer, I do now plan to &ldquo;opt out&rdquo; of the default Integrys electricity supplier and sign up with a 100% renewable energy supplier. I initially wasn&rsquo;t too keen on the idea of renewable energy credits (which remind me of carbon offsets), but it sounds like that&rsquo;s the best I can do living in Chicago.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>Purchasing renewable energy credits from companies offering green energy plans is one option and perhaps the most economical one. Illinois&rsquo; Citizens Utility Board, a watchdog group that looks out for energy consumers&rsquo; interests, <a href="http://www.citizensutilityboard.org/ciElectric_cubfacts_alternativesuppliers.html">lists alternative electricity suppliers</a>. People can generate their own power, but that is often a pricey upfront investment, said David Kolata, CUB executive director. Still, conservation remains the easiest, most effective option, he said, adding that there are many steps people can take towards energy efficiency.</p><p>Below, we&#39;ve prepared a (very) short survey about whether you&#39;ve considered your own electricity supply options and whether you&#39;ve taken action about it. We invite you to give your two cents. When you&#39;re done, click the link that reads <a name="Poll"></a>&quot;See previous responses&quot; to see how others answered.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="https://docs.google.com/forms/d/179KmxKnNPIqDYyb8PyjeS9A0RqnvVI1QC93VhMrW5XA/viewform?embedded=true" width="620">Loading...</iframe></p><h2><strong>Selected poll responses</strong></h2><p><script type="text/javascript" src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/static/modules/gviz/1.0/chart.js"> {"dataSourceUrl":"//docs.google.com/a/chicagopublicradio.org/spreadsheet/tq?key=0Ai7E2pZ6aCZtdEJpb2RfMXpFWnRtS01lOFRpY0ROclE&transpose=0&headers=1&range=H1%3AH66&gid=0&pub=1","options":{"titleTextStyle":{"fontSize":16},"series":{"0":{"hasAnnotations":true},"1":{"hasAnnotations":true}},"showRowNumber":false,"animation":{"duration":0},"width":620,"hAxis":{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Horizontal axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},"vAxes":[{"useFormatFromData":true,"title":"Left vertical axis title","minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null},{"useFormatFromData":true,"minValue":null,"viewWindow":{"min":null,"max":null},"maxValue":null}],"sortColumn":null,"title":"Chart title","booleanRole":"certainty","height":320,"page":"enable","legend":"right"},"state":{},"view":{},"isDefaultVisualization":true,"chartType":"Table","chartName":"Chart 1"} </script></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 02:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/power-struggle-who%E2%80%99s-your-energy-provider-108077