Science students experience Wildcat Creek feet first

September 21st, 2015 by
Honors and AP high school students from Howard County, Ind. got their feet really wet Thursday at the 2015 Wildcat Experience at Wildcat Creek near Kokomo.
The program was started by Howard County Stormwater Technician Sarah Brichford with important goals for these high achievers.
Wildcat Creek is 84 miles long and a major tributary of the Wabash River. In 2003, a study showed that most of its pollutants are from urban and rural run-off and wastewater discharge. Since then, state and local governments have taken steps to stem the flow of contaminants.

Plus, they decided to bring youth into the picture.

“We wanted to get high school students who are taking biology and environmental sciences out into the community so they could see some local natural resources, and more importantly, some of the services and infrastructure that depend on the natural environment like wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater treatment,” Brichford said.
“That’s why we created this, so they could experience it live and in person.”
Six years and hundreds of students later, Wildcat Experience is thriving and educating students with the help of volunteers and IISG specialists.
Jay Beugly, an IISG aquatic ecologist, shared his expertise on the region’s fish and aquatic insects. He was also hoping to change a few minds about the pollution stigma the Wildcat carries to this day.
“Typically students that come to this don’t get in the water initially because they think it’s so polluted,” Beugly said. “But I hope they go home and tell family that it has a lot of good fish and insects that don’t occur in terrible streams. I hope that they’ll decide that Wildcat Creek is a lot better than they initially thought.”

So after fish, water, macroinvertebrate, and soil testing some of the students felt differently about the creek right in their backyard.

“There’s a lot more diversity than you would think there would be in Indiana,” senior Sarah Schwarzkopf said.
“I always thought the Wildcat was really dirty, but after all the tests we did it’s really not that bad.”

In the news: EPA takes two Michigan sites off list of toxic hot spots

November 3rd, 2014 by
After decades of remediation work, two Michigan sites are no longer considered Areas of Concern (AOCs). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially removed Deer Lake in the Lake Superior basin and White Lake in the Lake Michigan Basin from the list of toxic hot spots last week. 

These are the third and fourth U.S. sites to be delisted since a 1987 cleanup agreement with Canada identified areas hit hardest by legacy pollutants like PCBs and mercury. The Oswego River in New York became the first in 2006, and Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Bay was delisted last year. 

From the Detroit Free Press

The Deer Lake AOC, along the southern shore of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula, was listed because of mercury contamination that leached into water flowing through an abandoned iron mine, as well as other pollutants. Mercury contamination in fish—and reproductive problems—also were documented in animals and birds, including bald eagles. 

The remediation efforts included a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant for $8 million that helped pay for a project diverting water from Partridge Creek. It previously fed the stream flowing through old mine workings under Ishpeming, which then ran into another creek and into Deer Lake. 

The White Lake AOC was on Lake Michigan in Muskegon County and had been contaminated by pollution—especially organic solvents—from tannery operations, chemical manufacturing and other sources, degrading fish and wildlife habitats.

A $2.5-million grant was used to remove contaminated sediment and restore shoreline, with more than 100,000 cubic yards being removed. Read more

More than two dozen AOCs remain throughout the Great Lakes states. But as many as 10 are targeted for completion in the next five years thanks in part to funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which will enter its second phase next year. 

Two of the sites slated for delisting are the Buffalo and Grand Calumet rivers, where IISG’s Caitie McCoy has partnered with federal, state, and local groups under the Great Lakes Legacy Act to connect nearby communities with the remediation and restoration. A big part of this work has focused on integrating environmental cleanup projects into the classroom with place-based curriculum and stewardship projects. 

***Deer Lake in Ishpeming. Credit: Stephanie Swart, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 

In the news: River otters tell the tale of chemicals affecting the environment

February 11th, 2014 by
Illinois river otters are just one of the susceptible organisms in the local environment, and a recent study is showing that they are indicating some very high levels of dangerous toxins (including a banned insecticide). 
“‘Thus otters serve as biomonitors – organisms that contain information on the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the environment – of wildlife exposure,’ according to a new study. They also serve as biomonitors for human health because the same toxic chemicals found in otters have also been found in people who eat contaminated fish.
The study published in the journal ‘Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety’ found high concentrations of chemical compounds in the livers of 23 otters in central Illinois.
Especially troubling were the highest concentrations of dieldrin ever reported in otters anywhere in the United States, said lead author Samantha Carpenter, a wildlife technical assistant at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Dieldrin is one of the organochlorine insecticides banned in 1978. More than three decades later, high levels of the chemicals remain in river sediments and accumulate in the fish that otters and people may eat.
The compound has been linked to neurological, behavioral and immune-suppression problems in wildlife. Scientific studies disagree on adverse human effects, but some studies have linked dieldrin to asthma, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer, Carpenter said.”
Read the complete article at the link above.

In the news: Great Lakes mayors target plastic pollution from personal care products

November 11th, 2013 by

Recent research on Great Lakes contaminants has shown that microplastics – small beads of plastic used in many exfoliants, toothpastes, and other products – are contributing to pollution levels. As a result, mayors near the Great Lakes are calling on manufacturers to remove the plastics from their products. 


“The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, representing more than 100 Canadian and U.S. cities, is urging industry and governments to have microplastics removed from personal care products.

Its call came as a study on microplastic pollution was published based on sampling last summer on Lake Huron, Erie and Superior led by Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

‘It takes that kind of initiative to get things to change,’ she said of the mayor’s support for the issue.
‘It’s not so much about cleaning it up, as it is about stopping it at its source.’

Mason returned to the lakes for seven weeks this summer to collect more samples, including one from the St. Clair River at Sarnia that will be analyzed as the study continues.

Samples taken in 2012 included green, blue and purple coloured spheres, similar to polypropylene and polyethylene microbeads in consumer products, such as facial cleaners.”

Read the complete article at the link above.

In the news: Continuing coverage of microplastic research on the Great Lakes

September 4th, 2013 by

Continuing research on Lake Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes is turning up important information on the presence and concentration of microplastics – particles too small to be filtered by water treatment plants, but which can have negative effects on the environment.

From the StarTribune:

“Fresh off the research boat, Lorena Rios-Mendoza, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, presented her preliminary findings to reporters Thursday.
She said Lake Erie seems to hold the highest concentrations of plastics, probably because the particles float downstream from the upper lakes, according to the Duluth News Tribune ( ).
The plastic has also been found in Lake Superior sediment, meaning it’s not just floating on the surface, Rios-Mendoza said.
‘It was very shallow where they were found, but they were in the sediment,’ Rios-Mendoza said.


The researchers dragged fine-mesh nets across the surface of lakes. Some of the plastic can be seen only under a microscope.

So far, Rios-Mendoza’s hypothesis is that the plastic in the Great Lakes starts small, possibly as scrubbing beads in household or beauty products, facial scrubs and even some toothpaste.”

Follow the link above to read the complete article, including information about some of the harmful properties of this pollution, and read about IISG’s Laura Kammin and Anjanette Riley taking part in the research this summer here

Lake Michigan sampling trip reaps plastic microbeads

August 14th, 2013 by
Last week, IISG’s Anjanette Riley and Laura Kammin set sail on Lake Michigan to learn more about plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Anjanette wrapped up the trip by writing about the experience: 

The sampling process started like many do – with a countdown that sets off a whirlwind of action. On three, some in the 5-person crew would hoist a 4-foot-long trawl overboard while another recorded the time, the boat’s location and speed, and the direction and force of the wind. Another person was responsible for adjusting the sails and the boat’s direction to keep it moving at a slow-but-steady speed. The next 30 minutes—as exact as possible—would be a bit calmer. The trawl skimmed the surface of Lake Michigan, trapping everything that crossed its path in a narrow net. And the crew got ready to process the sample. The real work started when the trawl was pulled from water. Everything caught in the net—large and small, natural and man-made—had to be moved to a plastic bottle so its contents could be examined later. It sounds simple enough, but the netting is small and getting tiny beads of plastic or nearly-microscopic animals into the bottle required a multi-step process that took time. Step 1: use a spray gun to get everything out of the net and into a tightly-woven sieve. Step 2: spray everything to one side of the sieve. Step 3: spoon the larger contents into a plastic bottle. Step 4: drain everything else into the bottle. Step 5: pour in some rubbing alcohol. Step 6: label the plastic bottle with the sample number and tape it up to prevent it from spilling. And repeat. 

During the three days Laura and I were aboard the sailboat Free at Last, the crew collected 16 samples from all across southern Lake Michigan. With us on the boat was Stiv Wilson, communications director for the plastics research group 5 Gyres, Nick Williamson, an undergraduate research assistant at SUNY Fredonia, and Conor Smith, the ship captain. Together, we made a triangle from the Chicago area to just south of the Wisconsin border to South Haven, Michigan and back, collecting water samples about every hour and a half.  

We found bits and pieces of plastic in several of the samples. Most of what we saw were tiny microbeads, like the kind used as exfoliants in face and body washes. On the second day, though, we pulled a plastic cigarette wrapper from the lake. Beyond the reach of the trawl, we also saw balloons, plastic bags and bottle lids, a straw, and a couple other pieces of unrecognizable plastics riding the waves. But these were just the things large enough to be seen. We won’t know for sure how much plastic is in the lake until Sherri Mason and her research team at SUNY Fredonia examine the samples under a microscope over the next few months.  

The findings from this trip will be added to the results of previous research excursions on northern Lake Michigan and each of its sister lakes to get a more complete picture of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Initial results have already revealed that the lakes have a higher concentration than some parts of the world’s oceans, where plastics have been a major environmental concern for years. 

Because plastics float and break down very slowly over time, everything from chemical contaminants to bacteria and invasive species can latch on and catch a ride to new ecosystems. These sampling trips are the first to examine whether the Great Lakes may be facing the same ecological threat. 

You can learn more about this topic in the Chicago Tribune.

In the news: Are the Great Lakes home to Pacific-like garbage patches?

April 11th, 2013 by

The Pacific Ocean is the location of a very large collection of marine debris and waste nearly twice the size of the state of Texas. Dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” it is comprised of plastic and other materials that can be detrimental to animals and the environment. 

There is growing concern and evidence that the Great Lakes may be home to their own, similar garbage patches. 

From U.S. News & World Report

“Researchers say the Great Lakes are becoming polluted with the same plastic particles that have created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an area of trash in the Pacific Ocean that’s twice the size of Texas.
Researchers say that Lake Erie has up to 1.7 million tiny plastic particles per square mile, which is a greater density than some parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. By definition, these so-called ‘microplastics’ have a diameter of less than 5 millimeters and are generally tough to see in the water.”
Follow the link above for the complete article on this ongoing research.
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