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Posts from the ‘environmental health’ Category

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.

The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.

And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.

Ugly

There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.

Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more

MEC, ZWD urge lawmakers to send waste-to-energy bill to the trash heap

Update: The House has approved HB 5205. Please join MEC in urging your senator to stop this irresponsible bill from moving any further.

The Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit are urging lawmakers to vote down legislation approved by a House committee that would expand the state’s definition of renewable energy to include the burning of hazardous waste, warning that it would harm the health of Michigan residents and hobble the state’s growing clean-energy industry.

House Bill 5205, introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and approved this week by the House Energy and Technology Committee he chairs, would amend the 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. It would put scrap tires, plastics and hazardous materials in the same category as legitimate clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power.

The bill draws its list of fuels that should be considered renewable from a federal administrative rule that has nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, the rule concerns how the Clean Air Act should be applied to facilities that burn waste materials, including hazardous waste with potentially toxic air emissions.

An amendment to the bill removed petroleum coke—an oil-refining byproduct—from the list of fuels that would be considered renewable. And some of the included materials, such as byproducts from pulp and paper mills, already were considered renewable fuels under the 2008 law. But the bill would add dirty fuels that create serious public health risks when burned. For example, it could include railroad ties, which contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, and demolition waste including wood coated in lead-based paint. Read more

Visiting a state park this weekend? We need your help!

Many Michigan families and visitors from other states will enjoy fireworks and festivities this holiday weekend at one of Michigan’s 102 state parks.

Those campers will eat a lot of junk food. And that’s fine – part of the fun of camping is indulging in plenty of chips, pop, hot dogs and s’mores.

But many people also visit the state parks to enjoy healthy physical activity and outdoor adventures like biking, swimming and kayaking. And those folks often want to refuel with more nutritious food choices.

That’s why MEC and our partners in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan coalition recently commissioned a study of the food offerings from vendors at state parks. Michigan State University researchers visited a sampling of parks to see what items were available from camp stores, concession stands and vending machines. They also surveyed park visitors to find out what they think about the available food options. Read more

Report: Overused pesticides injure Michigan workers and homeowners

A golf course employee spilled insecticide on his wet shoes. He awoke in the middle of the night, vomiting with a headache and a numb right foot.

A worker with holes in his gloves sprayed an herbicide at a blueberry farm. He didn’t wash his hands before eating lunch, and developed a sore throat, stomach pain and vomiting.

A homeowner mixed pool chemicals incorrectly and they exploded in his face. The accident left him with first- and second-degree burns, a collapsed lung and other serious injuries. He spent 31 days in the hospital.

These are just a few of the cases outlined in a new Michigan Department of Community Health report on accidents involving pesticides. With spring cleaning season underway, the report is a timely reminder that the household disinfectants, swimming pool chemicals and other pesticides many people purchase this time of year can cause serious injury and even death.

Most of those accidents can be avoided by taking basic precautions. And in many cases, there is no need to use toxic chemicals in the first place. Read more

Anti-biodiversity SB 78: Michigan scientists (133 of ‘em!) poised to tell Gov. Snyder it is “against the best advice” of state’s academic experts

The good news is the Michigan Legislature is on summer recess.

Even better news; they left without taking up SB 78, legislation that would redefine the term “biodiversity” in state law and prohibit state agencies from designating public lands to protect biological diversity. (We’ve written extensively about the bill’s flawed premise and terrible consequences, and you can read about it here and here and here.)

But Rep. Andrea Lafontaine, who chairs the House Natural Resources committee, told MEC earlier this year  that she expected to give the bill a hearing prior to legislature’s summer recess. Due to a busy close of session and – we’d like to think — lots of letters and calls to her office, the bill was not brought before the committee.

But we have every reason to believe the bill, which already passed the full Senate, is still likely to reappear. And when it does, the environmental and conservation communities need to be ready to stand in opposition.

University of Michigan School of Natural Resources Professor Bradley Cardinale PhD, whose work focuses on the challenges of protecting biodiversity, has been working to point out the far-reaching ramifications of the bill. He, and 133 other PhD-level professors representing 13 Michigan universities, have signed this letter urging Gov. Rick Snyder to veto SB 78 should it reach his desk. Signing SB 78, they agree, would be a significant setback for the scientific management of state lands – a decades-old philosophy that has successfully restored Michigan’s once–decimated forests, protected its freshwater lakes and streams, and done a reasonable job of balancing the needs of multiple constituencies who use state lands for diverse activities.

We sat down with Professor Cardinale to ask him a few questions about the professors’ letter and the effects SB 78 would have on Michigan conservation.

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— Tell us about your letter to the Governor. And you have not yet sent it, is that right? When will you?

Read more

Lead Education Day at the State Capitol was personal for one mother and daughter

Maria and Brisa

“Your daughter is lead-poisoned,” said a health worker who showed up on Maria Ellena Gonzalez’ doorstep nine years ago. Gonzalez had no idea what to think. She does now.

Brisa Gonzalez, then 2 years old, was eating lead paint chips and inhaling lead dust in the Grand Rapids home the family recently moved into.  Because lead paint tastes sweet, the toddler had been seeking out the paint chips in the home.  “She was eating it,” said her mother.

The early intervention from the Kent County Health Department, the State of Michigan and federally supported lead prevention programs caught Brisa’s poisoning early. Not all Michigan kids are so lucky.

Close to 5,700 children in Michigan were above the Centers for Disease Control recommended action level for lead poisoning in 2012, according to state officials. Most of those children probably ingested the poison from old paint applied prior to the ban on lead in paint in 1978.  Also troubling, less than 60% of at-risk kids who should be tested for lead poisoning actually are, so there are likely thousands more undiagnosed cases.

Lead paint poisoning is permanent and irreversible.  It lowers IQ, causes restlessness and hyperactivity, is linked to lower graduation rates and poor MEAP testing, and is shown to cause aggressive behavior and increase incarceration rates.  In the body, lead damages the heart, liver, bones, brain, reproductive system and even hearing.  At very high levels, lead poisoning can cause death.

To help make sure no more kids are poisoned by lead in Michigan, Gonzalez and her daughter Brisa were part of the March 6 Lead Education Day at the State Capitol, coordinated by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing and led by the Michigan Environmental Council. Several dozen advocates, parents, policymakers, lead contractors and health experts met with legislators and staffers to outline the problem and urge forward-thinking solutions.

Unlike many public health issues where solutions are elusive, lead poisoning prevention is straightforward and solvable.  Lead causes lead poisoning, it’s cut and dried.  With a price tag of $4.85 billion a year in lost earnings from lead poisoning, this is both a moral and economic issue for our state.

“We know exactly how children are harmed – almost exclusively from old paint that is peeling, flaking or has turned to dust during renovations,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC’s health policy director. “Removing or encapsulating the old paint solves the problem and keeps children safe. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply a matter of money and willpower.”

Both money in the budget for programs like the ones that saved Brisa – and willpower from lawmakers to protect Michigan’s children – were on the “ask” list during the education day.  Michigan has boots on the ground now to combat this problem.  Foundations, donors, community partners, health departments, service organizations and the Department of Community Health have been at work in our hardest hit communities.

As federal funding begins to dry up however, many local service providers are closing their doors leaving families in jeopardy.  State money for lead poisoning prevention and abatement have been slim to none for years now.  Michigan has relied on the federal government for funding and the free ride is over.

This is the message that was shared with 24 key legislators on March 6th.  Coalition members got a good response from policy makers and are hopeful, but will continue to press the case.

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Prop 3′s ‘sky is falling’ report’s assumptions: Garbage in, garbage out

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy issued another doomsday report recently, claiming that achieving Proposal 3’s 25% renewable electricity goal by 2025 would unleash economic Armageddon on our fair state, increasing bills hundreds of dollars annually.

The report follows a real analysis conducted by experts in energy and utility regulation that we released two weeks ago. That study says that moving to 25% clean energy would cost the average residential ratepayer 50 cents a month at the outset, and save them money in later years.

Those are two very different conclusions.

For guidance, you might read a third, independent report – the Michigan Public Service Commission’s most recent analysis. It found the cost of renewable electricity coming online in Michigan right now is far below comparable costs for more dirty, unsustainable coal power.

Additionally, it found that wind energy costs were dropping steadily, while the cost of coal delivered to Michigan jumped 71 percent in just the last four years.

So it seems like simple math would suggest that buying the cheaper power (wind energy) would cost you less than buying the expensive power from coal.

An examination of the Mackinac Center’s report explains the discrepancy.

A key assumption in the Mackinac Center report is the cost of wind energy. Wind energy will supply the lion’s share of the additional renewable energy we would need between 2015 and 2025 to reach the goals established in Proposal 3.

The Mackinac Center report is grounded in the wild and baseless contention that wind energy costs will somehow skyrocket to up to 4.5 times higher than the current signed wind contracts in Michigan.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists put it in its analysis of the Mackinac Center study:

The Mackinac Center analysis “… assumes levelized energy costs for wind that range from $149/MWh to $288/MWh in 2010. These costs are 1.5 to 3 times higher than the average cost of wind contracts in Michigan from 2009 to 2011 ($94/MWh) and as much as 4.5 times higher than the state’s most recent signed wind contracts ($61-$64/MWh), according to the Michigan Public Service Commission. (emphasis theirs)

 “ …The use of indefensibly high wind cost assumptions extends through 2025 in both the average and high cost cases.”

Or, in plain English, the Mackinac Center report’s key assumption is garbage.

You can read the Scientists’ analysis and the back-and-forth between the Mackinac Center and the UCS analysis’ author and decide for yourself.

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Michigan finally bans open garbage burning. Some of it, anyway….sort of

This week Michigan became one of the last Great Lakes state to outlaw burning trash in outdoor burn barrels.

But, not really.

The legislation signed into law allows open burning, but prohibits the most toxic items. Stuff like foam, plastic, rubber, chemicals, electronics, etc.

That’s better than nothing. And the evidence that open burning is a huge health hazard is unequivocal.

But we’re disappointed the ban didn’t include all household wastes. And, that it included language forbidding the state from outlawing the burning of any materials not on the legislation’s list.

With more than half the state’s residents living in places that exceed allowable levels of particulate matter, there’s no need to add to the harm. It’s 2012, and we have better systems in place to recycling, reuse, and more safely dispose of our garbage.

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Tuesday Linkaround: Leelanau tops healthy list and U.P. mining gets national exposure

Or maybe it's Leelanau's grapes?

Michigan’s Leelanau County is at the top of the list of the state’s healthiest counties,  according to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Parts of Southeast Michigan, the Grand Traverse area and West Michigan seemed to house most of the healthiest counties; check out where your county landed in the study. Do you think Leelanau’s ranking had anything to do with its utterly refreshingly lack of fast food restaurants?

Farther North yet, the Christian Science Monitor has surveyed the imminent mining boom in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with this reporting. The otherwise even-handed piece fails to note that the current type of mining is much different and riskier than the mining of the U.P.’s past. So-called sulfide mining is a explained here.

Moving into urban issues, the historic River Rouge coal plant was the largest of its kind on earth when it opened in 1956. Mother Jones has a terrific photographic essay on the aging plant’s visual legacy. Scroll down the photos far enough to see the Sierra Club’s indefatiguable Rhonda Anderson, along with a good analysis of how her organization (an MEC member and ally) is working not just to replace the behemoth with cleaner energy, but help the community better absorb the loss of jobs the plant’s closure will create.

One of the state’s most invisible environmental challenges are the thousands of leaking underground petroleum tanks across the state. These sites threaten drinking water, surface water, soils and in some cases public health. Here’s the first in a Bridge Magazine series done by Michigan journalist and author Jeff Alexander. He explains how if the state does not act decisively, the problem will only get more costly.

Hey, there’s good news too: The Federal Government and five states, including Michigan, have come to an agreement to expedite the process of building off-shore wind farms around the Great Lakes region.

Finally, under the heading clean technology, some crazy Belgian is trying make pigeons poop soap, to help clean the cities they now soil. MEC has no position on soap-pooping pigeons.

— Marco Salomone contributed to this post