Friday video: A drone's eye view of the restored Milwaukee River

This drone tour of the newly-restored Milwaukee River is a delightful ride. As you watch this video, you may be surprised to know that before the Great Lakes Legacy Act cleanup project, that this part of the river contained 70 percent of the river's PCB contamination.

The drone floats over lovely Lincoln Park, which is one of the largest parks in Milwaukee. It sits adjacent to an interstate, which interestingly is one of its charms. A focus group participant described it this way--"It's one of the things we love. You go out and see the freeway lit up with all of nature."

The remediation of Lincoln Park occurred in two phases from 2011-2015 with the last bucket of contaminated sediment removed in September. The first phase of restoration also ended this fall with 11 acres successfully restored. Phase 2 restoration is next.

All of these efforts generated so much interest in the park that neighborhood residents formed the Friends of Lincoln Park, helping host almost 10 events in their first year.

Many park neighbors have expressed how much more beautiful the park is. After shrubby invasive species were removed, the can see native wildflowers, the water, and an island! In fact, that there was an island there at all surprised many neighbors!

-Caitie Nigrelli, environmental social scientist


Fellowship deadlines are fast approaching!

It's that time of yearwhen a graduate student's fancy turns towards upcoming fellowship opportunities. If you are interested in coastal and aquatic resources, we've got some possibilities for you. Don't wait! Deadlines are right around the corner!

John A. Knuass Marine Policy Fellowship
The Knauss fellowship provides a unique educational experience to students who have an interest in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources. The program matches highly qualified graduate students with "hosts" in the legislative and executive branches of government located in the Washington, D.C. area for a one year paid fellowship.
Application deadline: February 12, 2016
Start/end dates: February 17, 2017 - January 31, 2018
Length: One year

NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship
The Coastal Management Fellowship was established to provide on-the-job education and training opportunities in coastal resource management and policy for post-graduate students and to provide project assistance to state coastal zone management programs. The program matches post-graduate students with state coastal zone programs to work on projects proposed by the state. 
Application deadline: January 22, 2016
Start date: August 1, 2016
Length: Two years

National Marine Fisheries Service Fellowships
These fellowships are aimed at Ph.D. candidates, who are United States citizens, interested in the population dynamics of living marine resources and the development and implementation of quantitative methods for assessing their status. The marine resource economics fellowship concentrates on the conservation and management of marine resources.
Application deadline: January 29, 2016
Length: Up to two years for Marine Economics and up to three years for Population Dynamics

Great Lakes Commission – Sea Grant Fellowship
One fellow will work for one year with members of Great Lakes science policy, information, and education communities to advance the environmental quality and sustainable economic development goals of the Great Lakes states. The fellowship is located at the Great Lakes Commission office in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Application deadline: February 15, 2016
Start date: June 1, 2016
Length: One year

For additional information, contact Angela Archer, fellowship program leader.


Research brings more community voices to the restoration conversation

Environmental clean-ups can revitalize a waterway and nearby neighborhoods, but are they always good for everyone in a community? Are there people left behind, or worse, negatively impacted by the process or the results?

Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee (pictured here left, with a Milwaukee resident), both University of Illinois researchers, are investigating these questions in conjunction with Great Lakes Legacy Act clean ups in Milwaukee’s Lincoln Park and the Grand Calumet River in northwest Indiana. In Milwaukee, they have been interviewing residents, as well as representatives from businesses and grassroots organizations that have a stake in river management activities to learn how the remediation experience is playing out for more vulnerable members of the community.

Social vulnerability is a measure that is typically used when a community goes through turbulent change, which is mostly disasters. Vulnerable populations are defined by census categories—low income, minorities, single mothers, the elderly, for example. 

“Socially vulnerable populations generally have a lack of capacity to recover from these setbacks or do not have a voice during the community decision process,” said Cutts. The interviews provide an opportunity to inform how vulnerable populations are characterized and it can help target outreach during remediation projects. 

According to El Lower, a Master's student working on this project, one preliminary finding in these taped interviews is that generally, residents tend to think about different river restoration projects together. They don’t separate them in terms of who is funding the work or the different project goals.

In the Milwaukee area, this means that the Great Lakes Legacy Act project, which has led to the removal of many cubic yards of contaminated sediment, may become viewed by residents as connected to a controversial plan to remove the Estabrook Dam upstream. 

Caitie Nigrelli, IISG social scientist, affirmed that at public meetings for the Lincoln Park sediment remediation project, discussions were overtly steered away from the contentious dam.  

Through listening to residents and their strong opinions on the dam, the research team has come to have some advice for environmental organizations and agencies involved in other nearby restoration projects. “The conflict the dam generates may help outreach coordinators more successfully address residents’ questions and concerns regarding the Milwaukee River as a whole,” said Cutts.

Also, the dam project provides a ripe opportunity to hear from vulnerable populations. For her Master’s project, student Kaitlyn Hornik (pictured on right with El Lower) will create a video from interviews and focus groups to share the opinions of those who are not typically heard, which will be shown at a community meeting. “Public forums can be intimidating. The video can open people’s eyes to different points of view,” she explained. “It helps create a level playing field.” 

Next, the researchers will turn their sights to northwest Indiana where the Grand Calumet River has been undergoing remediation for several years to learn how this is impacting residents. 

“We need to think about socially vulnerable groups and if possible include them in the process,” said Cutts. “Analyzing how change can occur is important. The remediation process can be opportunity to have more compassion regarding how this process impacts people."

To learn more about this project you can find videos and reports at Urban Environment Equity Research.

-Irene Miles


Friday foto: The best medicine of all

The IISG folks who created the recently-released edition of the award-winning curriculum The Medicine Chest celebrated at a coffee shop in Urbana, Illinois. (Photo from left: Allison Neubauer, Irene Miles, Terri Hallesy, Laura Kammin, Joel Davenport, Abigail Bobrow, Kirsten Hope Walker, and Adrienne Gulley)


Lake Lessons: Why are there medicines in Lake Michigan?

After the third or fourth hour working on a paper, the practiced and true route of an English major like myself is to pop an Advil to quell the emerging headache and drink a few cups of coffee to keep writing. Now, as an intern at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG), I am learning that along with a perfectly finished paper, I am inadvertently creating a harmful effect in a body of water quite near us. The drugs we put in our bodies end up in other places in addition to juicing our creativity--some end up flushed into Lake Michigan, along with other bodies of water. In 2010, IISG funded a study in which scientists took samples from Lake Michigan and found an interesting presence of drugs and chemicals that did not belong in the water. 

Our bodies do not effectively digest the drugs that we ingest and, as a result, we excrete and flush them down the toilet. Then, the wastewater treatment plants do not always effectively remove the drugs and their by-products.

Wastewater treatment plants are designed to effectively filter used water and send it back into lakes and streams, but Lake Michigan, along with other water bodies, has been receiving outpourings of various medicines and personal care products, and into its clear waters for years. Studies done in 2013 found that only a few of the drugs that are flushed away are treated by wastewater treatment plants; the rest wind up undissolved in Lake Michigan where they remain, due to the fact that the active pharmaceutical ingredients remain intact. Researchers have found drugs as far as two miles away from sewage plants, suggesting that the lake was not diluting the compounds.

Why are these treatment plants, which have been designed specifically to filter wastewater, not effectively targeting and getting rid of the medicinal pollutants before they hit the sunny, boat populated shores of Lake Michigan? The unfortunate fact is that the treatment facilities were designed with other priorities in mind, and their technology is not always up to date. While the plants are effectively filtering out the trash and waste that was always evident in wastewater, only some drugs are being filtered out.

Drugs that are found in wastewater include commonly used medicines and hormones such as caffeine, acetaminophen, and estriol. They do not cause a disastrous problem though, due to their easy break down. On the other hand, many antibacterial compounds, found in soaps, toothpastes, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, do not dissolve as easily. These compounds may cause issues for both the wildlife and humans who come into contact with the water.   

There have been some effects of the water's contamination measured in the lake's wildlife. For example, studies show that a certain type of diabetes medication found in Lake Michigan has been affecting the hormonal system of fish that are exposed to it. To be specific, the Type 2 diabetes medication, Metformin, is disrupting male fathead minnows' endocrine systems and thus affecting their procreation with female minnows. Other changes that wildlife are enduring are still under observation.

Wildlife in the water has constant exposure to this pollution. On the other hand, humans will not see immediate impacts but rather long-term changes, depending on each individuals contact with the polluted water.

As of now, Lake Michigans water has not yet been proven to dangerously affect humans. The doses of each medicine are low in the great, large body of water. And there is no data that shows what effect such low doses have on people who may accidentally ingest the water when swimming in the lake, or whose cities may use the lake water as their water source. On the other hand, there is also such a large variety of medicines and personal care products in the water that the intermingling may prove a threat to our health down the road. However, the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency conclude that no immediate threat is posed to humans.

The treatment plants do, in fact, remove large quantities of medication from the water; however, since many drugs are coming in such a constant manner, it becomes harder to target the pollutants at a 100 percent efficiency rate. The recent reports of 2013 demonstrate a correlation between Lake Michigan pollution, and societys constant use of prescribed medicines. Because many people are ingesting more drugs, more drug compounds end up in the water. People are also not familiar with the correct and environmentally efficient way to get rid of unwanted drugs. Many people naively flush the remnants down the toilet and flush their responsibility away with the drugs. But for the lake and its inhabitants, the issues are only beginning.

-Olivia Widalski, IISG intern
This is the first article in the series Lake Lessons written by Olivia about the issues surrounding pharmaceutical pollution and disposal.