In the News: Little quagga mussel has big impact on Lake Michigan

From the Bay View Compass:
In his lab at the Great Lakes WATER Institute, scientist Russell Cuhel places several quagga mussels into a beaker containing water tinted green with tiny algae. Within a half hour, the hungry mussels suck up virtually all the algae in the beaker, leaving the water clear.

A similar scene plays out year-round on a much larger scale in Lake Michigan, where trillions of the invasive mussels have colonized rocky and sandy areas of the lakebed since the species’ arrival less than a decade ago. These filter feeders’ voracious appetites have transformed vast areas of the lake from cloudy to Caribbean clear. That may be a boon for divers and others who benefit from greater visibility in the water. But to scientists like Cuhel, it’s a symptom of a dramatic shift in the lake’s food web. Read more.


In the News: Good gains for a Great Lake

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Lake Michigan is on the rebound after flirting with near-record low water levels in 2008.

In January 2008 the water was so low that the human polar bears taking their annual New Year's Day plunge off the Door Peninsula had to navigate around yellow police tape so they didn't slash their feet on an offshore shipwreck.

Sixteen months and two cold and wet winters later, the lake has added more than 2 feet of water, and it continues to rise almost daily. Read more.


At the Community Stewardship Fair

At the Champaign Public Library, University of Illinois students, natural resource faculty, and local grade school students gathered to present their community stewardship projects. Here is a monster-sized sea lamprey created by grade school students as part of their community stewardship project.

Community Stewardship Fair Day!

Yesterday at the Orpheum Children's Museum yesterday, 4th grade students from Stratton Elementary School in Champaign presented their message about invasive aquatic species in the form of a play. Here, a silver carp is tormenting nearby boaters.


Community Stewardship Fair Highlights Invasive Species Projects

University of Illinois students will be teaming up with local elementary and middle school students on April 23 at the Nab the Aquatic Invaders! Community Stewardship Fair.

The fair is a part of a new service-learning course—NRES 285: Community Stewardship through Environmental Education—in which students use a science-based web site and other interactive resources to bring the issue of aquatic invasive species to local schools.

Under the guidance of their student leaders, the local school children formed community partnerships with local organizations and businesses, such as Urbana Free Library and Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, to create community stewardship projects, which will be used by the partners in the future.

One partner—Environmental Almanac—worked with students to create a musical broadcast to be aired on their radio spot (pictured above). Other projects range from posters and classroom materials to informative skits.

The fair—hosted by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the U of I Center for Teaching Excellence—gives the students and children the opportunity to showcase their projects to the public. It will be held at the Champaign Public Library from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

“This event provides an empowering opportunity for the students to showcase their exemplary work and to interact with family, friends, and the public in an educational forum that is both engaging and meaningful,” says IISG education specialist Terri Hallesy.


Prescription Drug Disposal Program: Unwanted or Expired Medicine Collection Program

From the Sangamon County Department of Public Health:

On Saturday, April 25, residents are encouraged to rid themselves of any unwanted or expired medications at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, Lot 21 entering Gate 11, from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This initiative is sponsored by the Illinois EPA, Sangamon County Department of Public Health, C.W.L.P., Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Illinois Lake Management Association, Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department and Springfield Metro Sanitary District. Residents can properly dispose of the following items: over the counter medications, medicated aerosol products, medicated shampoos, soaps, creams, and pressurized inhalers. No controlled substances will be accepted. If you have questions about whether or not your medication is considered a controlled substance, contact your pharmacist.

Residents are asked not to flush their pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). The PPCPs can enter the water supply via sinks, toilets, or trash disposals. Most people dispose of human and pet medication either by flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash. These methods create the potential for harmful chemicals to end up in our rivers and streams. An excess of PPCP in the water can harm local aquatic ecosystem. The effects of the pharmaceuticals can be observed in certain aquatic life, such as feminization and altered neurological behavior in fish. Medications that are flushed down the toilet can build up in the water system and alter the environment. Even medications that are thrown in the trash can spend years degrading into the soil and making their ways into the water supply. In addition to the effect on the water, chemicals from medicinal waste can end up in fertilizers used for agricultural land.

Pharmaceutical-related chemicals have been found in trace amounts in samples of finished drinking water. Waste water treatment and drinking water treatment plants do not have the technology to remove 100 percent of the drugs. With increasing amounts of PPCPs entering rivers and streams that provide the source of much of our water supply, and with increases in the use of medications by the aging baby boomer generation, it is important to take steps to reduce their impact on water resources.

Several environmental groups in Illinois have teamed together with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to create drug disposal sites within the state. These sites were created in order to provide an environmentally safe method of disposing of old, expired, and unwanted medications.

“Sangamon County was on the forefront with including acceptance of unwanted and expired medications within our Household Hazardous Waste collections two years ago,” said Angela Harris, Recycling Coordinator with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health. “We believe it is important to educate residents on how to properly dispose of their medications. Illinois EPA notified us that due to the State’s budget, we were not selected for HHW collection this year. Therefore, we are focusing solely on collecting unwanted and expired medications.” This event is a prelude to establishing permanent drop-off location programs.


In the News: Champaign 4th graders collaborate with UI students to raise awareness about aquatic invasive species

From the Environmental Almanac:
Today’s Environmental Almanac comes to you courtesy of students from Zanne Newman’s class at Stratton Elementary School in Champaign. This Spring, some of Newman’s fourth graders have been working with University of Illinois students enrolled in a service learning program called Community Stewardship through Environmental Education, which is offered cooperatively by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program, the UI Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and the Center for Teaching Excellence. Read more.

In addition to song lyrics written by the Stratton students, this blog post includes a video of Franklin School eighth graders performing their play about the problem of invasive aquatic species.


In the News: Stimulus funds to aid OMC plant clean-up

From the Lake County News Sun:
The Waukegan lakefront clean-up is getting a boost from the federal stimulus package after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced $10 to $25 million is available to finish the clean-up of Plant 2 at the Outboard Marine Corp.

"This is huge," said Susie Schreiber, chairman of the Waukegan Harbor Citizens Advisory Group. "This is one more piece of the financial pie."

"This will position Waukegan to finally move forward with the final clean-up of the harbor," she said, which is a separate issue. With this clean-up of Plant 2 out of the way, the harbor clean-up can move up on the funding list.

"This will lead to getting de-listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern," she said. Read more.

For information about the Great Lakes Legacy Act, which is funded to clean up Great Lakes Areas of Concern, visit the U.S. EPA GLNPO website.


In the News: Voracious goby extends its range to deeper water, threatening Great Lakes, scientists say

From the Grand Rapids Press:
A half-century after alewives disrupted Great Lakes fisheries and trashed beaches, another invasive fish is engaged in a biological conquest of the world's largest freshwater ecosystem.

The round goby is taking over large swaths of the Great Lakes and their connecting waters, according to scientists studying the invader. Gobies breed like rabbits and eat like pigs, causing profound changes at the base of a food chain that supports the Great Lakes $7 billion sport and commercial fisheries. Read more.


In the News: Highway retention pond in Portage becomes bird sanctuary

From The Post-Tribune:

The state highway project to widen U.S. 6 in the Portage area has given Porter County a new destination for birdwatchers that isn't on tourism maps yet.

Last year, when attention was focused on the new Lakefront and Riverwalk on the Lake Michigan shoreline, two state agencies and a newly formed group of bird spotters partnered to watch over the McCool Basin, a 10-acre piece of property acquired by the state as a retention area at the northwest corner of U.S. 6 and McCool Road. Read More.


Pollution Prevention Inspires IISG Intern

Shelley Cabrera is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago with a B.S. in environmental science. She is now an O.R.I.S.E. (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) intern working in conjunction with the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office and IISG. Here is her post:

As an intern I have the opportunity to learn about effective product stewardship and a wide range of environmental issues. In turn I am able to pass this knowledge on to others, and provide them with tools and resources needed to make a difference in their communities and their own lives. More specifically, in the realm of product stewardship, we are concentrating our efforts on the proper disposal of pharmaceutical and electronic waste. Just last week I was able to speak with a representative of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative who intends to relay, to participating mayors and local officials, information on how to implement ongoing PPCP (pharmaceutical and personal care product) collection programs in their cities. Knowing that cities throughout the Great Lakes basin and the rest of the country want to take charge of the situation is reassuring; unfortunately others are not as fortunate.

Recently, an AP article highlighted the Iska Vagu stream in Patancheru, India that is so polluted with pharmaceuticals that “enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.” Some of the possible consequences of these unregulated releases include cell growth failure, harm to reproductive systems, and the promotion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As if the degradation is not enough, the Iska Vagu stream acts as the only water source to many of the villages downstream. The villagers and manufacturing facilities upstream that are releasing these high concentration residues know that the river is highly contaminated, yet not much has been done either due to apathy or inability. This story is a sad reminder of the consequences a lack of product stewardship can have on the environment and communities. I am pleased to be a part of the effort to make sure that an incident like this one does not happen in the Great Lakes.

In line with protecting our environment, IISG’s Disposal of Unwanted Medicines: A Resource for Your Community toolkit has been sent to locations throughout the U.S,, even to Canada and New Zealand! Whether it is helping an individual, group or local government set up their own collection event, increasing awareness among the general public through education and outreach is imperative to changing the way we think about our everyday actions. In fact, I was able to pass on educational materials to a Montessori grade school teacher (who happens to be my aunt), after she mentioned that she would be starting an ecology course soon.

As to electronics recycling and disposal, we have been working with U.S. EPA and Ohio Sea Grant to redesign ecyclingtools.com to more effectively provide businesses with the information and tools needed to refurbish and/or recycle their old computer equipment. Among the many sites providing information on electronics disposal, we noticed that there was a lack of recycling information provided to businesses. Our hope is that this user-friendly site will act as a one-stop shop for businesses to find out about energy star ratings for new equipment, recyclers in the area, regulations for their state, etc. In my opinion, before the redesign the site was too much like the report it grew from. Now, almost everything is displayed when you first enter the site in a format that is not overwhelming for the user, and clickable maps will make finding regulations and recyclers for a state a bit easier. The best part is that this is just one more step toward keeping hazardous chemicals from entering the environment and contaminating our water supplies.

In addition to working on proper waste disposal, I have also been fortunate enough to work on production of a type E botulism manual for the Great Lakes states. Our goal is to have a document that local and state governments and the public can refer to for information on symptoms to look for, avian carcass disposal, cooking temperatures for fish and birds, as well as any federal and state advice that may exist. Before starting work on this manual, I had no idea that there were even various types of botulism or the conditions required to activate the toxin. The only thing I knew was that improperly canned fruits and vegetables could contain botulism, but I never thought that it was naturally occurring in the Great Lakes. With each new assignment I feel that I am probably learning even more than I realize, and these tasks are just a few of many that, as an intern, one is able to accomplish working with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and U.S. EPA.


In the News: U.S. Steel to monitor groundwater

From The Post-Tribune:
GARY -- U.S. Steel plans to start monitoring groundwater around the perimeter of its Gary Works facility.

Within the next three months, a contractor will install more than 100 groundwater monitoring wells around U.S. Steel Gary Works, officials said Tuesday. The company also will start monitoring old wells again. Read More.