In the news: High levels of chromium found in Chicago-area tap water

From the Chicago Tribune:
The cancer-causing metal made infamous by the movie "Erin Brockovich" is turning up in tap water from Chicago and more than two dozen other cities, according to a new study that urges federal regulators to adopt tougher standards.

Even though scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Toxicology Program have linked the ingestion of hexavalent chromium to cancer, the EPA doesn't require Chicago or other cities to test for the toxic metal. Nor does the EPA limit the dangerous form of chromium in drinking water.

To take a snapshot of what is flowing through taps across the nation, the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, hired an independent laboratory that found the metal in treated drinking water from 31 cities. The amount in Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs was 0.18 parts per billion, three times higher than a safety limit California officials proposed last year. Read more.


In the news: $47 million in new projects to fight Asian carp

From the Detroit Free Press:
Federal and state agencies announced $47 million worth of new projects Thursday to combat Asian carp and prevent their spread to the Great Lakes.

The 13 projects include a new laboratory in Wisconsin that will do increased DNA sampling for Asian carp around the lakes, aiming to take 120 samples per week. Scientists also will try to find genetic markers in the fish that can be used to help determine where they are.

The agencies also are looking at 18 risky pathways from New York to Minnesota that the fish could use to get into the lakes, hoping to find ways to block them. They also will study whether steel-hulled barges passing through electrified barriers near Chicago might be providing the fish a free ride, protecting them from the electric charge that is meant to repel them. Read more.


In the news: EarthTalk: What is Global Dimming?

From the Environmental News Network:
Global dimming is a less well-known but real phenomenon resulting from atmospheric pollution. The burning of fossil fuels by industry and internal combustion engines, in addition to releasing the carbon dioxide that collects and traps the sun's heat within our atmosphere, causes the emission of so-called particulate pollution—composed primarily of sulphur dioxide, soot and ash. When these particulates enter the atmosphere they absorb solar energy and reflect sunlight otherwise bound for the Earth's surface back into space. Read more.


Wednesday NOAA Brown Bag: Medicine collection programs and beyond

As part of the NOAA Brown Bag Series, this Wednesday, December 15, IISG Coastal Sediment Specialist Susan Boehme will provide updates and insights into efforts to prevent unwanted medicines from ending up in lakes, rivers, and drinking water. Her talk will be held from 12:00-1:00 p.m. EST in the NOAA Central Library.

You can see her talk via webinar by signing up here a few minutes before it the scheduled time. Afterwards, you can also find Susan's talk archived.

Here is her abstract:

Unwanted Medicines and Educating our Communities: What Have we Learned, How are we Doing and What are the Next Steps? Experiences from the Great Lakes States
Medicines are produced in increasing volumes every year. With this growth comes concern regarding environmental fate of unwanted medicines. Recent studies identified pharmaceutical compounds in fresh and marine waters nationwide, and several of these bioactive compounds are potentially harmful to aquatic organisms, even in small quantities. Additionally, improper medicine disposal poses poisoning risks to children, the elderly and pets and can lead to drug/identity theft. Unused medicines may accumulate in homes or be flushed, placed in the trash, or given to others, all of which have significant disadvantages. One approach for decreasing amounts of unwanted medicines reaching the environment is the organization of collection programs that ensure safer methods of disposal. This presentation will describe the status of our efforts in the Great Lakes Region including collection programs, outreach and education with an eye toward what is still needed, and what should be our next steps to expand the program nationally. Should we focus more on the front end of the cycle including drug manufacturing, and reducing the amounts of waste from the home, or should we focus on non-residential waste of pharmaceuticals including confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), hospitals and clinics? Where do we go from here?


IISG announces new research Request for Proposals

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute issues this joint call for proposals to continue to address the most pressing data gaps for modeling the effect of aquatic invasive species (AIS) on Lake Michigan food webs. Several important factors that drive Lake Michigan food webs (i.e., nutrient cycling, event responses, light gradient effects, temperature, circulation patterns, etc.) were identified during a 2008 Lake Michigan Food Web Workshop. The workshop was organized by the Great Lakes Regional Research Information Network, a collaboration of U.S. EPA-Great Lakes National Program Office, NOAA-Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, and the Sea Grant programs.

Collaborative proposals between Illinois, Indiana and/or Wisconsin-based researchers are preferred. Illinois and Indiana-based researchers should submit preproposals to IISG. Wisconsin-based partners should submit an identical preproposal to Wisconsin Sea Grant. Research is to be conducted in the 2012–2013 biennium. Up to $125,000 per year for two years will be available for funding the Illinois-Indiana portion of research projects. The funds requested by Illinois and Indiana researchers must be matched by at least one nonfederal dollar for every two federal dollars requested.

Preproposals are due January 24, 2011. See the full RFP for more information.

In the news: Lake Michigan: home to almost 900 trillion quagga mussels

From Medill Reports:
Asian carp get all the headlines lately, but another invader, present in the trillions, is already devastating the ecosystem in Lake Michigan: the quagga mussel.

“Asian carp is a concern, in terms of what it’s going to do to the Great Lakes basin,” said Gary Fahnenstiel, senior ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Muskegon, Mich. “But right now, Lake Michigan is being devastated by the quagga mussel.” Read more.


NOAA Brown Bag talks star two IISG speakers

In the span of a week, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant will have two speakers at NOAA Brown Bag seminars. Today, December 8, Priscilla Viana, IISG Knauss Fellow, will give a talk titled Transport of contaminants from sediments to the water column and environmental remediation strategies. On December 15, Susan Boehme, coastal sediment specialist, will present Unwanted Medicines and Educating our Communities: What Have we Learned, How are we Doing and What are the Next Steps? Experiences from the Great Lakes States.

These talks are held from 12:00-1:00 p.m. ET in the NOAA Central Library. For remote access via webinar, you can register even as late as a few minutes before. You can also find these talks archived.

Here is Priscilla's abstract for today's talk:
Transport of contaminants from sediments to the water column and environmental remediation strategies

Contaminants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metal contaminants have accumulated on the bottom of rivers and lakes due to chemical interactions and transformations and due to their relatively long environmental persistence. Gas ebullition, in addition to normally occurring diffusive and advective transport of contaminants, increases contaminant availability to the bioactive zone and water column. Increased incidences of fish disease and decreased species biodiversity in pollution-impacted benthic/aquatic environments are some of the costs to ecological and human health posed by these contaminants.

My study focuses on quantifying and modeling the transport of contaminants from sediments to the water column and on investigating the effectiveness of active capping as a mitigation strategy to minimize the release of these contaminants. Active capping both isolates contaminated sediments from the water phase while offering degradation and/or sequestration of contaminants by the active materials. I modeled the transport of Cd, Cr, Pb, Ag, As, Ba, Hg, CH3Hg and CN through sand (25 cm), granular activated carbon (GAC, 2 cm), organoclay (2 cm), shredded tires (10 cm) and apatite (2 cm) caps by deterministic and Monte Carlo methods. Sand caps performed best under diffusion due to the greater diffusive path length. Apatite had the best advective performance for Cd, Cr and Pb. Organoclay performed best for Ag, As, Ba, CH3Hg and CN. Organoclay and apatite were equally effective for Hg. Monte Carlo analysis was used to determine output sensitivity. Sand was effective under diffusion for Cr within the 50% confidence interval (CI), for Cd and Pb (75% CI) and for As, Hg and CH3Hg (95% CI). Under diffusion and advection, apatite was effective for Cd, Pb and Hg (75% CI) and organoclay for Hg and CH3Hg (50% CI). GAC and shredded tires performed relatively poorly. Although no single cap is a panacea, apatite and organoclay have the broadest range of effectiveness.
I am also quantifying and modeling metal contaminant and PAH transport from the sediment to the water column due to gas ebullition as recent research suggests that another important factor affecting cap performance is gas ebullition due to organic matter biodegradation primarily under methanogenic conditions. Gas bubbles may damage the cap layer, opening preferential holes in the cap or even rupture the cap. Additionally, my results demonstrate that gas ebullition may be an important pathway for release of PAH and heavy metal pollutants to the water column. Comparison of diffusive and advective release rates (measured through a benthic chamber study) to field ebullition facilitated rates suggest that PAHs are released at >10 times greater rates by biogenic gas production. Although the increase in release rate is not as great for metals, ebullition facilitated release rates are frequently much greater.

Using our field study and modeling results, we worked with the Wetlands Initiative and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD-GC) to improve the stewardship of the highly contaminated local aquatic resources. We proposed placement of an organoclay mat with an underlying sloped sand layer and a high permeability gas venting system to allow biogenically-produced gas migration to shoreline collectors through an innovative support grid. The project design included an overlaying wetland to remove nutrients from the adjoining Chicago River and to provide a public recreational space.


Do you know what an invasive species is?

Laura Hlinka's 8th grade class at Urbana Middle School created this public service announcement about invasive species. They worked closely with University of Illinois students who took part in a community stewardship course this semester.


Watch the premiere of "Scrub Scrub Your Boat before You Float"

Here is the video of the premiere of "Scrub Your Boat before You Float," an new exhibit at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum in Champaign, Illinois. The students from Zanne Neuman's 4th grade class from Stratton Elementary School in Champaign, Illinois presented a skit to highlight the main points of their exhibit.

In the news: Judge won't close Chicago locks to keep out Asian carp

From Chicago Breaking News Center:
A federal judge blocked a third and perhaps final attempt today to close Chicago area shipping locks, saying Asian carp do not appear to be an imminent threat and closing the locks might not keep them from reaching Lake Michigan anyway.

In a long-awaited ruling, U.S. district court Judge Robert M. Dow said "the bottom line is that even giving every benefit of doubt ... squeezing that testimony for every ounce of weight ... plaintiffs cannot establish a showing of irreparable harm" that would justify a preliminary injunction closing the locks. Read more.


"Scrub Your Boat before You Float!" Premieres at Orpheum Children's Science Museum

"Scrub Your Boat before You Float!" premiered as a new exhibit at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum on November 30th. The students from Zanne Neuman's 4th grade class from Stratton Elementary School in Champaign, Illinois presented a skit to highlight the main points of their exhibit. A key feature of the exhibit, the students designed a hands-on activity of scraping off "simulated zebra mussels" from a boat so they will not spread to other waterways.


In the news: Shoreline future could use input

From the Post-Tribune:
How can the National Park Service protect the shoreline of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for the next two decades?

How can park managers keep out Asian carp and invasive plants? How could water quality be improved? Should the park work harder on getting communities to reduce combined sewer overflows? And do you have an idea for a long-term solution to the problem of sand moving away from the beaches east of Michigan City that's better than paying to replenish the sand every several years?

Now's the time to voice your ideas and concerns. The National Park Service is collecting public comments before putting together a draft plan to address those issues for the next 15-20 years. Read more.