This week: Great Lakes Sees Signs of Climate Change + Lead at Detroit Public Schools + Lake Erie Algae Threat Dissipating
Great Lakes Region Sees Warmer Summer, Extreme Weather Events — Signs of Changing Climate
Flash floods, prolonged droughts, record heat, forest fires, hazy air, algal blooms, and poor water quality have afflicted various parts of the Great Lakes region all summer. Researchers and residents alike are reporting more and more days over 90 degrees, noticeable shifts in historical weather patterns, and altered growing seasons for native plants and crops. Local news sources across the region have documented the effects of climate change that Great Lakes communities are already experiencing. We’ve compiled a handful of the best stories below.
Algae Toxin Threat on Lake Erie Dissipates As Summer Ends
Algal blooms in Lake Erie often linger well into fall, and experts expect the Lake’s current bloom to stick around until at least mid-October, but the odds of having algal toxins show up in your tap water or favorite beach are falling each day. Researchers say that 70 to 80 percent of each bloom season’s toxins appear in the open water during the month of August, and fewer than 10 percent in September. While Lake Erie shoreline residents aren’t in the clear yet, the riskiest time of the algae season has passed.
High Lead and Copper in Detroit Public Schools Results in Complete Water Shutoff
After test results for 16 schools showed higher than acceptable levels for copper and/or lead, the Detroit Public Schools Community District has announced that they immediately shut off drinking water at those schools. Bottled water has been provided in the interim as the district waits on water coolers to be delivered. Out of an abundance of caution, water will be shut off at the remaining schools in the district later this week until a thorough analysis can be conducted.
In February of 2017, the district announced that drinking water at all 94 of its public schools fell within federal guidelines for lead and copper, a result mirrored by further testing later that same year. It is unknown at this point what has caused the spikes in both metals. One building in particular recorded a drinking fountain at 100 times the allowable limit for lead.
U.S. Court Upholds National Safeguard for Coal Ash, A Top Water Pollution Threat
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s decision last Tuesday adds up to another loss in a string of defeats for the Trump Administration as it attempts to unravel a host of environmental protections from the last decade. The court sided with public interest groups who argued that the Obama-era protections inadequately protected surrounding soil and water from ash pits, and that the Trump Administration is bound by law to strengthen regulations.
Coal ash is the toxic waste left over from coal-burning power plants. It contains some of the deadliest known toxins, including arsenic, lead, radium, mercury, and chromium. These cause various types of cancer, heart disease, reproductive failures, strokes, and long-term brain damage.
The court’s decision follows the release of nationwide testing data that demonstrates groundwater pollution from coal ash at almost 90% of plants (both active and abandoned) in the country. There are currently over 1,400—70% of which are located in low-income areas.
Michigan Reaches Halfway Point in Statewide PFAS Sampling of Water Systems
The Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) has announced that its statewide sampling of public water systems for PFAS contamination has reached its midpoint. The $1.7 million survey is the first of its kind in the United States. So far, the state has sampled and tested 892 of the 1,841 public water systems and schools that operate their own wells. 341 of those tests have come back positive: 318 between 0 and 10 parts per trillion (ppt), 22 between 10 and 70 ppt, and 1 above 70 ppt.
While Michigan is one of only a handful of states to establish a “clean-up” or health advisory standard (70 parts per trillion), it’s notably higher than other states such as Minnesota (27/35 ppt) and Vermont (20 ppt). A recently released report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows statistically significant risk above 7-11 ppt. Freshwater Future warns residents in communities affected by PFAS contamination that there is no agreed-upon and established “safe” level of exposure. The State of Michigan will only take remediation action, issue drinking water advisories, and provide alternative water sources for systems who exceed its 70 ppt threshold—which Freshwater Future believes does not accurately reflect the human health risks of PFAS.
The statewide sampling schedule and confirmed test results are published on the MPART web site at: michigan.gov/PFASresponse. You can use this resource to check on results for your community.