Sarah Coefield has been a reporter with the Great Lakes Echo since May, 2009. She also works as an editorial intern for Environmental Health News. Before coming to the Echo, Sarah climbed trees and pestered great horned owls as part of her master's research in environmental toxicology.
Sarah is originally from Montana and completed her undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.
By Sarah Coefield and Kimberly Hirai
Jan. 26, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on how new technology is giving researchers a glimpse of the critical nearshore area of the Great Lakes. Little is known about the currents, fish or bottom of the nearshore area of the Great Lakes. Now, technology is providing researchers a window into what is one of the most productive yet least studied areas of the Lakes. The nearshore stretches from the beach into about 30 feet of water.
The Great Lakes states are home to 155 coal-fired power plants that discharge wastewater into local lakes and streams. That wastewater can carry heavy metals and other dangerous contaminants, and has gone largely unregulated for the past 27 years. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to step in with new rules to fend off environmental concerns. Join the Great Lakes Echo for a four-day series unpacking the problems with power plant wastewater in the Great Lakes. Day 1. Great Lakes states spotty on coal limits; some water contaminants ignored. Day 2.
Gibson Lake, built by one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants to store wastewater, has attracted birds and fishermen to its shores for years. But after years of wastewater discharge, the Indiana lake contains high levels of selenium that threaten hundreds of species of birds, including the endangered least tern, and render fish unsafe to eat. Selenium is an essential nutrient, but in wildlife and people excess amounts can be dangerous. As with mercury, selenium monitoring and regulations are spotty across the Great Lakes region.
Power plants across the nation dump water laced with metals and other contaminants into streams and lakes, threatening drinking water supplies and wildlife. Some states let plants emit metals at hundreds of times the level that federal officials say is safe. Others don’t even require monitoring for most of them. But now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing a new regulation that would require more than 600 coal-fired power plants to clean up–perhaps even eliminate–the waste they put into lakes, rivers and other waterways. And electricity users will foot the bill.
The best medicine for diseased deer is the business end of a rifle, according to wildlife experts managing the species. And it’s inoculation time. With hunting season in full swing, conservation officials across the Great Lakes region are relying on hunters to thin the massive herd and slow the spread of disease. At more than 7 million strong, the region’s white tail deer herd is largely healthy, but there are small pockets of disease.
Great Lakes particle polluters are cleaning up their acts. The number of areas violating one particulate pollution standard has fallen from 36 to 12 in the past year, according to a recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Large cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and New York City still report problems. But Chicago is notably absent from the list of particulate polluters. While their compositions vary, the particles in question are all about the same size: small. In this case, 2.5 micrometers, or about 100 times thinner than a human hair.
A small group in Bryan, Ohio spent six years securing federal protection for an aquifer that provides water to 385,000 people in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to designate the Michindoh aquifer as the sole source of drinking water for 1,600 square miles. The designation will include all or part of nine counties in the three states that supply its name. The protection is important for communities with few drinking water options. And for Bryan, the Michindoh aquifer is the only option.