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What is a 100 year rain anyway?

14 Aug 2014

Anonymous_two_red_diceAfter the recent flooding, news reporters came out and pronounced Monday a “100 year rainstorm.”  What does that mean anyway?  Is this mere hyperbole, like “trial of the century”?

The term has a specific impact for both insurance purposes and for planning.  Your flood risk determines whether you should buy (or whether you are eligible for) flood insurance.  And I assume that, as to sewer backup insurance (there is such a thing), it also affects your rates.  So, given that we’ve had rain storms in Detroit of over 4 inches 4 times over the last 100 years, what is a 100 year storm?

A 100 year rain storm (like a 100 year floodplain) does not mean that it happens only once every hundred years but rather that, statistically, planners believe that there is only a 1% chance of it happening in any one year.  Think about rolling a die.  If you roll a 3 four times in a row (assuming the die is fair), when you roll it a 5th time, its chances of coming up a 3 (or any other digit) is still 1 in 6 or 16.7%.  Weather is a bit more subjective and variable than rolling a die or flipping a coin but the same concept applies. (more…)

Trade in Honolulu Blue for Green?

5 Aug 2014

largeAs a life-long Detroiter, I know that the Detroit Lions’ colors are Honolulu Blue and Silver, so imagine my surprise when I saw a photo of a green Lions jersey.  Years ago, the Tigers used to wear green uniforms if a spring training game fell on St Patricks Day but this is a bit more than that.

The Lions announced yesterday that they are the first NFL team to join with REPREVE which makes a fabric from recycled plastic bottles.  Repreve and the Lions are launching a consumer education campaign to “Make the Smart Throw,” encouraging fans to toss their bottles into recycling bins instead of trash cans. The Lions are aiming for 100% recycling (at least of plastics). (more…)

Winter slows composting

26 Apr 2014

10173295_10202676647935551_213056712_nDuring the recent warm-up, I checked on my backyard composters.   I have to admit  that, during the polar vortex of the last few months, I didn’t do much composter turning and, when I tried, I found that the contents were frozen solid!

Basically, the compost is in the same condition it was last fall – which is to say partially composted but nowhere near “garden ready.”  So, my Spring resolution is to get back to composting, to turn the composters daily (so far 5 days in a row) and to have a couple of good batches of compost to report on before mid-summer.

New river protection regulations on the way?

14 Feb 2014

After the non-stop coverage of the spill into the Elk River in West Virginia, we are seeing reports of a spill of 82,000 tons of coal ash into a North Carolina river. The subject of coal ash has lain dormant for a while but this Duke Energy spill is like opening an old wound.  As our regular readers know, EPA has proposed new rules for coal ash storage in the wake of a  Tennessee spill in 2008.  There was another spill in Wisconsin in 2011 and the rules languished. Given this week’s coal slurry spill in West Virginia, rivers in the southeast might be feeling like endangered species.

This fall, a citizens suit was filed in West Virginia federal court (unrelated to the Elk River case) and at the end of January, the EPA agreed to issue coal ash rules by December 19th of this year. Whether the rules treat coal ash as a hazardous waste, a non-hazardous waste or some combination of the two, remains to be seen but it appears that some regulation of this reportedly second largest waste stream in the country will be implemented.  As I have blogged before, Michigan already has more river-protective regulations than many other states and it is about time that these other states are brought up to a higher standard to prevent these major spills.

We have started to realize just how important our rivers are and whether it’s bad luck or bad stewardship, we appear to be on a path to get the regulations needed to protect them.

Don’t flush your medicines

9 Sep 2013

 

 A couple of years ago, the University of Michigan confirmed that it is a bad idea to put old medicines down the drain.  The State of Michigan agrees.  Here  is a link to the MDEQ’s website on this topic.

The MDEQ has announced its fourth annual September 10th event at the Capitol in Lansing, inviting the public to bring unused medications for proper disposal. For a list of what will and will not be accepted, visit http://www.michiganpharmacists.org/medicationdisposal.

If you can’t get to the Capitol tomorrow, there are local programs in various places in the State and many pharmacies will take back old medicine for disposal as well (although this is not always widely advertised).  Here is a website that you can use to locate these take-back locations. If you have to put medications in the trash, here are instructions on how best to prepare them for disposal.

Why is flushing medicine a bad idea? Basically, our wastewater treatment system isn’t designed to filter out medicines.  The UM report talks about creating antibiotic resistant superbugs and there have been other reports about hormonal changes in fish, and finding traces of various prescription substances in drinking water (yes, what we flush can wind up in someone else’s drinking supply).

Got Bugs?

16 May 2013

It’s what’s for dinner?

The United Nations recently released a report recommending the farming of insects for food.  The report notes that insects are highly nutritious and healthy with high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and minerals.   With concerns about animal diseases like “mad cow,” genetically modified foods, overuse of antibiotics, cruelty to animals, lack of space for farming, management of animal waste, etc., the UN thinks insects may be part of the answer.

“Insect farming” isn’t new – think of bees, silkworms and crickets you can find at the local pet store for lizard food.  However, the concept of large scale farming insects for food is relatively new.

High soy prices and increasing aquaculture is pushing research into developing insect protein for aquaculture and poultry – if not directly for human consumption.

In many countries, including the US, the lack of a legal framework on insects as food and feed may be a major barrier to investment and development.  The UN report noted concerns regarding:

  • Unclear regulations and legislation on farming and selling insects for human consumption;
  • Difficulty in understanding information regarding processing and quality;
  • Little networking among producers;
  • A lack of awareness among consumers and buyers about existing markets leading to low demand; and
  • It is difficult to market insects for human consumption because they are perceived to be unsanitary. (Or as we call it in my family, the “ick” factor).

Would you eat a tofu made from bugs?  It makes me think of the old movie “Soylent Green”  – it’s bugs!

Earth Day at 43 – 43 shades of grey

22 Apr 2013

Earth Day 43 seems to have been lost given the recent events in Boston, Texas and elsewhere.  The environmental news continues to be a mixed bag – with reports of fewer Americans “caring” about the environment but perhaps more “acting” in a “green” way.

We have certainly come a long way from the challenges and problems that led to the first Earth Day –  a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California; the dead zone in Lake Erie; smog in Los Angeles and elsewhere and burning rivers in the Midwest.

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the EPA and its state counterparts have continued to regulate, there has been a backlash of business and media outcry which certainly must weigh on the public’s views.

The challenges we face today are far more complicated and, to many, more daunting.  We still have oil spills, but now they are from larger ships and deeper wells.  Lake Erie and many other bodies of water are still challenged by more diffuse and “below the radar” sources of contamination.  While reducing the impacts of asbestos, lead and NOx from our daily lives, and healing the ozone hole, we now face questions regarding greenhouse gasses, impacts from and in China and the developing world, and the challenges and benefits posed by fracking.

As is often the case, once the “low hanging fruit” of black and white are picked, what we are left with is grey and grey isn’t as shocking or engaging as black and white.  The issues are just as important, and in many ways, very high profile, but it’s unlikely that our polarized country would agree on what changes would be best, if any.