The Environment Report

The Environment Report

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Shipping Away Great Lakes Water? Nah.

Some people are worried Great Lakes water could be shipped away to help solve the drought out west. We'll give you two good reasons why you don't need to worry about that.

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Wind Energy's Uncertain Future in Michigan

It costs a lot less to build a wind farm than it used to just a few years ago. But nobody is rushing to build more turbines. One reason is... they rile up the neighbors. We'll look at the future of wind farms in our state.

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Furniture Makers Remove Toxic Flame Retardants

Furniture manufacturers are taking toxic chemicals out of their products. We'll hear why, and what you should look for at the store.

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How firefighters think about - and try to reduce - their cancer risk

Firefighters have dangerous jobs. We all know that. But a growing body of researchsuggests those dangers don't go away once the flames are put out:several studies say firefighters have a significantly higher cancer risk, even when they're young. This isn't a shock to a lot of firefighters. For decades many of them have watched their bosses and their buddies get sick. How a new engine house can help reduce cancer risk Highland Park's engine house is one of the busiest fire stations in the state, fighting about 150 fires a year, according to Chief Derek Hillman. Listen Listening... 3:59 Hear the full story here. But it's also a new station, built in 2013. Hillman says they got a federal grant to pay for it. Several parts of the station are meant to help reduce cancer risk – a risk that's been on these firefighters' minds the last several months, ever since one of their guys was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 27. "The guys are very supportive of him," Chief Hillman says of the 27-year-old firefighter diagnosed with cancer. "You know, ask him whatever he needs, cover his shifts, whatever they need to help him. They've rallied all behind him." "The guys are very supportive of him," says Chief Hillman. "You know, ask him whatever he needs, cover his shifts ... do whatever they need to help him. They've rallied all behind him." You can tell how proud the chief is of the new engine house as we walk through. See those big hose things? They suck all the diesel exhaust out of the station. CREDIT KATE WELLS What's remarkable is that when you walk into the enormous garage where the fire trucks are, it's so clean. The walls are beautiful, sparkling white. You don't even smell diesel exhaust. That's because of these huge vents that look like hoses. They come down from the ceiling, attach to the trucks' tail pipes and suck up all the exhaust. "So as the truck turns on, it actually senses the pressure and it starts a vacuum like and sucks this up and out of the building," Hillman says. Where the risk comes from: diesel exhaust, soot, and burning chemicals In their old engine house, the walls were black with diesel exhaust, which is widely considered to be a carcinogen. The exhaust is, of course, filled with carbon monoxide. But it's also full of soot. And soot is one of the big cancer villains in firefighting. It can get stuck in your lungs and stay there for years. Of course, firefighters run into burning buildings filled with soot – soot laced with all the chemicals and fire retardants in our furniture. For decades they have used personal breathing masks, which help a lot. But all that soot still gets on their skin, which is then absorbed into their bodies. "I think there was something the other day on our hoods, the guy were soaking them," says Highland Park firefighter Eric Steinhebel, sitting in the living area of the station – which is completely sealed off from the garage. "[They were] soaking them in uh, just hot water first. Let it sit there for an hour, pull them out, it's completely black." The commercial washer meant to get carcinogens out of firefighters' gear. CREDIT KATE WELLS After going into a fire, firefighters' suits are basically marinating in carcinogens, which is why the new engine house has a commercial washer and detergent meant to remove carcinogens as much as possible. But it takes 24 hours for the gear to dry after it's been washed. And these firefighters don't have back-up suits. So they only wash their gear on their days off. "[Soak the hoods] again, clean water, completely black. Put it in the washing machine with soap, detergent, wash it, put it back in that bucket, let it sit for another hour it's still black. You just can't get that stuff out of there," says Steinhebel. And of course, every time they put on that dirty gear, their skin gets exposed to that soot all over again. Firefighters thinking more about their cancer risk "I think as you get older, you think more about it," says Steinhebel. "Certainly more than you did when you were young. You know, [Highland Park firefighter] Bellamy here today, he's 19 years old. Doesn't give it a thought. Me pushing 40, with a little baby at home? Then you're like, hmm, ok." Recently the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control wrapped up a massive study on firefighters and cancer. They looked at 30,000 firefighters in multiple cities, combing through 60 years of health records. They found firefighters have a greater risk of digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers. And they're twice as likely to get cancers linked to asbestos exposure. But once firefighters have upgraded their engine house, what exactly are they supposed to do with this information? It's not like everyone can just stop fighting fires. "There's no real hard core answers," says Steinhebel. "We don't know facts. There's nothing there for us, we don't really know." In the mean time, firefighters have do their jobs – while doing what they can to lessen their cancer risk.

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A Toxic Spill Close to Home

A lot of times, we think of toxic spills as something that just happens to industries. Sarah Hulett discovered the hard way that this can happen at home, too.

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Two Toxic Hot Spots Off the List, 12 to Go

We've made some progress in cleaning up Michigan's toxic places, but there's still more work to do.

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Plastic in the Great Lakes

A group of scientists say we don't know enough about the extent of the plastic pollution problem in the Great Lakes.

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Great Lakes Land Use & Helping Scientists Study Baby Birds

We'll hear about ways land use is changing in the Great Lakes region and get advice for becoming certified as a "nest-watcher."

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Senators Spar Over Competing Chemical Safety Bills

Lawmakers want to overhaul our nation's chemical safety law, but there's a lot of disagreement about how to do that. The law we currently have on the books is 39 years old. It's called the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA. It's been widely criticized as toothless and outdated. Over the years, some lawmakers have attempted to update it, but nothing's panned out. Now there are two competing bills in the Senate.

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Debate Swirls Around Bat Species in Trouble

We'll hear about the northern long-eared bat and why it might be put on the endangered species list.

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