Tag Archives: Minnesota

Minnesota is leading the rest of country in banning germ-killer triclosan

Minnesota’s first-in-the nation ban on soaps containing the once ubiquitous germ-killer triclosan takes effect Jan. 1, but the people who spearheaded the law say it’s already having its desired effect on a national level.

The federal government caught up to Minnesota’s 2014 decision with its own ban that takes effect in September 2017. Major manufacturers have largely phased out the chemical already, with some products being marketed as triclosan-free.

And it’s an example of how changes can start at a local level.

“I wanted it to change the national situation with triclosan and it certainly has contributed to that,” said state Sen. John Marty, an author of Minnesota’s ban.

Triclosan once was widely used in anti-bacterial soaps, deodorants and even toothpaste. But studies began to show it could disrupt sex and thyroid hormones and other bodily functions, and scientists were concerned routine use could contribute to the development of resistant bacteria. And University of Minnesota research found that triclosan can break down into potentially harmful dioxins in lakes and rivers.

The group Friends of the Mississippi River and its allies in the Legislature, including Marty, got Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a ban in 2014 that gave the industry until Jan. 1, 2017, to comply.

In September, the FDA banned triclosan along with 18 other anti-bacterial chemicals from soaps nationwide, saying manufacturers had failed to show they were safe or more effective at killing germs than plain soap and water. However, the FDA allowed the use of some triclosan products such as Colgate Total toothpaste, saying it’s effective at preventing gingivitis.

Marty and Trevor Russell, the water program director for Friends of the Mississippi River, acknowledged they can’t take direct credit for the FDA’s action because that rulemaking process began in 1978, though it didn’t finalize the rule until after a legal battle with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

However, the Minnesota men hope their efforts helped turn opinions against the chemical and are confident the state’s ban helped prod manufacturers to accelerate a phase-out that some companies such as Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson had already begun.

Most major brands are now reformulated, said Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a lobbying group. Soaps containing triclosan on store shelves are likely stocks that retailers are just using up, he said.

Russell noted he recently found Dial liquid anti-bacterial hand soap at two local Wal-Marts, two supermarkets and a Walgreens.

The industry is now submitting data to the FDA on the safety and effectiveness of the three main replacements, benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol.

“Consumers can continue to use these products with confidence, like they always have,” Sansoni said.

By going first, Russell said, Minnesota can identify any issues with implementing the ban and share it with the rest of the country.

The Minnesota Department of Health will remind consumers and businesses of the ban’s start.

Ellison says he’ll resign from Congress if elected DNC head

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison remains the early favorite to become the next leader of the Democratic National Committee, amid resistance to the Minnesota liberal’s bid from key parts of the party’s base.

The contest is evolving into a larger fight over the future of the party.

Backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are throwing their support behind Ellison while some Hillary Clinton supporters are searching for an alternative.

Ellison picked up a powerful endorsement recently from the AFL-CIO, which issued a statement calling him a “proven leader.”

But his candidacy remains under siege.

Ellison has faced vocal criticism from prominent Democrats, Jewish groups and some union leaders, who have questioned his comments about Israel, his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his commitment to his own party.

Earlier this month, a union leader criticized the AFL-CIO for only including Ellison’s name, along with the choices to abstain or “make no endorsement at this time,” on the ballot sent to union members.

A federation faction “seems to want to push our movement further and further to the left,” Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a recent statement. “That is a recipe for disaster as the most recent election results just showed.”

An editorial in an official Nation of Islam publication, “The Final Call,” quoted articles that Ellison wrote in the 1990s praising Farrakhan as a “sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate.”

The editorial accused Ellison, the first Muslim-American elected to Congress, of being a “hypocrite” for now making a “cowardly and baseless repudiation” of Farrakhan.

Ellison did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

His history with the group has distressed some Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League last week said Ellison’s past remarks about Israel were “disturbing and disqualifying,” and Haim Saban, a party donor deeply involved with Israeli issues, accused Ellison of being an “anti-Semite.”

Hoping to assuage some of the concerns, Ellison said he would resign his seat in Congress if he were picked as chairman by DNC members at the late February elections.

“Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising,” Ellison said in a statement. “I will be ‘all in’ to meet the challenge.”

The contest has divided Democratic leaders, placing Obama’s team at odds with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada and his replacement, New York’s Chuck Schumer, whose early support for Ellison was seen as an effort to shore up the liberal flank in Congress.

Part of the issue is personal. Ellison has, at times, broken ranks to criticize Obama, the head of the party he now hopes to lead.

While White House aides say that Obama is unlikely to publicly comment on the race, behind the scenes his backers have been speaking with Democratic donors and potential candidates to see who else might be persuaded to run, according to several Democrats familiar with the discussions. These Democrats were not authorized to publicly discuss those private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

High on the White House’s list of preferred candidates is Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who’s weighing whether to run for the party job or for Maryland governor, said the Democrats.

A vocal contingent is pushing for a Latino leader at the DNC, arguing that the growing demographic group is crucial to the party’s future and should be represented at the highest levels.

Others have been trying to draft Vice President Joe Biden and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both of whom have ruled out a bid.

South Carolina’s party chairman, Jaime Harrison, and the party head in New Hampshire, Ray Buckley, have announced bids, though they haven’t gotten much traction.

Missouri’s secretary of state, Jason Kander, who attracted attention for running a surprisingly competitive Senate race this year, says he’s gotten calls exploring his interest in the post.

“I’m going to do all that I can for the cause of progress,” Kander said. “If it turns out that my party wants me to serve as chair I’m open to that.”

Ellison backers argue that the party must take a more populist approach after the 2016 losses, saying Democratic leaders did too little to address the economic pain of working-class voters.

“Keith brings a breath of fresh air to the Democratic party,” said DNC member Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “He believes in strengthening the economics for working families across the country.”

But some are more concerned with campaign mechanics than message, saying the party’s outreach, bench and fundraising languished under Wasserman Schultz.

“Ellison talks about vision when we need a fundraiser and organizer,” said Bob Mulholland, a longtime California Democratic operative and DNC member.

Michigan appeals court finds 2014 wolf hunt unconstitutional

A Michigan appeals court has found that the state’s 2014 wolf hunt was unconstitutional and the law allowing it should be struck down.

A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals made the unanimous ruling in an opinion released this week, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The judges found that a provision of the law that allows for free military hunting, fishing and trapping licenses isn’t connected to the object of the law, which is providing for scientific management of wildlife habitats.

That violates the “title-object clause” in the Michigan Constitution that says the object of a law must be expressed in its title, the judges ruled.

The entire law must be struck down because it’s not clear if the measure would have been approved if that provision wasn’t included, the judges said.

The ruling is in favor of the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and overturns an earlier ruling from the Michigan Court of Claims.

The Michigan Legislature in 2014 adopted a voter initiative giving the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and the Legislature joint responsibility to name new game animals.

The initiative came after earlier failed efforts to add wolves to the definition of “game” in Michigan. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected challenged the law.

In the appeals court ruling, judges said the group viewed the law as “a Trojan Horse, within which the ability to hunt wolves was cleverly hidden.” The judges said though that their decision wasn’t based on policy but “on an analysis of the dictates of Michigan’s constitution.”

In December 2014, a federal judge threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list — a decision that banned further wolf hunting and trapping in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota court overturns ban on transition-related surgery

A Minnesota district court ruled this week that transgender people on the state’s Medical Assistance program deserve access to medically necessary services related to gender transition.

Since 2005, surgical treatments for gender dysphoria have been excluded from coverage even though equivalent treatments were covered under the federal Medicare program and private insurance plans.

In December 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU of Minnesota, filed a lawsuit on behalf of OutFront Minnesota and Evan Thomas, a transgender man, challenging Minnesota’s ban on coverage.

Thomas was denied coverage for transition related surgery, despite being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

In a statement to the press released on Nov. 16, Thomas said, “I’m so happy we’ve won. The judge’s ruling is a forceful statement that transgender people deserve equal treatment under the law. Right now, when we’re suddenly facing a path that’s so much rougher than it looked a few days ago, this victory looks even more important, and I’m proud to have been part of this case. I thank the ACLU for taking it on and winning such a good ruling — it’s been a privilege to work with these wonderful, dedicated people.”

OutFront, Minnesota’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, also was a  plaintiff.

“OutFront Minnesota is delighted by this ruling, confirming what we knew all along: targeting transgender people like this is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and wrong.  Since filing this suit, we have been contacted by many individuals and families whose access to health care has been unjustly harmed. At last we can provide some hopeful news that the care they need may now be within reach,” Phil Duran, legal director of OutFront Minnesota, said in a news release.

Added Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project: “The victory will bring immediate relief to the scores of transgender people living in Minnesota being denied the medical care they need. Singling out groups of people and denying them medically necessary care for no legitimate reason is wrong and harmful. We are glad the court agreed with respecting the dignity of people.”

The case was filed in Ramsey County District Court against Emily Johnson-Piper, the commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Human Services.

 

Enbridge dropping plans for Sandpiper crude oil project

Enbridge Energy notified the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission early this month that the company won’t pursue the regulatory approvals needed for the $2.6 billion Sandpiper pipeline project.

The pipeline project which would have carried North Dakota light crude across Minnesota to Enbridge’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.

Company officials cited market conditions and other factors.

And an important note: the project is not dead and could be revived.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said back in February that it expected to push the startup date for Sandpiper back until 2019 because of the need for an environmental review.

This summer, Enbridge said it was investing in a different pipeline that would transport North Dakota crude south to Texas, and that it would re-evaluate Sandpiper once that deal was done.

Enbridge Energy Partners president Mark Maki told reporters that “unprecedented regulatory delays had plagued the project.”

While Sandpiper faced regulatory delays, Maki said, “I don’t place the blame on anyone’s doorstep.”

Environmentalists contended Sandpiper would threaten ecologically sensitive areas.

Late last year, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ordered a full environmental impact review of Sandpiper. Enbridge has said the state’s regulatory process was delaying Sandpiper and another project, a replacement pipeline to carry Canadian crude oil across northern Minnesota.

Enbridge and Houston-based Marathon Petroleum, a key partner in Sandpiper, announced in August they are forming a joint venture to buy a stake in the Bakken Pipeline project, which would transport oil from North Dakota across the Midwest to Texas.

Enbridge and Marathon had invested $800 million in Sandpiper, including money for pipeline and regulatory efforts.

Environmental groups and Native American tribes have opposed both Enbridge pipelines in Minnesota, saying if they break they would pollute wild-rice lakes and the Mississippi River headwaters.

Minnesota’s model: State sets broadest limits on chemicals blamed for bee declines

The governor of Minnesota has ordered the broadest restrictions yet in a U.S. state on the use of agricultural pesticides that have been blamed for hurting bees.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that requires farmers to verify that they face “an imminent threat of significant crop loss” before using the chemicals, called neonicotinoids.

Details of how farmers would prove their need have not yet been determined.

Minnesota, the country’s third-largest soybean producer, carried out a special review of neonicotinoids that prompted the new limits, the first U.S. state to do so.

Honey bees have been in serious decline in the United States for three decades, threatening billions of dollars in crops. In recent years, their death rate has become economically unsustainable, according to the U.S. government.

A survey of more than 20,000 honey beekeepers conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and released in May showed there were 2.59 million or 8 percent fewer honey bee colonies on January 1, 2016 than the 2.82 million a year earlier for beekeeper operations with five or more colonies.

Honey bees pollinate plants that produce about a quarter of the food consumed by Americans.

“Minnesota just became the national leader in protecting pollinators,” said Lex Horan, an organizer for Pesticide Action Network, a U.S. activist group.

EU LED THE WAY

Restrictions on neonicotinoids come two years after the European Union limited use of the chemicals, made and sold by companies including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, after research pointed to the risks for bees.

Neonicotinoids are used worldwide in a range of crops and have been shown in lab-based studies to be harmful to certain species of bee, notably commercial honeybees and bumblebees.

The chemicals can be sprayed on crops to fight insects, but it is more common for U.S. farmers to plant seeds treated with neonicotinoids to keep pests, such as aphids, off crops.

State officials said they want Minnesota lawmakers to grant them the authority to regulate the sale and use of such seeds, a power that now lies with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Removing the pesticides would leave farmers more dependent on a smaller number of chemicals to control bugs, said Seth Naeve, an extension soybean agronomist for the University of Minnesota, thereby making it more likely that pests would develop resistance to those chemicals.

“We’re concerned about losing tools and a lack of flexibility to address issues,” said David Kee, director of research for Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Farmers said they hoped other U.S. states would not follow Minnesota’s lead.

Paul Schlegel, director of environment and energy policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the governor was “restricting the ability of farmers to use all the tools the EPA has said they can use.”

“I don’t think that we’re aware of any other state that’s going to start taking away tools from farmers,” Schlegel said.

Reporting by Tom Polansek.

Millions view Facebook video showing aftermath of officer-involved shooting

A live, 10-minute video of the aftermath of a police officer shooting a black man in Minnesota was the latest example of the riveting power of video streaming and the complex ethical and policy issues it raises for Facebook Live and similar features.

The graphic video taken by the victim’s girlfriend and broadcast on her Facebook page shows Philando Castile covered in blood in the driver’s seat of a car as the officer points a gun into the vehicle.

By early July 7, the footage had more than 4 million views and together with another police shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, topped the items on Facebook’s Newswire, which promotes stories of broad interest.

Facebook this year has made its Live feature, which allows anyone to broadcast a video directly from their smartphone, a central component of its growth strategy. Rivals Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube are also pushing live video as a new frontier in Internet content.

While traditional TV broadcasters are subject to “decency” standards overseen by the Federal Communications Commission — and have a short delay in their broadcasts to allow them to cut away from violent or obscene images — internet streaming services have no such limitations.

That easy accessibility and openness are fostering a new type of intimate, personal broadcasting that proponents said can be extraordinarily powerful, as evidenced by the demonstrations that began shortly after the Minneapolis video.

But critics said the lack of regulation can allow a somewhat cynical exploitation of tragedy.

Facebook and others can “rush forward and do whatever they think will get them clicks and users” without concerns for potential legal consequences, said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who helps run the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. She advocates on behalf of revenge porn victims and would like companies to do more to prevent dissemination of such content.

Indeed, internet companies enjoy broad protections under federal law for content users posting on their services. Merely hosting third-party content that is objectionable or even illegal does not expose those companies to litigation as long as they adopt reasonable takedown policies.

The companies do enforce their own terms of service, which restrict many types of images. They rely heavily on users to report violations, which are then reviewed by employees or contractors for possible removal.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate project, said live video provides unprecedented opportunity to seize public awareness and cultivate political pressure on a topic such as police brutality.

But Cooper said the technology also raises concerns. “The availability of a live broadcast, unencumbered, becomes a horrendous tool in the hands of a terrorist.”

Facebook said last month that it was expanding the team dedicated to reviewing live content and staffing it 24 hours a day. The company would also test the monitoring of broadcasts that go viral or are trending even before they are reported, giving Facebook a way to stop offending broadcasts quickly, just as a TV network might do.

In the July 6 shooting in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the footage was taken offline for about an hour, leading to outrage on social media. It was then restored with a warning labeling it as “disturbing.”

“We’re very sorry that the video was temporarily inaccessible,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. “It was down due to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”

Details of the technical glitch were not immediately known.

Facebook’s push into live streaming assures that such violent or otherwise disturbing events would not be the last.

About 1.65 billion people used Facebook monthly as of March 31, spending at least 50 minutes per day on the social media platform. In Facebook’s most recent quarterly earnings, it reported a 50 percent surge in revenue, handily beating Wall Street expectations as its promotion of live video won new advertisers and encouraged existing ones to increase spending.

Facebook pays some companies, including Reuters, to produce content for Facebook Live.

The Minnesota shooting followed other violent events that were streamed live on the Internet and went viral.

Just last month, a 28-year-old Chicago man, Antonio Perkins, filmed himself on Facebook Live spending time with his friends outside when shots rang out. The graphic video showed Perkins falling to the ground and what appears to be blood on the grass.

Days earlier, there was a double homicide in France in which the killer later took to Facebook Live to encourage more violence in a 12-minute clip.

In April, an 18-year-old woman was charged after she live streamed her friend’s rape on Twitter’s Periscope. In May, a young woman in France recorded herself on Periscope as she threw herself under a train.

 

 

Mystery in Minnesota: Dogs dying from toxic algae blooms

Layla was an energetic 4-year-old springer spaniel just reaching her prime. Jack Lundbohm figures she would have been the perfect dog for last fall’s grouse-hunting season.

But Layla died one day last August, after splashing along the shore of Lake of the Woods for nearly two hours. She had been playing with Lundbohm’s 5-year-old grandson, Gus, and not long after the boy took a break from throwing sticks and tennis balls, Layla “was not only dead but as rigid as a bronze statue,” Lundbohm said.

She was the 18th dog in Minnesota to have died from suspected blue-green algae poisoning since the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency started tracking the issue a little more than a decade ago.

Last summer, the state recorded its first two cases of human illness linked to toxic algae.

Sickness and death from blue-green algae are troubling, though rare. But the lake conditions that increase the chances of seeing both are not.

Across Minnesota each summer, sky-blue waters transform into pea-green soup, a sign of possible toxins. It’s happening more often — and farther north — than ever before, suggesting that climate change is a key player.

***

Biologists in the state say they’re even beginning to see blooms of blue-green algae on northern lakes so remote that you’d have to carry a canoe several miles to reach them.

Wilderness spots far removed from most human interaction have typically been safe from such toxic blooms — until now.

“The fingers do start pointing to climate change and how that is changing how our lakes are behaving to produce blue-green algal blooms,” said Mark Edlund, a biologist with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Watershed Research Station.

The warming temperatures and more intense rains Minnesota has seen under climate change are altering lakes in ways that give blue-green algae a boost. The longer growing season that’s a byproduct of global warming offers blue-green algae warmer temperatures and more opportunities to thrive.

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are sometimes, but not always, toxic. And they have an amazing track record: They were the earliest forms of life on the planet and have outlived trilobites, pteranodons and woolly mammoths.

“They’ve adapted to living in just about any condition, from hot springs to crusts on the walls of old buildings,” Edlund said.

Scientists still have a long way to go before they understand cyanobacteria toxins, said Wayne Carmichael, a professor emeritus of aquatic biology and toxicology at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“We still lack a tremendous amount of knowledge about the exact toxicity of these, and as you get better and better testing, you find what we call analogs: molecules with similar structure to the compound that we’ve already defined,” said Carmichael, who has studied toxic algae for 45 years. “Are they also toxic? And if so, how toxic?”

Carmichael said while global warming can exacerbate problem blue-green algae, farming and urban development have historically been the primary driver. “That’s where we should be putting our focus. The problem is that’s heavily tied up in politics,” he said.

Meanwhile, scientists are finding more evidence suggesting blue-green algae are unstoppable, at least without drastic measures.

***

In Minnesota’s lakes, blue-green algae thrive best under warm, dry, calm conditions with access to plenty of their favorite foods: phosphorus and nitrogen. Those nutrients exist in lakes naturally, deposited when aquatic plants and fish die and decompose.

They are also deposited when rainstorms wash leaves, soil and fertilizer into streams and lakes. Over the years, farming, industry and urban development have caused those nutrient levels in Minnesota’s waters to spike. Blue-green algal blooms are especially common in southern Minnesota, where row crops dominate the landscape.

A few blue-green algal blooms were blamed for livestock deaths in Minnesota as early as the late 1800s.

“In the southern lakes in the corn belt, they’re blooming all the time, and it’s land use,” said Adam Heathcote, a limnologist who works with Edlund at the St. Croix lab.

Two southern Minnesota lakes — Lake Benton, north of Pipestone, and Fox Lake, west of Fairmont — have been havens for algae. Dogs died on both lakes — in 2004 and 2009 — when the waters were pea-green and toxic.

Lake Benton’s water in 2004 “looked like opaque paint,” the dog’s owner told the local newspaper. “The water was absolutely consistently green. You could have taken it out and painted your house with it. That’s what the dog looked like.

“It looked almost funny, like something you’d see in a comic book. It looked like she had been dipped in paint.”

On Fox Lake in 2009, it was likely toxic algae that killed Sady, a 3-year-old black Lab. She died roughly five hours after swimming. Photos of the lake show mats of blue-green algae floating on the surface.

Sady had been a wedding gift from a Minnesota Marine to his sister. The next year, the Marine was killed in Iraq. Sady’s death hit the family hard.

“That dog was what we had left of him,” the Marine’s brother-in-law told The Associated Press.

Both incidents were textbook cases of harmful algal blooms: They happened in shallow to medium-depth, nutrient-rich lakes in the middle of farm country. But some of the more recent suspected cases are not so predictable.

Lake of the Woods, for example, has seen a spike in toxic blue-green algae in the past two to three decades, despite major reductions in the phosphorus coming into the lake from paper mills. That change was mandated by the Clean Water Act in 1972, Heathcote said.

“We don’t really have a handle on why these northern lakes are starting to bloom,” he said.

***

Scientists know cyanobacteria are thriving in Lake of the Woods despite lower phosphorus levels because they’ve analyzed the layers of mud deposited on the lake bottom over time.

“Every lake in Minnesota has somewhere between 6 feet and 75 feet of mud that’s accumulated since the glaciers left, 10,000 years ago,” said Edlund, Heathcote’s colleague.

In March, their team collaborated with the Red Lake Nation to collect a sediment core from Upper Red Lake. They drilled a hole in the ice, pushed a tube deep into the mud, capped it off and brought it back to the lab.

The researchers have sliced the long, cylindrical slab in half lengthwise. Edlund guesses that a place on the core where the color changes shows when settlers arrived to the watershed and cleared the land for farming. The scientists will slice the mud crosswise and use radioisotopes to date the sediment.

Then, they will analyze everything trapped inside, including fossilized algae.

“It will tell you what that lake was like,” Edlund said. “What the algae were like, what the nutrients were like. We might even be able to tell you what the fish were like.”

In past core samples, scientists have found rare isotopes like cesium-137, which showed up during the atomic bomb testing era. Blue-green algae species are there, too, and Edlund said that, as water quality worsens in lakes, “we typically will see increases in the numbers and types of blue-green algae.”

Edlund and other scientists from several institutions plan to test a group of Minnesota lakes to better understand cyanobacteria and their toxins. That project, funded by state lottery money, includes some lakes in the central and forested regions of the state where blue-green algae have historically been less common.

At the same time, Edlund, Heathcote and other scientists are taking a deeper look at Lake of the Woods because they want to understand the exact cause of the upward trend in algal blooms.

So far, it appears related to the way nutrients from the bottom of the lake — deposited decades ago by industrial pollution — are suspended upward into the water column, where cyanobacteria enjoy a splendid feast. The algae grow and multiply, forming green mats massive enough to show up on satellite images.

Jack Lundbohm, Layla’s owner, said his grandfather built one of the first cabins along Lake of the Woods’ Birch Beach in the 1940s. “We’ve been going there all our lives,” he said.

The water turns green pretty much every summer, but Lundbohm said he didn’t start seeing that signature surface scum from cyanobacteria until recently.

“The blue-green algae is a totally different beast,” he said. “When it blooms, it’s an awful sight. It floats in the water like a big raft. It’s almost metallic blue and green in color, and when you drive through with your boat it has a very strong metallic odor that you just have to wish you’d never smelled before.”

Lundbohm’s experiences on the lake through the years parallel Edlund and Heathcote’s research into industrial waste on Lake of the Woods and the river that feeds it.

One spring fishing trip, in particular, left an impression.

It was the 1970s. Lundbohm was still in college. He cast his line out into the Rainy River from a dock near the point where it flows into the lake. He guesses he was probably 80 miles by river to International Falls, where a giant paper mill flushed its waste into the water. When he reeled in, his line was covered in muck.

“You could squeeze it out and tell it was paper,” he said. “It was incredible to think there was that much sludge collecting on my line every time I reeled it in.”

Lake of the Woods’ recent blue-green algae spike initially perplexed scientists, because they knew the source of the pollution — wastewater — had been cut off by Clean Water Act regulations.

Now, they have a new hypothesis: Climate change creates more opportunities for “internal loading” of phosphorus — when old phosphorus on the lake bottom is released.

On Lake of the Woods, legacy phosphorus from paper mills, rather than new pollution, is leaking out of the bottom sediment, fueling blue-green algae growth. A longer open-water season and wind storms that follow long periods of calm seem to be the problem’s two primary climate drivers, the scientists say.

Under calm conditions, the lake separates into a warm layer and a cold layer. When the layers remain separate for longer than usual, the colder bottom layer is choked of oxygen, which causes phosphorus from the sediment to leak out and become available to blue-green algae.

Wind storms mix up the lake and bring more phosphorus out of the darkness and closer to the surface, where algae can grab it and combine it with sunlight to grow. The more ice-free days in a lake’s year, the more chances for these processes to repeat themselves.

Edlund and Heathcote hope that learning more about what’s happening on other lakes, especially Upper Red Lake, will help confirm the role climate change has had in increased blue-green algae in northern Minnesota’s lakes.

Heavier rainstorms in the Midwest consistent with climate change in the Midwest are likely making the problem worse. Intense rains are tough for the ground to absorb, which means more rain is running off into lakes and streams, bringing along soil, leaves and anything else in its path. That adds to the phosphorus problem.

Those conditions, combined with the unique skillset cyanobacteria possess, seem to be turning more clearwater lakes green — a change that’s hard to reverse, said Kathy Cottingham, a freshwater ecologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Scientists already knew that cyanobacteria, unlike other algae, can pull nitrogen from the air to use as fuel, Cottingham said. And they have gas vesicles that allow them to move up and down within the water column, so they can bring phosphorus up from the bottom of the lake, she said.

“I sometimes refer to this as bringing phosphorus to the party,” Cottingham said. “They have a lot of ways of making a living that some of the other organisms don’t have access to.”

***

Despite its name, the water in the Mud River was clear on the day in September 2014 when Lisa Newton walked Petey, an 11-year-old beagle, and Zeus, a 10-month-old chocolate Lab, along its shore in the town of Grygla, roughly an hour southwest of Lake of the Woods.

Petey, a rescue dog, drank from the river that day. When they got home, he laid down on his favorite napping spot on the entryway rug. Newton’s teenage daughter, Marisa, arrived home a little while later and screamed. Petey was dead, a pool of saliva on the floor.

“Old age,” Newton thought at the time. She buried Petey.

“He got along good with everybody, and everybody in town knew Petey when he would bark and howl,” she said. “He was a really good dog.”

The next morning, Newton walked Zeus, her daughter’s dog, along the same river trail. He played in the river and drank from it.

“We got back to the house and I put laundry in, and when I came back up, I looked at him and his eyes were swollen shut,” Newton said. She took him outside to rinse his eyes out, but minutes later, Zeus struggled to walk.

“He started stumbling sideways,” she said. Newton phoned her daughter, telling her to call the veterinarian. Newton called a friend to help her get the dog to the vet.

“Within that time, he barely made it into the house, vomited on the floor, fell to the floor and then appeared to have mild seizures,” she said. “I was absolutely terrified.”

Zeus died on the way to the vet.

“It’s really awful to watch an animal or anything go through what he did. He was struggling to survive and to stand and there was nothing I could do for him,” Newton said.

Her daughter was devastated, Newton said. “That was her baby.”

After Zeus’ death, the veterinarian asked Newton to exhume Petey’s body. The dog’s stomach and parts of his liver and lung were sent for testing. Microcystin, a liver toxin produced by blue-green algae, was in Petey’s system, and the vet said that, given the circumstances, toxic algae likely killed Zeus, too.

MPCA research scientist Steve Heiskary has been investigating reports of blue-green algae exposure in dogs for years.

“I can appreciate what the people are dealing with,” he said. Heiskary has two hunting dogs of his own.

It’s often difficult to determine whether a dog has been poisoned by blue-green algae, even after MPCA staff investigate. And some of the few confirmed cases of toxic algae deaths in dogs have happened in waters where there were no visible signs of a blue-green algae bloom. That’s led the MPCA and other agencies to rethink how they inform dog owners about the possible dangers.

The “when-in-doubt-stay-out” advice that the MPCA and other agencies have given dog owners is not foolproof. MPCA officials recommend people and dogs stay out of water that looks like green paint, but Heiskary notes that toxins can linger even after the scum disappears.

“The bloom collapses. They die, they start to decompose. Toxins are released. Is the water safe to swim in a day later? We don’t know. Two days later? We don’t know,” he said. “As a scientist, you like to be more certain. I’d like to be able to accurately convey a risk.”

To complicate things further, blue-green algae is not always toxic, and it’s impossible to know without testing if an algae bloom contains toxins, Heiskary said.

Captain, a 10-month-old Lab-golden mix, died last June after playing in Red Rock Lake, west of Alexandria.

“The water was 100 percent crystal clear,” Captain’s owner, Dawn Stimmler, said. But the University of Minnesota’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab later confirmed high levels of anatoxin-a, a neurotoxin found in some blue-green algae, in Captain’s body.

Stimmler, who has two other dogs, was with Captain and Liberty, a German shepherd, the day Captain got sick. Liberty normally loves to swim, but was acting odd that day, she said.

“She kept whining and whining and refused to go in the water,” Stimmler said.

The Minnesota Department of Health has been looking for algae illnesses and deaths in dogs for the past few years.

“Dog cases are becoming more commonly reported,” said Kirk Smith, a veterinarian who oversees the health department’s unit that addresses waterborne illnesses. “Dogs and other animals can be sentinels for human disease.”

Two people who fell ill last summer after swimming in Lake Henry in Alexandria and West Olaf Lake near Pelican Rapids are suspected toxic algae cases. Smith said there are likely more out there that health officials don’t know about.

“For most every disease, what we find out about is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

The challenge is determining whether toxic algae is the culprit when there is no diagnostic test for it in humans, said Stephanie Gretsch, an epidemiologist who tracks waterborne diseases at the health department.

“These illnesses are generally pretty mild and they’re also non-specific,” she said. “It could be a harmful algal bloom, or it could be something else in the lake, or it could be something they ate while they were at the lake.”

***

Are Minnesota lakes with legacy phosphorus pollution doomed to a life of pea-green summers and toxic water?

Not necessarily.

Scuba divers nominated Bald Eagle Lake, in the Twin Cities’ northeastern suburbs, as the worst place in the state to scuba dive in a 2007 online community forum.

“My 1,800 lumen light could only cut through about 1-2 feet of scum water,” one diver wrote. “Kept imagining the bottom of an unflushed toilet from all the dark brown water and scum.”

Research showed roughly 40 to 50 percent of the phosphorus in the lake was being stirred up from bottom sediment rather than being added by stormwater runoff, said Matt Kocian, a lake and stream specialist with the Rice Creek Watershed District.

These days, the lake is among the clearest in the metro, thanks to a lake additive called alum. The liquid aluminum sulfate makes a chemical bond with phosphorus on the bottom of the lake, preventing the nutrient from leaching out of the sediment and fueling algae growth.

The alum was added to the lake in two phases: once in 2014, and again last month. The Rice Creek Watershed District, which is overseeing the project, has seen drastic improvements.

“We’ve had the phosphorus concentrations cut nearly in half, similarly for the amount of algae on the lake,” Kocian said.

A barge equipped with tanks applied 247,000 gallons — 59 tanker trucks worth — of alum to the 1,000-acre lake in April.

But the project wasn’t cheap. The watershed district split the cost with the Bald Eagle Area Homeowners Association. Homeowners had voted to tax themselves to pay the nearly $900,000 price tag. They wanted to be able to see their feet when standing in chest-deep water, Kocian said.

While the community is thrilled with the project’s success, Kocian said the alum treatment followed years of study to determine how much was needed to be effective.

“It’s not a tool to be used on every lake,” he said. Shallow lakes, whose sediment gets stirred up by carp and other bottom-feeders or wind storms, aren’t good candidates. Neither are lakes where most of the phosphorus comes from stormwater runoff.

Treating a lake with alum to address phosphorus is not the norm in Minnesota. Usually, the efforts focus on identifying the source of nutrients then working with farmers, cities and industry to reduce inputs.

That could mean upgrading treatment technology for a wastewater treatment plant, planting buffers or cover crops to keep more nutrients on the land, or building wetlands, rain gardens or other means of natural treatment to slow the amount of runoff entering surface waters. There are also projects around the state that have found ways to capture and reuse stormwater and wastewater.

***

It would cost billions of dollars to get rid of excess phosphorus in Minnesota’s lakes, and there’s still a lot that’s unknown about just how effective that would be in curbing blue-green algae.

And just as the Minnesota Department of Health has heightened its awareness of Lyme disease-carrying ticks, heat illness, allergies and other health concerns expected to worsen with climate change, officials say blue-green algae is worth watching, too.

“It’s kind of hard to communicate the risk when we really don’t have a great sense of the risk ourselves,” said the health department’s Smith. “We’re really kind of in the infancy of studying this whole problem, so we just try to get the facts out there.”

Awareness, at least, seems to be growing among veterinarians and dog owners, said Ahna Brutlag, a veterinarian who specializes in toxicology and works for the Pet Poison Helpline, a fee-based service for pet owners. She said algae calls are much less common than cases of the most common dog poison: chocolate.

When dog owners do call about blue-green algae, often it’s because they let their dogs play in water and then noticed a warning sign afterward, she said.

“They’re calling us because they’re frantic,” she said. “They’re looking for immediate guidance.”

Luckily, most of those dogs turn out to be fine, Brutlag said. Those who aren’t show a range of symptoms: drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, refusing to eat, yellow gums.

If the dog has been exposed to microcystin or anatoxin-a, the prognosis is poor. “It’s difficult to get that dog to the clinic fast enough,” she said.

Owners who have lost dogs to blue-green algae say they won’t be taking any chances this summer.

Lisa Newton keeps Flash, her new beagle-basset hound mix, on a leash during walks along Mud River.

Spot, Jack Lundbohm’s new hunting dog, won’t be fetching sticks in late summer on Lake of the Woods.

And for Dawn Stimmler’s dogs, Liberty and Kaiya, swimming at the family cabin is a distant memory.

“They’re forbidden to go in,” she said. “We set up a kiddie pool for them to cool off.”

On the Web

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News.

 

An AP member exchange story.

Open letter to Scott Walker: Look at Minnesota’s success to rebuild Wisconsin’s lagging economy

Dear Governor Walker,

I’ve read that you’re touring the state to hear from constituents as a way to get caught up after spending so much time out of state during your presidential campaign last year, and since I live over 250 miles north of Madison, I thought I’d address you on Blogging Blue rather than expect you to travel all the way up here.

I know that two of your biggest problems since you took office in 2011 seem to be job creation and overall business climate. Wisconsin has kind of been circling the drain on both counts for many years now, but I have some good news for you. Minnesota, right next door, is leading the nation on both counts! Last June CNBC rated Minnesota #1 in the nation for business, and over the weekend a new report shows that the Gopher state is #1 in job creation as well.m

This is great news, because not only is Minnesota very similar to Wisconsin in a number of ways, but Mark Dayton took over as Governor there the same year you did here, and with an even bigger budget deficit than you inherited!. In spite of all that, they’re now leading the nation in a pair of top economic indicators, and have a budget surplus of 2 billion dollars. That’s a lot of scratch, man!

I’m no scholar, and I can’t make an in-depth argument about how all this happened, but I can lay out some general points that I think can help you turn Wisconsin around pronto.

1. The CNBC report cites Minnesota as a ” union friendly ” state, so you might want to consider repealing Act 10 and that god-awful Right to Work bill since neither could, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered union friendly.

2. I know you went out of your way to repeal Wisconsin’s living wage law, but you should restore it immediately. Minnesota raised their minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, which isn’t nearly enough, but it’s better than the meager $7.25 workers are making over here.

3. Governor Dayton campaigned in 2010 on raising taxes on the wealthy, (something that seems to have escaped the attention of Wisconsin Democrats), and that’s just what he did, though none of the scare mongering about how everyone would leave actually came to pass. And Minnesota is #1 in business climate, job creation, AND they have a 2 billion dollar surplus! Woo Hoo!

4. Minnesota took the federal bucks to expand their Medicaid program, (Minnesota Care), since it was tax money Minnesotans had already sent to Washington DC, and they also created their own state exchange to maximize the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for their residents. I think they probably embraced the wildly experimental notion that a healthier population is happier and, as such, better able to get up and go to work in the morning. I don’t know for sure, I’m just taking a stab in the dark.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to all this than I’ve listed, and I know you have a ton of staff who could dig into it and sort it all out, but I just wanted to fill you in on some of the basics. I know how much you love Wisconsin and all of its people, but I also know what a busy guy you’ve been , what with all that presidential nonsense and the Koch brothers retreats and so forth.

So I just wanted to give you a hand. You’re welcome.

For more Blogging Blue commentary, go to bloggingblue.com

High-speed rail plans meet opposition in southeast Minnesota

Opposition is growing in rural southeastern Minnesota to proposals for a high-speed rail line connecting Minneapolis and Rochester.

Rochester civic leaders see high-speed rail as a way to draw thousands of new workers to the Mayo Clinic and other big employers in their region.

But people living along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor see problems and costs with the Zip Rail project, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Trains on the proposed line would speed along at more than 150 mph, cutting the roughly 90-minute ride from Rochester to the Twin Cities in half.

“Our farms are important and our industry is important. And nobody once notified me and sent me a letter and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking at this plan,’” said Heather Arndt, who lives on a 35-acre farm near Goodhue.

Arndt last year joined with other neighbors to form a grass-roots group called Citizens Concerned about Rail Line, which opposes any form of high-speed rail along the corridor. The group’s members are worried about potential loss of farm and taxable land, loss of traffic that supports local business and the lack of any stops between Rochester and the Twin cities.

Rural southeastern Minnesota should not have to bear a cost for Rochester’s multi-billion dollar Destination Medical Center development plan, and the 30,000 to 40,000 workers the development plan is expected to draw over the next 20 years, Arndt contends.

“If their choice is to take a great job opportunity in Rochester but they prefer to live in the Cities, that is their personal choice,” Arndt said. “It should not be the responsibility, the problem or (to) the economic disadvantage of people who live between the two places to have to pay for that.”

Traffic on Highway 52 has grown steadily. According to a 2010 corridor study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, volume on the highway could nearly double to about 87,000 vehicles a day by 2025, up from 47,000 in 2000.

Earlier this year, officials with the state Transportation Department released eight corridor options as well as Zip Rail’s potential social, economic and environmental impacts. Now, the agency is wrapping up an environmental review of the rail line due out at the beginning of next year. MnDOT paid for the $2.3 million study mostly with state funds.

Private investors are pushing a second rail option. The North American High Speed Rail Group proposes an 84-mile elevated line to be built over Highway 52. The line would run along the median, which would be the least disruptive to the region’s farming, said Wendy Meadley, the group’s chief strategy officer.

The privately held firm based in Bloomington says it has backing from undisclosed U.S. and Chinese investors and expects to raise $4.2 billion for the project. Once it receives a permit from MnDOT early next year, the group will have 120 days to complete its pre-development study.