Tag Archives: People

DNR deletes from website references to human role in climate change

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has quietly removed language from its website that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the website now says the cause of climate change is debatable.

Gone are sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising carbon dioxide levels.

DNR spokesman James Dick says the new wording reflects the agency’s position on the topic and that climate change causes are still being debated and researched.

The vast majority of scientists agree burning fossil fuels has increased greenhouse gases and caused warming. A 2014 United Nations report found human influence on climate is clear.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker controls the DNR. He has been critical of President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.

 

America votes: Scenes on Election Day 2016

A poll worker hands out an "I voted" sticker to a voter during the U.S. presidential election at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A poll worker hands out an “I voted” sticker to a voter during the U.S. presidential election at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton fills out her ballot at the Douglas Grafflin Elementary School in Chappaqua, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton fills out her ballot at the Douglas Grafflin Elementary School in Chappaqua, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Voters head to the polls during the U.S. presidential election in St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette
Voters head to the polls during the U.S. presidential election in St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette
A woman holds her children while voting in the U.S. presidential election at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman holds her children while voting in the U.S. presidential election at Grace Episcopal Church in The Plains, Virginia, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump vote at PS 59 in New York, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump vote at PS 59 in New York, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People cast their ballots during voting in the 2016 presidential election in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S November 8, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker
People cast their ballots during voting in the 2016 presidential election in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S November 8, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker
Susan Novak scans her ballots after voting during the U.S. presidential election in Medina, Ohio, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Susan Novak scans her ballots after voting during the U.S. presidential election in Medina, Ohio, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Teresa Lesama, originally from Nicaragua, is seen after casting her ballot during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Bronx Borough of New York, U.S. on November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Teresa Lesama, originally from Nicaragua, is seen after casting her ballot during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Bronx Borough of New York, U.S. on November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Voters register to vote during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Bronx Borough of New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Voters register to vote during the U.S. presidential election at a polling station in the Bronx Borough of New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
A voter puts on an "I voted" sticker during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
A voter puts on an “I voted” sticker during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
People vote at the Woodman of the World (WOW) Lodge during the U.S. presidential election in Florence, South Carolina, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
People vote at the Woodman of the World (WOW) Lodge during the U.S. presidential election in Florence, South Carolina, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Randall Hill
Grace Bell Hardison, a 100-year-old woman recently mentioned by President Barack Obama after attempts were made to purge her from the voter registration list and hence deny her right to vote, receives an "I Voted Today" sticker from election official Elaine Hudnell after she cast her ballot in the U.S. general election from a car in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S. on November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Grace Bell Hardison, a 100-year-old woman recently mentioned by President Barack Obama after attempts were made to purge her from the voter registration list and hence deny her right to vote, receives an “I Voted Today” sticker from election official Elaine Hudnell after she cast her ballot in the U.S. general election from a car in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S. on November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
A woman arrives for her voting ballot during the U.S presidential election at the James Weldon Johnson Community Centre in the East Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A woman arrives for her voting ballot during the U.S presidential election at the James Weldon Johnson Community Centre in the East Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Poll workers distribute voting materials during the 2016 presidential election in San Diego, California, U.S November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Poll workers distribute voting materials during the 2016 presidential election in San Diego, California, U.S November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Travis Lopes, 30, casts his vote for the presidential election in Manhatta, New York. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
Travis Lopes, 30, casts his vote for the presidential election in Manhatta, New York. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
Hundreds of Temple University students wait in an hour-long line to vote during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Hundreds of Temple University students wait in an hour-long line to vote during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Hundreds of Temple University students wait in an hour-long line to vote during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
Hundreds of Temple University students wait in an hour-long line to vote during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
A voter casts their ballot at a polling place inside a Chinese restaurant during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
A voter casts their ballot at a polling place inside a Chinese restaurant during the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
A woman drops her ballot during the presidential election at LA County Registrar Office in Norwalk, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A woman drops her ballot during the presidential election at LA County Registrar Office in Norwalk, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A woman drops her ballot during the presidential election at LA County Registrar Office in Norwalk, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A woman drops her ballot during the presidential election at LA County Registrar Office in Norwalk, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
People stand in line to vote during the 2016 presidential election at the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
People stand in line to vote during the 2016 presidential election at the Anne Douglas Center at the Los Angeles Mission in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni016

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.

Chlorine bleach plants threaten 63 million people in U.S.

Eighty-six facilities in the United States continue to use huge quantities of chlorine gas in their manufacturing process and endanger more than 63 million people living in nearby areas.

Earlier this week, Greenpeace released a new report on the hazards posed by chlorine bleach plants across the United States.

“In spite of the evident risks and availability of safer alternatives, our latest report on the industry shows that some chlorine bleach manufacturers continue to use chlorine gas, putting almost one in every five Americans in danger of a potential release from a substance so toxic it has been used as a chemical weapon in the past” said Rick Hind, legislative director at Greenpeace.

The environmental group said the hazard goes beyond the use of the chlorine gas in the manufacturing process, as chlorine bleach manufacturers frequently ship and receive their supply in 90-ton rail cars vulnerable to accidents and acts of sabotage.

“Every day, rail cars crisscross the country delivering hundreds of tons of chlorine gas and endangering the communities through which they travel. Just one of such rail car can put much of an entire city in danger” Hind said.

Getting into outsider art at Dean Jensen Gallery

In the window of Dean Jensen Gallery is a small wooden sculpture that attracts a lot of surprised attention from passersby. A woman is giving birth — not in a metaphorical sense, and there are no curtains involved. A small head appears between her legs, and the attendant nurse and presumable physician, as well as the new mother, are uniformly stoic, as though they are listening to an academic lecture rather than experiencing the trauma and new spark of life.

This work is an example of what is alternately known as “self-taught,” “visionary,” “folk” or “outsider” art, loosely defined as work by artists who train and travel outside of the mainstream structures of art school and the established gallery system. They make art without regard for conventional trends, accepted styles and notions of contemporary art theory. The result usually reflects an authentic sincerity, and its subjects are often blunt depictions of daily living that might pass privately unnoticed.

Who exactly qualifies as an outsider artist? That’s an ongoing debate in the art world. But Dean Jensen’s latest survey of outsider and folk art, Naives, Seers, Lone Wolves and World Savers XXIV, doesn’t seek to parse these loaded descriptors, instead simply giving audiences a sense of these works.

Jensen started collecting this type of work when he was a journalist. He studied Renaissance art, but not having, as he puts it, “the pocketbook” for works by Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael, folk and outsider art appealed to him.

Today, self-taught art has made its way into galleries in its own right, represented in the places where contemporary artists well versed in the threads of aesthetic and personal issues tread. The thing is that these artists and works originate from places far afield from the mainstream art world — indeed, in some cases, from an actual field. The intentions of the artists tend to be very personal, which is the prime informer for work that reflects everyday life and experiences.

This is perhaps one of the underlying impetuses beneath the religious imagery of artists such as Reverend Howard Finster and paintings such as “Angel of the Rocks.” Finster’s work is often of conditions advising attentiveness to salvation and second comings. Jensen recounts meeting Finster, hanging out in his studio as he worked through the night. With a chuckle, Jensen speculates that sleep deprivation as well as devotion may influence these visions.

Other works in the exhibition are more akin to representations of everyday life, such as the “Crown of Thorns Church,” built out of tiny, delicate bits of wood and assembled so that pews and preacher are all visible inside its intricate, latticework skin.

The proliferation of genre scenes is not so complete, however, as many self-taught artists intuitively veer towards abstraction. Mose Tolliver is a southern American artist who depicts figures in forms that bend and angle, sometimes taking faces that resemble African masks. A note of autobiography may be detected in paintings like “Dry Bones Charley,” where a figure supported by crutches stands head-on to the viewer, feet turned in and fingers extended. Tolliver’s legs and feet were crushed in a factory accident when a slab of heavy marble fell on him, and these representations, in simplified form with their stylized and restrained figures, regard the viewer with strength despite limitations.

Other artists, like Mary T. Smith, gravitate toward more gestural paintings, as though unknowingly embracing the modes of neo-expressionism practiced in the 1980s. “Untitled (Two Figures)”, painted on corrugated steel, features a fierce man with bared teeth and a woman demurely standing in the background. The two are bold and unconstrained, with confident strokes of white that enliven the dark ambiguities suggested by their expression and appearance.

What this exhibition provides is a glimpse into recent forays outside of the art world. The study of art made outside of the mainstream environments of art academies and sanctioned exhibition spaces has taken place since the early 20th century.

In this abbreviated survey, it becomes clear that these works are indeed somehow different from their mainstream contemporaries. Yet, their visual power is a knock at the door of the conventional art world that has been thankfully answered.

On exhibit

Naives, Seers, Lone Wolves and World Savers XXIV: A Survey of Important Outsider and Folk Art continues through Dec. 4 at Dean Jensen Gallery, 759 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Visit deanjensengallery.com for more details.

NEW AND ON VIEW

I made this for you: Small gestures in clay

Portrait Society Gallery

207 E. Buffalo St., fifth floor

Opening reception Friday, Nov. 20, 6-9 p.m.

Dishes are intimate things that are used everyday. In this exhibition, Portrait Society shows its first exhibition dedicated to ceramics, with pieces that are created to be functional as well as commemorative objects. Artists include Adolph Rosenblatt, Colin Matthes, Harvey Opgenorth, Rudy Rotter, Gary John Gresl, and many more.

Exhibition of Paintings and Bronze Casts by Michelle Grabner of Wisconsin

Green Gallery

1500 N. Farwell Ave.

Exhibition runs through Jan. 2, 2016

Michelle Grabner is perhaps best known for paintings and silverpoint works of abstract patterns, but Green Gallery is pulling her work in three dimensions into plain sight. In the traditional medium of bronze, her sculptures will be shown, as well as two-dimensional works in this upcoming exhibition. 

ACLU to Scott Walker: No biased exclusion of Syrian refugees

Some Wisconsin legislators and Gov. Scott Walker want to turn away Syrian refugees.

The ACLU of Wisconsin responded …

We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us the most.

We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

However, the attempt by Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Wisconsin is a reflexive overreaction.

The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here. Attempting to shut out refugee resettlement in Wisconsin blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and erodes our own civil liberties.

The governor’s and other Wisconsin legislators’ position is badly wrong.

It betrays Wisconsin values of hospitality and compassion, and flies in the face of the laws of this country.  The brazenly discriminatory nature of this position raises grave legal concerns, and should be abhorrent to all Wisconsinites who believe in the values on which our country was founded.

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET | Safe, clean drinking water eludes many Wisconsinites

In this place, hundreds of thousands of people face the specter of drinking water from wells that is unsafe, tainted by one or more contaminants such as arsenic or nitrate.

In this place, for some, even brushing their teeth or cooking a meal can give pause because of the risk of lead from aging water pipes. The dangers to children, often more susceptible to pollutants than adults, and even pets and livestock, cause nagging fear.

Surely, this place — on a planet where the United Nations estimates 783 million people lack access to safe drinking water — lies in a distant nation.

But this polluted water is right here. In many parts of Wisconsin. In a state whose very name evokes the image of lakes and rivers and clean, cool, abundant water.

Lynda Cochart’s water from her private well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure-borne viruses that one researcher compared the results from her Kewaunee County farm to contamination in a Third World country. She suspects the problem is related to the county’s proliferation of large livestock operations, although testing did not pinpoint the source.

“Realize that we can’t drink, brush our teeth, wash dishes, wash food; we can’t use our water,” Cochart wrote in a letter last year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking intervention in the county’s drinking water problems.

“Our water is on our mind all the time. If drinking it doesn’t kill us, the stress of having it on our mind and worrying about it all the time will.”

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin’s 5.8 million residents are at risk of consuming drinking water tainted with substances including lead, nitrate, disease-causing bacteria and viruses, naturally occurring heavy metals and other contaminants, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found.

The problem persists, and in some areas is worsening, because of flawed agricultural practices, development patterns that damage water quality, geologic deposits of harmful chemicals, porous karst and sand landscapes, lack of regulation of the private wells serving an estimated 1.7 million people, and breakdowns in state and federal systems intended to safeguard water quality.

Studies show an increasing number of residents using private wells around the state are drinking unsafe levels of nitrate — most of it from fertilizer, manure or septic systems — which can be fatal to infants and has been linked to birth defects.

Tens of thousands of people living in homes in Milwaukee, Wausau and other cities with aging water pipes and fixtures may be exposed to lead, which can cause brain damage in children. Homes built before 1950 are likely to have lead pipes, according to the DNR. Those built before 1984 also could have lead in their fixtures or lead solder on pipes, the agency said.

The Center found that in many cases, residents are on their own when it comes to safeguarding their drinking water. Private well owners are not required to test their water, and only 16 percent do so annually, although 47 percent of private wells are estimated to be contaminated by one or more pollutants at levels above health standards. One-third of respondents to a 2008-09 state health survey said they had never tested their wells.

Even consumers of some municipal water should be wary. In 2009, after researchers found viruses in public water supplies, the state began requiring disinfection. In 2011, the Legislature rescinded the rule, with its sponsor, Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, calling it “an unnecessary and financial bureaucratic burden.”

In 2012, researchers definitively linked the presence of the viruses in 14 Wisconsin municipal water systems to acute gastrointestinal illness. More than 73,000 people use water provided by 60 municipal water systems that do not disinfect, according to DNR figures.

Last month, Doug and Sherryl Jones, of Spring Green, and Dave Marshall, a former Department of Natural Resources researcher from Barneveld who studied aquatic organisms, were among 16 Wisconsin residents who petitioned the EPA to revoke Wisconsin’s authority to issue pollution discharge permits under the Clean Water Act if the DNR does not correct deficiencies.

The discharge permits are a key mechanism by which Wisconsin limits pollutants, including manure from large farms, that reach the sources of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Both the Joneses and Marshall cited unsafe levels of nitrates in drinking water wells in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley.

Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, the Madison law firm representing the residents, said Wisconsin lacks an adequate regulatory program to protect water, including what flows from residents’ taps.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick countered that the DNR “takes its responsibility to protect Wisconsin’s waters seriously and does enforce the Clean Water Act. We are working within the confines of current state and federal laws and rules to do just that.” He declined to make any DNR officials available to discuss the Center’s findings.

Environmentalists are not the only critics of Wisconsin’s approach to safeguarding water.

Last year, an administrative law judge accused the DNR of “massive regulatory failure” for failing to prevent widespread contamination in the private wells used by Kewaunee County residents living near large dairy farms.

Judge Jeffrey Boldt, while granting a large farm’s permit to expand its herd beyond 4,000 cows, ordered the DNR to take several steps, including requiring Kinnard Farms to conduct off-site well testing and cap the number of cows based on “limits that are necessary to protect groundwater and surface waters.”

As of October, the agency was refusing to comply with those two requirements, saying it lacked the legal authority to impose them.

In the absence of rigorous enforcement, the Center found, residents can begin safeguarding their water by using methods including having their private wells tested for contaminants common in their areas or using safer practices when it comes to using water from aging lead pipes. Filters and water conditioners also can remove some harmful elements from drinking water.

But environmental advocates say state and federal lawmakers and regulators must do more to ensure the safety of Wisconsin’s drinking water.

Residents “think the government is protecting their water,” Wright said. “It’s not.”

Problems are statewide

Over the past year, the Center examined the state of Wisconsin’s drinking water. Major findings include:

  • Lead, dangerous especially to children’s brain development, is a threat in a projected 6,000 homes with lead pipes on municipal water systems, according to EPA estimates. And as many as 16,920 of the state’s 940,000 rural households on private wells also could be exposed to unhealthy lead levels, most likely from plumbing, according to a study by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Officials from the EPA and DNR have publicly acknowledged current federal regulations fail to protect against dangerous levels of lead in water.
  • Nitrate exceeds safe levels in the private wells of an estimated 94,000 Wisconsin households, according to state estimates. Despite these dangers, the law carves out a regulatory loophole so that private well owners with nitrate levels that could kill infants cannot qualify for financial assistance to get their wells replaced — unless the wells are used to water livestock.
  • Pesticides, some of which are linked with health issues ranging from cancer to reproductive problems, are present in one-third of the state’s private wells tested, according to the state’s 2014 Groundwater Coordinating Council report to the state Legislature. Tests for the herbicide atrazine, for example, showed 440 of 5,500 wells tested had levels above the EPA’s health enforcement standard.
  • A 2013 Department of Health Services study of 3,868 private wells statewide showed 2.4 percent of them exceeded the safe drinking water standards for arsenic of 10 parts per billion. Applied to all of the state’s private wells — a method endorsed by the study’s lead author — that percentage means residents in some 22,560 homes may be consuming unsafe levels of arsenic, which has been linked to cancer, diabetes, lower IQ and other illnesses.
  • That same study, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, found an indicator of possible disease-causing organisms such as E. coli or viruses in 18 percent of the 3,868 private wells tested statewide between 2007 and 2010.
  • Wisconsin’s private wells have some of the highest levels in the United States of the heavy metal strontium, which is suspected of causing rickets and bone deformities in infants and children, according to the EPA. The naturally occurring contaminant, which is currently unregulated, was found by a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay researcher at unsafe levels in 73 out of 114, or 64 percent, of well water samples in Brown, Calumet and Outagamie counties, where the local geology has been linked to the presence of strontium.
  • Tests of municipal wells in 42 communities for radium, a naturally occurring contaminant linked to health problems including cancer, exceeded federal safety limits in 2006. As of June, two dozen communities continued to exceed the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for radium, which is found at higher levels the deeper communities drill down for water. Waukesha continues to find spikes in its water and has made a controversial, internationally watched bid to become the first community outside the Great Lakes watershed to draw its water from Lake Michigan.
  • Unsafe levels of molybdenum, a naturally occurring metal that can cause joint, gastrointestinal, liver and kidney problems, were found in 200 of 1,000 private wells tested in southeastern Wisconsin by the environmental group Clean Wisconsin in 2014. The organization found that the severity of contamination increased the closer wells were to sites with recycled coal ash from power plants. The DNR said the data are insufficient to link the contaminants to coal ash.

According to the petition filed with the EPA last month, “water quality issues permeate throughout Wisconsin and are not confined to a particular area of the state. Petitioners have arrived at a conclusion that the status of the state’s water quality warrants wide-sweeping change.”

Exposure to contaminants large

The number of people exposed to contaminated tap water is hard to come by because most studies involve a single pollutant or region where drinking water is threatened. But when those pollutants and affected regions are looked at in total, the sum of people affected escalates.

For example, statewide sampling of 3,868 private wells by state public health researchers found 47 percent of the tested wells had one or more contaminants at levels exceeding health-based water quality standards.

Lynda Knobeloch, the lead author of the paper and who is now retired from her position as a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said she was surprised at the percentage of contaminated wells detected in the study. Researchers tested for coliform bacteria, fluoride, nitrate and a panel of 13 metals. The researchers did not test for other contaminants, including pesticides, believed to be in thousands of wells.

“Since an estimated 940,000 Wisconsin households, including more than 300,000 children, drink water from a private well, the finding that nearly half of the wells are unsafe is a major public health concern,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in 2013.

Municipal water systems fare much better than private wells, partly because they are heavily regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and must test for a broad range of contaminants.

In 2014, according to the DNR’s annual report on public drinking water systems, 95.5 percent, or 10,904 systems out of 11,420, met all health-based standards for regulated contaminants.

Ken Bradbury, director of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, said the aquifers from which most municipalities and all private well owners draw their drinking water are by and large a clean and plentiful source of water. But he added a caveat.

“We have this wonderful resource we take for granted,” Bradbury said. “And we don’t respect it enough.”

Natural threats made worse by man

Among the culprits in Wisconsin’s drinking water are natural contaminants such as arsenic and radium. And although they are naturally occurring, their presence in drinking water is often made worse by the drawdown of aquifers that comes with sprawling population growth and insufficient oversight of water use.

About 10 years ago, Bradley Burmeister’s family in Outagamie County had its private well tested for arsenic as part of a high school class project.

The results were shocking: Arsenic levels were 165 times higher than the federal health standard. Ever since, the Burmeisters have been buying bottled water by the case from the grocery store.

Tests by the DNR in the 1990s of nearly 2,000 private wells in northeastern Wisconsin showed nearly 20 percent of them exceeded the health standards for arsenic.

Some wells that once tested negative for arsenic may now be tainted because of drawdown, according to John Luczaj, a groundwater expert at UW-Green Bay.

Patrick Laughrin, who lives in the Calumet County community of Hilbert, said arsenic began showing up in his well after a large dairy operation nearby drilled high-capacity wells.

Another natural contaminant, radium, has begun to show up in the water systems of communities such as Sussex in Waukesha County, which is part of eastern Wisconsin’s “radium belt.” The radioactive substance is more prevalent the deeper communities drill into a depleted aquifer.

Rules improve water quality

Not all the news is bad.

The federal Clean Water Act was passed 40 years ago, and Wisconsin’s waters — especially its lakes and rivers — saw tremendous improvements in quality as point sources of pollution coming from industries were cleaned up.

According to the DNR, since the passage of the federal law, Fox River paper mills cut pollution from 425,000 to 22,000 pounds of solids a day. Milwaukee went from an estimated 60 combined sewer overflows a year to 2.5. Phosphorus pollution from point sources such as factories and municipalities has been cut by 67 percent since 1994, according to the agency.

Jill Jonas, head of the DNR’s Drinking and Groundwater program, called Wisconsin’s efforts to ensure clean drinking water for the state a “tremendous success story.”

One hundred years ago, she noted, Wisconsin’s State Board of Health recorded 105 cases of waterborne typhoid fever for every 100,000 people. Today, such illnesses are rare, with about 400 cases nationwide each year — and more than two-thirds of them are acquired during international travel.

Things also are looking up for neighbors of the defunct Badger Army Ammunition Plant after years of agitating by citizens for clean water. Residents there have been drinking bottled water because of private wells contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and other contaminants, byproducts of manufacturing explosives for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Town of Merrimac resident Gene Franks described living with “gnawing doubt” about the safety of his drinking water. But soon Franks’ home will be among the nearly 400 households in this scenic area south of Baraboo to get a municipal supply of water  — courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Some regulation lax, full of loopholes

Despite the sometimes dramatic improvements in overall water quality, activists contend the state has gone backwards in recent years when it comes to enforcement of clean-water laws.

In 2011, the EPA identified 75 failings in the DNR’s enforcement of the state’s wastewater pollution permit program. Last month, after the residents’ petition was filed, the state agency announced it is working on two rule packages that will address 21 of the issues. The agency said it has resolved 36 of the issues and is working on more rule changes that will solve the 18 remaining problems.

“Our state has historically been, and continues to be, a leader in many water-related areas,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a news release.

But the residents’ petition said the agency’s actions to resolve deficiencies represent a “lack of meaningful response.” The petition also charged that the agency’s authority and staff have been whittled away, citing the loss of 600 positions in the past 20 years.

The petitioners claim Wisconsin now lacks the staff to adequately inspect and manage permits for wastewater sources, including large farms, municipalities and industries. EPA estimates show two-thirds of such facilities in Wisconsin are operating with expired waste discharge permits — the third worst rate in the nation.

Recent reorganization at the agency by Gov. Scott Walker “raises even more doubt” about its ability to carry out its duties under the Clean Water Act, according to the petition. One of those changes is eliminating a separate water division and consolidating both water and air pollution under a Business Support and External Services Division.

“The governor and state Legislature have starved the DNR’s power and robbed the agency’s experienced staff of professional autonomy to make informed decisions,” Wright said in a statement, adding, “Without effective government, we are compounding what our children and grandchildren will face in a world increasingly short of drinking water.”

Portions of the series were produced in collaboration with journalism classes participating in The Confluence, a project involving the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The nonprofit Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the journalism school. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

FAILURE AT THE FAUCET: Safeguarding your drinking water: What you can do

Wisconsin residents can take a number of steps to make sure their drinking water is safe. Here are a few suggestions:

  • If you live in one of the 940,000 households in Wisconsin that rely on a private well, have your water tested or test it yourself. The state Department of Natural Resources recommends getting your well tested once a year for coliform bacteria and any time you notice a change in how your water looks, smells or tastes. Check with your county health department on what contaminants may be found in your area and for which you might also want to test.
  • You can get more information on testing from the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, including details on how to obtain testing kits and the costs of various tests. The test for coliform bacteria, for example, costs $29, as do the tests for lead and nitrate.
  • For those using municipal water, get the consumer confidence report from your local water utility. Or you can access the reports on the DNR’s database of public water systems. Also, find out if your utility disinfects for viruses or uses corrosion control to help keep lead out of pipes.
  • If your home was built before 1984, consider having it assessed for lead in the water. While pre-1950 homes often have lead service pipes, some homes built before 1984 may have lead solder on the pipes or fixtures that contain lead. Consult the DNR website for safer ways to use water that may contain lead.
  • Consider a filter for your water. But make sure that the filter you choose is effective for removing the specific contaminants that are in your water. The University of Wisconsin-Extension website has advice on which to choose.

— Ron Seely

About the Failure at the Faucet series

Failure at the Faucet is part of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s ongoing Water Watch Wisconsin project, which examines state water quality and supply issues.

The series was produced for The Confluence, a collaborative project involving the Center and students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The investigation included reviewing dozens of studies, interviewing many of the state’s foremost water quality scientists and scouring the state to find homeowners who cannot do something most of us take for granted — cup their hand under the kitchen tap and take a long, cool drink of water.

The Confluence was supported by a grant managed by the Online News Association and funded by the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund.

Katy Culver, assistant professor in the journalism school, coordinated The Confluence. Ron Seely, a Center editor and reporter, was project editor.

The investigative reporting class that participated in Failure at the Faucet was taught by Deborah Blum, a former UW-Madison journalism professor and now director of the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students in the class were Rachael Lallensack, Gabrielle Menard, Tierney King, Silke Schmidt, Kathi Matthews-Risley, Jane Roberts, Mary Kate McCoy, Elise Bayer and Fern Schultz.

 

drinking-map

St. John’s on the Lake makes room for residents’ furry friends

Anyone who’s ever had an animal companion knows just how much joy they bring. Our companion animals play an important and irreplaceable role in our lifestyles and emotions. They help to guide us through life’s many struggles and have been proven beneficial to our health and happiness. 

One challenge we all face is aging, particularly when the time comes to move into a retirement community. It’s a hard choice to leave one home for another, and many seniors must face the decision of whether to take a beloved furry friend with them. 

During such transitional times, having the love and support of a cherished pet can make more of a difference than ever. Just ask the resident pet owners who live at St. John’s on the Lake, 1840 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee. There, pets are welcomed with open hearts.

“Your pet sort of becomes everyone’s pet,” says resident pet owner Jack Ford, his curly coated tan pup Casper sitting beside him.

Residents walk freely through the halls with their dogs, take them outside to the outdoor doggie run, and socialize together at pet-themed events. 

“When I walk down the hall, usually people say, ‘Hi, Dexter,’” says Bill Lau, referring to his dog. “They say ‘hello’ to him before they even say ‘hello’ to me!” 

The cat owners also have their special place. One resident walks her sleek black cat Samantha in a lovely red harness during what would regularly be the dog hours.

For cat owner Mary McAndrews, whose cats all have been named after mystery authors, the decision to adopt Josephine was prompted by the hard choice the cat’s former “parent” had to face: Leave Josephine behind with a social worker when she entered senior living.

“Josephine was 8 years old,” explains McAndrews, “and the story that we heard was that she was brought in by a social worker. Her previous owner had two cats and was going into a senior facility that only allowed for her to keep one.” 

To celebrate the bonds between St. John’s residents and their pets, Lau conceived of a touching photography exhibit called the Pet Project. Resident photographers Dan Patrinos, Art Beaudry and Jim Ballard photographed 10 dogs, 14 cats and their owners in their homes at St. John’s. The display of black-and-white photographs features candid shots, portraits and group photographs of residents with their pets.

On a special side display titled Remembrance, photographs of pets who have passed are also included. This touching project is on display at St. John’s until mid-November and is free and open to the public.

The warmth that shines through each photograph evidences the power of pet companionship and the quality of life it adds to the residents and staff at St. John’s on the Lake. The photographs underscore the family atmosphere that St. John’s strives to create for everyone, including those for whom no family would be complete without an occasional “woof!” or “meow.”

Zero-growth population advocates mark World Vasectomy Day

Conversations about population control often focus on women, but the other half of the population plays a role,  too.

World Vasectomy Day stems from the other side of the equation. It’s observed annually on Nov. 13, but don’t expect your iPhone to ping with a reminder.

Filmmaker Jonathan Stack launched  the observance, which seeks to encourage people to talk about the vasectomy as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancy and promote population control for the sake of the environment.

Proponents of the campaign — headquartered online at worldvasectomyday.org — include physicians, policymakers and environmental activists who offer a long list of reasons to support World Vasectomy Day:

• Because men must share the responsibility of family planning.

• Because eliminating the fear of unintended pregnancy can improve sex lives.

• Because everyone must do a fairer job of sharing the planet’s finite resources.

• Because a vasectomy is less invasive than tubal ligation and healthier than taking hormones or chemicals.

In 2014, more than 400 physicians in 30 countries performed 3,000 vasectomies, making World Vasectomy Day the largest global family-planning event in history.

This year, supporters hope to enlist the aid of doctors in 40 countries and video from some of the procedures may be streamed live on the Web.

The Center for Biological Diversity offers T-shirts on Nov. 13 to men who share in a few sentences why they “got whacked for wildlife.”

Study: People act a lot like their dogs

We’ve all heard the old cliché that people look like their dogs.

But would it surprise you to learn that people and their dogs tend to socialize, eat and learn new skills in very similar ways, too?

According to the “Natural Balance Canine Personality Study” — a survey of 1,015 U.S. dog parents conducted by Natural Balance Pet Foods in conjunction with Learndipity Data Insights — Americans tend to love dogs who they perceive to be just like them.

PEOPLE CHOOSE
DOGS WHO ACT
JUST LIKE THEM

Sixty-six precent of extroverted people have extroverted dogs and there’s a 65 percent chance that an introverted dog will have an introverted human parent.
If you’re a choosy eater, your dog is three times more likely to be one as well.
If you identify as a lifelong learner, then there’s a 72 percent chance your dog will be good at learning new tricks.

DOGS DISPLAY
COMPLEX EMOTIONS, JUST LIKE WE DO

Dogs’ personalities are highly nuanced and pet parents believe that dogs experience many emotions that are all too familiar to humans.
If you’re hurt or late coming home, then you’re likely to believe, as 90 percent of all dog parents do, that your pup is worried about you.
Seventy-nine percent of dog owners say dogs can feel embarrassment and 93 percent are certain they’ve seen their dog smile.

DOGS STRONGLY INFLUENCE THE EMOTIONS OF THEIR HUMAN PARENTS

According to 79 percent of dog parents, their dogs consciously and actively attempt to comfort them.
Fifty-five percent report that their dog looks at them with loving eyes that communicate deep emotion.
Fifty-two percent say their dog is able to accurately sense when they are sad.