Tag: Kelly Thayer

A Warm Welcome to Our New Deputy Director, Kelly Thayer


It brings me great pleasure to announce that Kelly Thayer has joined the FLOW team as our new Deputy Director. Kelly will play a lead role in strategic communications and overall program development and implementation. We have dreamed about this day for a long time.  

Kelly Thayer, Deputy Director

Kelly is a familiar face and name to many already, as he has worked with FLOW since 2014 as a communications consultant. Among other things, he has coordinated and supported FLOW’s involvement in the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign to shut down the aging, cracked, and corroded Line 5 oil pipelines in the open waters of the Mackinac Straits, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet.  

There’s no doubt about it, but Kelly has a way with words. And that’s not surprising, given his Master of Arts in Journalism and Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Michigan, followed by his early newspaper career here in Michigan and Wisconsin.

In addition to being a gifted writer, Kelly is a wonderful communicator, researcher, and community organizer. His leadership has enabled him to work successfully on a diverse array of local, state, and national environmental campaigns. He served as volunteer co-chair of successful election campaigns to launch a countywide public bus transit system in 2006 and to renew its funding by a 3-1 margin in 2011 in Benzie County. Kelly also helped to build and co-direct state and local coalitions to advance people-centered transportation policies and projects in Michigan from 1998-2005 while working with the Michigan Land Use Institute (now Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities).  

Since 2005, Kelly has worked as a consultant at The Resource for Great Programs, a national firm working to strengthen foundations that support, and nonprofit law firms that provide, free civil legal aid to people in poverty across the nation.

What else? Kelly and his wife Carolyn also volunteered in the U.S. Peace Corps in Tanzania prior to starting their family. They have two amazing boys: Alex (18), who just started the engineering program at University of Michigan, and Quincy (15), who loves fishing, cross-country running, surfing, skiing, and skateboarding.

Make sure you get a chance to meet Kelly. He loves these Great Lakes as much as you do.  

 

-Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director


PFAS in the Huron River: Every Mile, Every Fish, Every Day

As usual, our 15-year-old son Quincy had fishing on his mind.

It was the steamy Friday afternoon start of Labor Day weekend in Ann Arbor. We had just moved Quincy’s brother Alex into a University of Michigan dorm room, and taken my wife to Detroit Metropolitan Airport to visit her parents in Florida. Now it was time for our own adventure.

We drove to Gallup Park, an east-side city oasis stretching along the Huron River that hosts a popular canoe livery and attracts locals as well as international students and families who often picnic and play there. Pulling our fishing gear from the Subaru, we stepped toward the wide tan waters of the slow-moving stretch of river.

My family & friends relaxing on the Huron River near the Argo Canoe Livery in Ann Arbor before heading downstream through the Cascades, U of M Nichols Arboretum, ending up at Gallup Park.

Quincy and I smiled as we joined the bicyclists, joggers, and other park-goers, and laughed at the chances of catching any fish in the full sun of late afternoon. We cast our lines and twitched our rubber worms as we chatted with two members of a family from Jordan also hoping to hook into something.

Finding no bites, just weeds, we moved to another shore, and Quincy hatched a plan: “If I can get through this brush and step into the water, I could cast along the shore where there’s a little shade.” Boom! The plan worked, and I heard thrashing in the water as Quincy hauling in a hefty, 17-inch largemouth bass. Quincy landed another nice bass before we left, and we returned the next morning to kayak the Huron with my sister who lives in Ann Arbor and my U of M college buddy and his son.

Water Everywhere and Not a Fish to Eat

Quincy Thayer with his catch-and-release largemouth bass at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor.

Friday night I posted a Facebook photo of a smiling Quincy displaying his prized bass, and my friend Bill quickly shared this link with me: Michigan says PFAS makes all fish in Huron River unsafe to eat. I thanked him, and replied in frustration, “A river too toxic to eat a single damn fish.”

I had seen a prior state warning not to eat any Huron River fish in parts of three counties because of chemical pollution, specifically by PFOS, which is a type of PFAS, a term that represents a group of water-repellent chemicals known as per- and poly-fluorinated compounds.

Now the toxic PFAS advisory had been extended to all 130 miles of the Huron River in southeast Michigan, which emerges from a swamp in northern Oakland County and flows into Lake Erie on the boundary between Wayne and Monroe counties. The river and its toxins wind through thirteen parks, game areas, and recreation areas, and the cities of Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Belleville, Flat Rock, and Rockwood. It is the only state-designated Country-Scenic Natural River in southeast Michigan, according to Wikipedia, which includes 27.5 miles of the mainstream, plus an additional 10.5 miles of three tributaries.

It’s deeply troubling because PFAS have links to cancer, liver damage, birth defects and autoimmune diseases. The state says that touching the fish or water, and swimming in these water bodies, is not considered a health concern as PFAS do not move easily through the skin.

PFAS have been used in cosmetics, products including Scotchgard and Teflon, fire-retardant sprays, and some food packaging such as pizza boxes and microwave-popcorn bags. They are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t biodegrade.

Finding One PFAS Source, With Thousands More to Go

A few days later, I eagerly clicked on this headline: Metro Detroit auto supplier is a source of PFAS pollution in Huron River. But I didn’t feel the relief or sense of justice I sought in reading about one suspected polluter among many in the PFAS crisis washing over all of Michigan. Stretches of the Kalamazoo River and Flint River are contaminated with PFAS too. Michigan officials estimate that PFAS might contaminate more than 11,000 sites statewide.

Michiganders are drinking PFAS too. Veterans and their families and co-workers for years likely drank PFAS at Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda. The state of Michigan has found the chemical concoction in the drinking water of 1.5 million Michiganders so far, with statewide testing only about halfway complete in late August. The list of public water supply systems with known PFAS levels currently include major systems that draw water from the Great Lakes such as Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Wyoming, as well as groundwater systems such as Kalamazoo, and surface water systems as in Ann Arbor, which draws primarily from the Huron River.

The state of Michigan and the federal government both lack a legally enforceable drinking water standard for PFAS, with state decision-making based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory of 70 parts per trillion (ppt) that is not protective of public health, particularly for children and pregnant women, and is 70 times higher than the limit of 1 ppt recommended in a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.

Starting with the Truth

On a personal level, it makes me sick that every fish in this wide river winding through my childhood hometown of Ann Arbor is too toxic to consume. I also wonder how the fish themselves are faring, along with everything else in the river and all birds and other wildlife that also eat the fish. Are they getting any warnings?

How do I really explain the handing off of this legacy to Quincy? I decide to start with the truth and text Quincy the article that Bill shared with me. We talk about it and commiserate a little. We like to eat fish, but mostly don’t for health concerns related to mercury, PCBs, and dioxin, and now PFAS.

I think about all those local and international families who do eat the fish they catch at Gallup Park. I call the park and reach a staffer who assures me that the city has erected signs and posters warning people along the Huron River not to eat the fish. He said the city also sent out a text alert about the PFAS pollution too.  I feel somewhat assured, but also know that plenty of people along the river’s 130-mile run might not hear or heed the health warnings. 

Kelly Thayer, FLOW Contributor

I recall reports that state officials ignored and suppressed a major warning in 2012 about Michigan’s emerging PFAS crisis. I reflect on the recent reporting by FLOW’s executive director Liz Kirkwood that “every year, chemical manufacturers release some 10,000 untested chemicals into the environment in the United States.” And I remind myself that fighting for what’s right and for the future is always the right thing to do, especially when the fight grows larger and seems overwhelming.

The heat is rising on the Michigan legislature to enact an enforceable PFAS drinking water standard and conduct a full investigation into the state’s PFAS crisis, and how an MDEQ report exposing it six years ago was ignored. Michiganders deserve the truth, the protection of their health, and an outdoors and drinking water supply that are not toxic.


Additional sources of information on PFAS contamination in Michigan:


 

Tilting at Tunnels and a Brighter Tomorrow

As a native Michigander and optimist, I’ve always welcomed the first day of winter as a harbinger of longer, hopefully sunnier days just over the horizon. But I was recently reminded by a friend that, of course, the winter solstice that occurred Thursday at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, actually marks the shortest day and longest night in the Northern Hemisphere.

So depending on the tilt of your perspective, the solstice is cause for deepening dread, a condition aptly summed up as “SAD,” or relative hope: There’s scientific evidence to suggest that without the tilt of the earth’s axis, we might not be here at all.

As we at FLOW take stock of our shared efforts in 2017 to prioritize and protect the Great Lakes and look ahead to challenges and opportunities to come in the new year, consider this dichotomy related to the battle to shut down the decaying Line 5 oil pipelines in the Mackinac Straits that suggest from my viewpoint that Great Lakes protectors are growing stronger and there indeed are brighter days ahead.

First the Dark: In October, Enbridge admitted misleading both Michigan and federal officials on the condition of its Line 5 oil pipelines for over three years, concealing the existence of at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near anchor locations in the straits.

Then in late November, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder bypassed his own advisory board and announced his sweetheart, backroom deal with Enbridge to tilt the search for alternatives to a looming Great Lakes oil spill disaster toward a tunnel under the Mackinac Straits. Gov. Snyder, however, inadvertently lit a spark under those who recognize that the drinking water supply for half of all Michiganders is no place for oil pipelines.

Then the Firelight: FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood correctly called it a “reward for failure” for bumbling Enbridge. The governor’s spurned advisory board found its voice in early December and passed resolutions, in part, calling for an amendment to the deal to require the temporary shutdown of Line 5 until there has been the full inspection of and repair of the coating breaches and urging the state to conduct a much more robust assessment of alternatives to Line 5.

Apparently preferring a rubber-stamp board, Gov. Snyder was quick to dismiss his advisors, saying, “I’m not sure I view that as a regular meeting in terms of that resolution.” But the public was buoyed by the board’s backbone, with hundreds of outraged residents turning out and piping up in public meetings in Taylor, St. Ignace, and Traverse City to object to the governor’s deal and support a shutdown.

Meanwhile, members of the growing Great Lakes Business Network sharpened their questioning of why the state would allow – even promote – a Canadian pipeline company’s business model that rakes in profit by threatening to torpedo the Pure Michigan economy. And the Oil & Water Don’t Mix campaign co-led by FLOW, tribes, and several other stewardship groups scheduled a Shut Down Line 5! Snyder/Schuette Accountability Rally for noon Thursday, with dozens of people expected to carry the torch for shutting down Line 5 on what would otherwise be the darkest day and give a final push for public comment that ends Friday on the state’s flawed alternatives analysis.

More Illumination in 2018: Stay tuned in early 2018 when the campaign will release its detailed plan to decommission Line 5 while ensuring propane still flows to the Upper Peninsula and Michigan’s other energy needs are met. FLOW’s technical advisors have done some of that decommissioning groundwork, as summarized in fact sheets here and here.

In addition, Michigan Technilogical University will lead a Line 5 risk study in 2018. The Snyder-Enbridge deal calls for completion of the Line 5 review process by August 15, when the state is expected to make a final decision to replace the pipelines or shut them down.

Shining Brighter Together: For FLOW, the broader context is that the Great Lakes belong to all of us, so all of us who love and benefit from these magnificent waters must share in the vital task of helping protect them.

That’s why we work so hard to educate the public and ensure these freshwater inland seas remain and become even more drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for generations to come. Together we must understand the risks facing our Great Lakes and very way of life so that we can pursue real solutions rooted in the public trust. And one very real solution is for the state of Michigan to shut down Line 5.  

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Kelly Thayer, FLOW Contributor