Illinois Public Media News
A study of the spread of West Nile virus shows it has a new culprit.
A team of researchers from the University of Illinois says robins are unwittingly spreading the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying it. Professor Jeff Brawn heads the U of I's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Unlike crows and jays, which die when they get the disease, he says some robins survive when bitten by an infected mosquito. And Brawn says that's a problem in urban environments. "They seem to be to amplify the virus in their bloodstream but they don't die from it at a real high rate," said Brawn. "So you've got a common bird that the mosquitoes prefer, and one that the virus seems to do very well in, too."
Brawn and a team of U of I researchers are tracking West Nile in Chicago's southwest suburbs. The group has been able to detect what mosquitoes have been feeding on through DNA samples. Brawn says if another mosquito bites a robin, the mosquito gets the virus and can then transmit it to another host, possibly another bird or human. He suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, minimizing outdoor time from dusk to dawn, and using insect repellent this summer to avoid the illness. "It's not like robins are the enemy, and if you see one, you're going to get West Nile virus," said Brawn. "It's just that robins are species that seems to be involved in kind of a epidemiology of the virus."
Brawn's study includes several institutions, including Michigan State and Emory University. It's funded by the National Science Foundation.
The rain in recent days has kept many farmers in Central Illinois from wrapping up their planting.
Illinois Farm Bureau spokesman John Hawkins says spring temperatures allowed farmers to get all their corn and some soybeans in, but have been on hold for several days since. And he says much of the corn crop near creeks or in low-lying areas essentially drowned from all the rainfall, and can't be re-planted at this point. Hawkins says Interstates 74 and 72 corridor saw the heaviest rainfall, particularly west of Springfield and Peoria, where it was 4 times above normal.
But he says a dry spell wouldn't be the best solution either. "Should the rains immediately stop, and we go to drier weather, a lot of these crops are going to be impacted by the heat and humidity because the root systems are so shallow," said Hawkins. "So if the ground dries out too quickly, we may have just as many problems as if the rains continue." Hawkins also says the term 'green snap' is a common problem in places that don't see heavy rains, but have wind speeds strong enough to basically break a quick-growing corn stalk right above the ground. "It's where the plant grows so fast, that when a strong wind hits it, it just snaps it off right above the ground." said Hawkins. "That's a total loss for the farmer."
Dick Miller, a farmer in in the Champaign County community of Philo, says his biggest concern is crop disease, since the rain has kept him from spraying his more than 300 acres of soybeans. University of Illinois researchers indicate the number of planting days for the region the past three years has been well below normal.
Preliminary tests of a liquid spill near a railroad track in Danville show that residents there aren't at any health risk. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency hopes to have more information at a public meeting in the city on Wednesday. But agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says the first samples prove that the smell of the fatty acids used in industrial settings are the only problem so far. "We're fully aware that there are odors and the neighbors have experienced them, and this is a problem," says Carson. "Even though there's not a hazardous chemical involved, the odors affect the quality of life of the neigbhors."
The substance appeared to have come from Double-S Liquid Feed Service on North Bowman Avenue. Carson says some of it spilled as it was being off-loaded, and rain waters carried it into a ditch. She says the area isn't heavily populated, but enough people were adversely affected to call for the meeting. Carson says it's also not yet known how much of the liquid had spilled, but she says inspections of site show small quantities of the substance may have spilled before there. The EPA is working with Double-S and the city of Danville to clean up the site. Carson says if the problem proves to be severe, the EPA could call the Attorney General's office over possible fines or other penalties. The EPA's public meeting over the spill is Wednesday at 12:15 at the Danville Boys and Girls Club.
Gov. Pat Quinn has declared four Illinois counties disaster areas after tornadoes tore through parts of the state.
Quinn on Monday declared LaSalle, Livingston, Peoria and Putnam counties disaster areas. Quinn said during a visit to Dwight in Livingston County the declaration would help ensure the flow of state assistance to areas hit by tornadoes. The governor says he expects communities like Dwight and Streator to get federal help as well.
"We want to give everything we can from the state, but under these circumstances there are moneys available from the federal government for disaster assistants." said Quinn. "And I think very shortly we'll be filing for that." The National Weather Service says at least 15 tornadoes touched down across central and northern portions of the state Saturday night. The strongest was a tornado with 140 mph winds that touched down near Dwight before tearing through the town about 60 miles northeast of Bloomington. 14 people were hurt in the town, including one with serious injuries, and about 50 suffered minor injuries in nearby Streator. Dozens were injured and a number of homes and businesses were damaged.
Local officials in Livingston County say they expect to request both state and federal disaster assistance after tornadoes there destroyed dozens of homes and injured more than 60 people this weekend.
The twisters that hit the towns of Dwight and Streator Saturday night are among seven being assessed by the National Weather Service. Dwight Village Administrator Kevin McNamara says one of the 14 was seriously injured, and all injuries occurred in a mobile home park, where more than 30 homes were destroyed. He says at least 50 other homes outside the park received moderate to serious damage, and Dwight High School lost part of its roof. For the area impacted, McNamara says a curfew that started Sunday morning remains in effect through 10 this morning. "Com Ed is still doing assessments, checking for power lines," said McNamara. "Nicor is checking for gas leaks. You know, when it's dark and there are no street lights, we just don't want anybody to be injured." More than 800 were still without power in Dwight late Sunday. Governor Pat Quinn is expected to assess the damage there Monday afternoon.
In Streator, Mayor Jim Lansford says about 50 people were treated at area hospitals for minor injuries. He says about 30 homes had major damage, and about 18-hundred residents were without power late yesterday. A perimeter around the area hit hardest in Streator was blocked off as Com Ed was assessing its safety. "The main thing is that nobody lost their life," said Lansford. "And it's unfortunate.. the property damage and some other injuries, but nobody did lose their life. And the support from all the agencies as well as the community itself has been outstanding."
The National Weather Service says storms also damaged or destroyed homes and buildings in LaSalle County (which includes part of Streator), as well as Kankakee, Peoria and Putnam counties. Meteorologist Gino Izzi says most of the tornadoes were EF2's, but there were a couple of EF3's, with wind speeds of around 140 miles an hour. He says the pattern of storms is similar to what the area experienced two years ago today, when a 'super cell' of storms stretching from Livingston County to Chicago's south suburbs produced five or more tornadoes.
University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."
Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.
The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.
The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.
Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.
"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."
The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.
Recycling pickup for multi-family housing will come to Champaign next year, under an item approved for the new city budget.
In a tight budget year, Champaign officials are counting on user fees to pay for recycling pickups at multi-family buildings. The fee is expected to be 2 to 3 dollars per month per dwelling, or per person in shared housing such as fraternities and sororities.
City Councilwoman Deb Feinen says she's waited a long time for Champaign apartment dwellers be able to get recycling pickup, which has been offered in Urbana for years.
"When I got on Council, I was basically told by some other council members, 'no way, not gonna happen, we've voted on that before, go away, I don't wanna talk to you about it'", says Feinen. "I am delighted that we are now in a situation, four years later, to see multi-family recycling."
Apartment building owners in Champaign were always allowed to contract for recycling pickup on their own. But the budget item approved Tuesday night requires the service at all multi-family dwellings citywide.
The recycling issue was part of a review of the proposed city budget which Champaign City Council members wrapped up Tuesday night. They'll take a final vote in June.
New contracts for residential recycling pickup in Urbana are on hold, until the city council gets answers about why apartment dwellers would be able to recycle more materials than those who live in single-family homes
The extra material in question is number six polystyrene plastic. Urbana-based Community Resource is offering to pick up the hard-to-recycle plastic --- except for foam --- in its winning bid for multi-family recycling in the city. But ABC Sanitary Hauling of Champaign would NOT recycle Number Six, under its winning bid to continue as Urbana's single-family curbside recycler.
Alderman Charlie Smyth says he wants both residential recycling programs in Urbana to accept Number Six Plastic.
"Because really, it's confusing to have one program doing more than the other", says Smyth. "I'll just as soon put my stuff in Multi-Family, because I'll be able to more. I want to be able to put all my plastic film and #6 plastic in, and not have to worry about checking all the stupid numbers. If I just know I can put every bit of plastic in the barrel, I'm going to be happy."
The Urbana City Council was set to vote on both the curbside and multi-family recycling bids Monday night. But now the issue goes back to the city council's Committee of the Whole for more discussion.
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
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