WMU News

Congress approves $1.5 million for Kalamazoo River

Oct. 23, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- New federal funds totaling $1.5 million were approved by Congress Oct. 19 to expand Western Michigan University's efforts to assess environmental damage and plan cleanup efforts for the entire Kalamazoo River watershed.

WMU's Environmental Institute will receive $750,000 in new funds to continue its assessment of the impact of pollutants found along the Kalamazoo River watershed and to develop a series of new high-tech tools to aid in the institute's assessment efforts. Congress also approved $750,000 to extend environmental research on the river, begun last year, into the Calhoun County portion of the watershed. The funding was approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of the VA/HUD Appropriations Bill. The bill has been sent to President Clinton, who is expected to quickly sign the appropriation.

"As I look for ways to preserve and improve our environment, the Kalamazoo River presents a real opportunity," said Rep. Fred Upton after passage of the bill. "I'm proud to have played a role in securing the funds for the second year of a multi-year project to clean up the leading source of PCB's flowing into Lake Michigan. Western Michigan University should also be commended for its efforts to keep Lake Michigan pristine and work towards cleaner water for all residents of the region."

"The research Western is conducting has broad-scope applications," said Sen. Spencer Abraham, "because the environmental community will be able to take the work that's benefiting the Kalamazoo River and analyze what they've learned, then apply it to sites across the nation that have similar contaminants."

"We are grateful for the leadership of Rep. Upton, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, Rep. Nick Smith and many others in our congressional delegation who worked in a bipartisan fashion to secure funding that will enable this University to continue research that is vital to West Michigan," said WMU President Elson S. Floyd of the news. "Special thanks also must go to Sen. Abraham and Sen. Carl Levin for their support of WMU during the process."

The funding represents the second year of federal commitment to efforts by WMU's Environmental Institute to establish an information clearinghouse and provide sound scientific information that can guide future clean-up efforts along the river. Congress approved $1 million in initial funding last year for the work, which may lead to a model for tackling the nation's other Superfund sites.

The new funding will continue and expand that effort as well as allow researchers to refine new molecular tools that will measure changes in genetic activity in plants, animals and humans that signal exposure to serious environmental health hazards from river pollution. That information is expected to provide the kind of detailed information that will lead to targeted and efficient cleanup efforts along the watershed.

"Many of the old technologies currently in use are expensive, often yield ambiguous conclusions and only detect the most severe health risks," says Dr. Charles Ide, director of WMU's Environmental Institute. "There is a critical need to find better ways to measure the risk to both human health and the ecosystem. We're trying, for the first time, to apply biotechnology methods similar to those developed through the human genome project. The new funding will help us continue that work."

Institute researchers, under the direction of Ide, and Dr. Jay Means, chairperson of WMU's Department of Chemistry, have been working to determine the fate and transport of such environmental contaminants as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) left in the river from years of paper manufacturing along the river.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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