Your Environment Update for July 16, 2015

  • Actors from the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh workshop "A New Kind of Fallout" at the Carrie Furnaces, Swissvale, Pennsylvania. Photo: Opera Theater of Pittsburgh

July 16, 2015

In this week’s Environment Update, we take a look at the grim summer forecast for Lake Erie algae, and check out the debut of an opera about environmentalist and Pittsburgh native Rachel Carson.

Lake Erie Algae Forecast Looks Grim

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an especially bad year for Lake Erie algae. Scientists from NOAA are saying this year’s bloom will be worse than last year’s—though not as bad as 2011’s record toxic algae bloom.

“Potentially, this could be the second worst bloom that we’ve seen on Lake Erie,” says NOAA’s Rick Stump.

In 2011, Lake Erie’s worst-ever toxic bloom drifted far east of Cleveland. And last year, the city of Toledo had to shut down its water supply for nearly three days. Stump says the main factor is this year’s record June rainfall, which washed more algae-feeding nutrients from farmland into the lake. But Stump believes most water treatment plants should be able to cope with the blooms. And biweekly NOAA bulletins on algae blooms will help boaters, fishermen and vacationers know which areas to avoid.

Reporting by Karen Schaefer

Rachel Carson Opera Debuts in Pittsburgh

“Better living through chemistry.” It was a famous slogan of the 1950s and '60s about how science was improving our lives. But some advances of the era led to environmental problems, some of which were documented by legendary naturalist and Pittsburgh native Rachel Carson. This week, a new opera premieres in Carson’s hometown based on her 1962 book Silent Spring, which shed light on the damaging effects of pesticides. The opera, A New Kind of Fallout, depicts the life of a young 1960s housewife who is learning about the potential health and ecological risks of the pesticide DDT.

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh commissioned playwright Tammy Ryan to write the lyrics for what they are calling an “eco-opera.” But she says it isn’t just about DDT.

“It’s about the poison soup that we kind of are living in,” Ryan says. “It’s like we’re in a snow globe—it’s all in there, and we’re swimming in it, breathing it in, eating it. And I think we’re reaching a tipping point.”

Ryan says she hopes audiences will hear Rachel Carson’s message of warning, but also of hope. Silent Spring led to a ban on the widespread use of DDT in the U.S. in 1972. A New Kind of Fallout opens Saturday July 18 at the Twentieth Century Club in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

Scientists Upgrade Size of  Utica Shale Formation

Geologists have upped the amount of oil and gas thought to be in the Utica shale. A new estimate, first reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, would make the Utica shale in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio the second-biggest gas formation in the country. Only the Marcellus shale is larger.