Stories by Alex Ruppenthal


New Illinois Law Bans Sale of Cosmetics Tested on Animals

More than 30 countries have banned cosmetics testing on animals, and while the practice hasn’t been banned in the U.S., Illinois is now the third state to enact “humane cosmetics” legislation. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Free Soil Tests Offered as U. of I. Studies Lead’s Impact on Urban Farming

As urban agriculture programs expand in Chicago and other cities, a new project aims to unearth data on one of the biggest potential obstacles to city-based farming efforts: soil contamination.

(Jonathan Babb / Wikimedia Commons)

USDA Declares Agriculture Disaster in Illinois Following Floods

The move comes in the wake of near-record levels of flooding this spring that forced farmers to delay planting crops. 

(Richard Schneider / Flickr)

How Clean is the Chicago River? A New Project Wants to Show You in Real Time

What lies below the surface of the Chicago River today is not what it was a century ago, but pollution is still a problem. A Chicago nonprofit aims to offer real-time water quality data to the public later this year.

A rusty-patched bumble bee (U.S Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons)

Illinois Sightings Raise Hope for Endangered Rusty Patched Bumblebee

It’s been a rough few decades for the rusty patched bumblebee. Once widespread in Illinois and throughout much of the U.S., the species has lost nearly 90% of its population over the past 20 years.

(EME / Pixabay)

Children Don’t Like Nature as Much as Adults, UChicago Study Finds

As they set out to learn more about kids’ affinity for nature, a group of psychologists had a strong idea about what they would find. As it turned out, their assumptions were wrong. “We were incredibly surprised,” said the lead author of the study.


Illinois Among 12 States Suing Trump Administration Over Fuel Economy Standards

A lawsuit filed Friday aims to stop a plan by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that would lower fines for automakers that fail to meet fuel-economy standards. 

Piles of coal ash after a 2008 spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee. (Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons)

Illinois Becomes Latest State to Crack Down on Coal Ash Pollution

A new law in Illinois prohibits discharge of coal ash into the environment and establishes a regulatory framework to ensure that polluting companies finance the cleanup of coal ash waste, according to the Illinois Environmental Council.

(Gotta Be Worth It /

A New Way to Measure the Mental Health Benefits of Nature in Cities

A new study offers a framework cities can use to begin measuring the mental health benefits of nature, while helping municipal planners and policymakers integrate nature into their projects. 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (WTTW News file photo)

Pritzker, Other Governors Pitch Plan to Protect Great Lakes

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and four of his counterparts in the region are urging candidates in the 2020 presidential election to back a new plan aimed at protecting the Great Lakes.

(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Duckworth, Durbin Reintroduce Bill to Halt Sewage Dumping Into Great Lakes

Tens of billions of gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff end up in the Great Lakes each year, polluting the water and prompting beach closings and swimming advisories. How new legislation aims to help.

Artwork made by students from across the world is on display at Shedd Aquarium. (Joshua Ford / Bezos Family Foundation)

Ocean-Themed Art by Students in 45 Countries on Display at Shedd Aquarium

The massive art project that got the attention of students across the globe is part of an educational initiative aimed at preserving oceans and the people who live closest to them.

A pedicab operated by Pedicab Ride Guys wrapped with signage from the Chicago Alliance for Animals, which is seeking to ban horse carriages in the city. (Marla Rose / Facebook)

Chicago Animal Welfare Group Sponsors ‘Anti-Horse Carriage’ Pedicab

Save a horse, ride a bike. That’s the message some Chicago animal welfare advocates are looking to send by sponsoring one of the pedicabs that shuttles riders along Michigan Avenue.

(gezelle rivera / Flickr)

Study Finds High Levels of Fecal Bacterial at Chicago-Area Beaches

A new report raises some red flags about the potential health risks associated with swimming at local beaches.

Axhi, a grizzly bear at Brookfield Zoo, enjoys a 300-pound block of ice. (Kelly Tone / Chicago Zoological Society)

Giant Ice Treats Keep Animals Cool at Brookfield Zoo

As a heat wave moved across the Chicago area last week, polar and grizzly bears stayed cool at the zoo with fruit-filled blocks of ice weighing 300 pounds.

A piping plover on Waukegan Beach in 2018. (Ethan Ellis / Flickr)

Mamby on the Beach Festival Canceled Amid Dispute Over Endangered Birds

The festival had been scheduled for Aug. 23-24 at Montrose Beach, where a pair of endangered piping plovers established a nest this spring. 

Lincoln Park Zoo’s new Searle Visitor Center (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

Lincoln Park Zoo to Remain Free Through at Least 2050

The 151-year-old zoo will continue to offer free admission for the next 30-plus years after agreeing to an extended contract with the city.

(National Eye Institute / Flickr)

Northwestern Develops Tool to Help Scientists Play Nice While Collaborating

Scientists are often the foremost experts in their fields of study, but they aren’t necessarily well versed in the tricky science of collaboration.

(Chicago Tonight file photo)

Open-Water Swim in Chicago River Delayed, New Goal September 2020

A bold plan to get hundreds of people into the Chicago River for a 2.4-mile swim remains docked for a year or so after organizers struggled to secure permits and coordinate with a number of city agencies.

(Graeme Maclean / Flickr)

Report on Climate Change Warns of ‘Killer Heat’ in US

Illinois residents experience roughly two days each year in which the heat index surpasses 105 degrees Fahreneit. Within roughly three decades, that number could rise to 26 days per year, according to a new report.

Efforts to capture an alligator in the Humboldt Park Lagoon continued for the fourth day on Friday. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Humboldt Park Alligator Evades Capture as Bemused, Concerned Onlookers Stand By

Dozens of people lined a wall overlooking the Humboldt Park Lagoon on Friday waiting for a glimpse of an elusive alligator that continues to evade authorities’ efforts to capture it.

Two sea otter pups arrived at Shedd Aquarium on July 8, 2019, after being rescued in California. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

Shedd Aquarium Takes In Pair of Orphaned Sea Otter Pups

Two sea otter pups rescued recently off the coast of California have a new home in Chicago where they are now “thriving,” according to the aquarium.

Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (Courtesy Openlands)

New ‘Get Outside’ Map Features 350 Places to Enjoy Nature in Chicago

Environmental nonprofit Openlands created a new online tool to help Chicago-area residents easily identify ways to explore the outdoors in and around the city. 

(Zsolt Palatinus / Pexels)

Why Alligators Don’t Make Good Pets (and 9 Other Fun Gator Facts)

As the search for the Humboldt Park Lagoon alligator continues, learn more about these fear-inducing creatures – and why they shouldn’t be brought home as a pet.

Ron Mikulaco, left, and his nephew, Brad Fernandez, examine a crack on Highway 178 caused by an earthquake Saturday, July 6, 2019, outside of Ridgecrest, California. (AP Photo / Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Illinois Officials Urge Preparedness Following California Earthquakes

In the aftermath of two major earthquakes that shook southern California last week, officials in Illinois are urging residents to prepare themselves and their homes in the event of a similar incident.

(skeeze / Pixabay)

Monarch Butterflies Bred in Captivity May Lose Ability to Navigate, Study Finds

New research by University of Chicago scientists shows that despite the positive intentions of conservationists who promote captive breeding for monarchs, the practice may not be producing the desired effect.