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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

City Issues 4 Violations to Southeast Side Manganese Polluter

An overhead view of Watco's storage terminal at 2926 E. 126th St. in Chicago. (Google)

Watco Transloading faces up to $20,000 in city fines for failing to control emissions of brain-damaging manganese from its storage facility along the Calumet River. 

Regulators Test Water at 70 Homes Near Sterigenics in Willowbrook

John Berg, an environmental health specialist with the DuPage County Health Department, runs water from a private well in Willowbrook on Thursday as part of testing for levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW)

Water testing at homes in suburban Willowbrook is the latest step in the response to concerns over the release of dangerous ethylene oxide gas by Sterigenics International. 

EPA Finds High Levels of Manganese at Another Southeast Side Facility

An overhead view of Watco's storage terminal at 2926 E. 126th St. in Chicago. (Google)

As regulators continue to monitor manganese emissions at S.H. Bell Co., new air monitoring data shows alarming levels of the brain-damaging heavy metal near another industrial facility in the area.

McDonald’s to Cut Use of Antibiotics in Beef Products

(Courtesy of McDonald’s)

After years of pressure from public health advocates, the Chicago-based burger chain announces a plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in its beef products.

City Animal Shelter Waives Fees for Holiday Adoptions

Emerald, age 3, is among the dogs and cats available for adoption at Chicago Animal Care and Control. (Courtesy Chicago Animal Care and Control)

With its building “full to the brim” with cats and dogs, Chicago’s municipal-run animal shelter is waiving adoption fees for those looking to bring home a new pet this holiday season.

Group to Assign Mayoral Candidates ‘Paw Ratings’ on Animal Welfare Issues

A photograph of a shelter dog from our story, “Photographer Donates His Talents to Help Dogs Get Adopted.” (Courtesy Josh Feeney)

Fix Chicago 2019 aims to end the killing of shelter pets in Chicago. The first task of the new group? Taking inventory of where candidates running for city office stand on various animal welfare issues. 

Trump EPA Looks to Weaken Regulations for New Coal Plants


The Trump administration is taking another swing at coal regulations, announcing that it plans to ditch an Obama-era rule that set pollution limits for new coal-fired power plants.

MWRD Selects Veteran Staffer Brian Perkovich as New Executive Director

MWRD Executive Director Brian A. Perkovich (Courtesy Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

The appointment of Brian Perkovich as head of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago comes five months after the abrupt – and unexplained – resignation of David St. Pierre. 

VW Settlement: Illinois Awards $19M for Cleaner Bus and Train Engines

(Carvermittler / Pixabay)

The first chunk of Illinois’ windfall from the Volkswagen emissions lawsuit settlement will fund cleaner-burning bus and train engines for CTA, Metra, Pace and other agencies.

Lawmakers Aim to Close EPA Loopholes in Wake of Sterigenics Scare

After reports of a dangerous gas being emitted from several suburban industrial sites, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and other lawmakers have introduced a bill that would force the EPA to more quickly disclose similar public health risks. 

Advocates Call For End to ‘Reckless Overuse’ of Antibiotics in Meat

(Anthony Albright / Flickr)

Medical professionals and public health advocates in Illinois are calling on lawmakers to pass legislation to curb limiting what they say is a “reckless overuse” of antibiotics in meat-producing animals.

Illinois Lawmakers Override Rauner to Enact Urban Agriculture Law

(Linda N. / Flickr)

Illinois lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill to establish urban agriculture zones that advocates say could help break up food deserts in Chicago and other Illinois cities. 

Chicago Rat Study Shows Correlation Between Rental Units and Rodents

(Courtesy Landmark Pest Management)

Chicago’s recent designation as the country’s “rat capital” can be attributed in large part, a new study finds, to a particular type of home: rental units. 

Cost of Plan to Block Asian Carp from Great Lakes Balloons to $778M

A silver carp captured in June 2017 in the Illinois Waterway below the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, about 9 miles from Lake Michigan. (Courtesy Illinois Department of Natural Resources)

Additional engineering and design work has more than doubled the cost of a long-awaited plan to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes, according to federal officials.

City Animal Shelter to Get $1.5 Million Upgrade for Medical Unit

Chicago Animal Care and Control, 2741 S. Western Ave. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

The renovated medical and surgery areas at Chicago Animal Care and Control will replace the shelter’s existing medical unit, which is more than 20 years old. 

Study: Drivers Traveled 1.9M Extra Miles Due to Closed City Emission Test Sites

(ruimc77 / Flickr)

A new analysis shows that closing Chicago's final two vehicle emissions testing facilities came at a cost to hundreds of thousands of city drivers, with the biggest impact on low-income and minority drivers. 

Air Pollution Reduces Life Expectancy by Nearly 2 Years, Study Finds

(SD-Pictures / Pixabay)

Air pollution’s impact on life expectancy exceeds that of communicable diseases such as AIDS, cigarette smoking and even war, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Chicago.

Study: Chicago Not Only City in Illinois Struggling to Boost Recycling Rate

(Brian Johnson and Dane Kantner / Flickr)

Chicago’s recycling woes have been well-documented, but a new report shows that at least five other cities in Illinois are failing to meet average U.S. recycling rates.

Lincoln Park Zoo Opens New $9.3 Million Visitor Center

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

A movie theater-sized screen highlighting daily programs, plus gardens and a member center will provide additional comforts and services to visitors, the zoo says.

Chicago Park District Fails to Background Check Many Volunteers, Investigation Finds

Maggie Daley Park is one of 597 parks operated by the Chicago Park District. (joestoltz / Pixabay)

Investigators described the Park District’s procedures for vetting volunteers as “outdated” and “under-resourced,” with a single employee responsible for managing the entire volunteer program.

Illinois Senate Weighs Bill to Limit Antibiotics in Meat

(Karamo / Pixabay)

Lawmakers are set to consider legislation this week that would limit the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, a practice that has been shown to fuel drug-resistant bacteria that can be dangerous to humans.

Lincoln Park Zoo Hosts Conference on Reintroducing Endangered Species

A green-winged macaw being trained prior to its release in the Iberá Park in Corrientes, Argentina (Beth Wald / Lincoln Park Zoo)

Conservationists from around the world are gathering this week to focus on saving threatened species and reintroducing them into the wild.

Sue the T. Rex Moves into ‘Private Suite’ Next Month at Field Museum

Sue the T. Rex (Courtesy The Field Museum)

Sue’s move to a new 5,100-square-foot home is part of a decadeslong plan to display the dinosaur in a proper scientific context that helps demonstrate why the T. Rex “is widely considered the greatest dinosaur fossil in the world.”

Chicago Warming Centers: 113 Places to Escape the Cold This Winter

Winter in Chicago, 2013 (David Wilson / Wikimedia Commons)

As winter weather arrives, Chicagoans can seek refuge from the cold at 113 public buildings designated as warming centers. 

Chicago Wilderness Survey Shows Hope for Threatened Grassland Birds

An Eastern meadowlark (Seri Douse / Great Backyard Bird Count)

A first-of-its-kind survey of the Chicago area’s remaining grasslands could be good news for several species of threatened birds that once thrived across Illinois.