Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Chicago Museums Offer Free Admission to Federal Workers During Shutdown

(Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

A handful of museums and cultural institutions in and around Chicago are offering free admission to workers affected by the ongoing federal government shutdown. 

Gov. Pritzker Signs Pact Committing Illinois to Paris Climate Goals

In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker speaks after he is elected over Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner. (AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh)

The move by Illinois’ new governor marks a sharp departure from his predecessor, former Gov. Bruce Rauner, who made little to no mention of the state’s role in curbing carbon emissions that most scientists agree contribute to global warming.

Kari Steele Elected as New President at MWRD

Newly elected MWRD President Kari Steele (center) with Finance Chairman Frank Avila and Vice President Barbara McGowan (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

New MWRD President Kari Steele is the only chemist on the organization’s nine-member board. She was re-elected in November to a second term as commissioner. 

Shark Remains Discovered in Rock That Contained Sue the T. Rex

Remains of a freshwater shark with teeth shaped like spaceships from the 1980s video game Galaga was discovered in sediment surrounding Sue the T. Rex’s bones. (Velizar Simeonovski / Field Museum)

Tiny fossilized teeth found in sediment that surrounded Sue the T. Rex have led to the classification of a new shark species. 

Brookfield Zoo to Establish New Pack of Endangered Mexican Wolves

Apache, foreground, a 7-year-old old male Mexican wolf recently arrived at Brookfield Zoo to be paired with 2-year-old Ela. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

Zoo officials say they’re hopeful that 2-year-old Ela and newcomer Apache, 7, will have a successful breeding season this winter and produce a litter of wolf pups in the spring.

Illinois Governor’s Mansion Secures LEED Status After $15M Renovation

The Illinois Governor’s Mansion (Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association)

Outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner and first lady Diana Rauner are leaving the Governor’s Mansion in significantly greater – and greener – shape than they found it. And now the historic home has the paperwork to prove it.

No Contamination Found in Water Near Sterigenics’ Willowbrook Plant

John Berg, an environmental health specialist with the DuPage County Health Department, runs water from a private well in Willowbrook on Dec. 13, 2018, as part of testing for levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW)

Water samples collected at homes near a suburban medical sterilization plant linked to a cancer-causing gas showed no signs of contamination, environmental regulators announced Wednesday.

Coastal Management Program Targets Lake Michigan Beaches

Rainbow Park Beach in Chicago (Steven Kevil / Wikimedia Commons)

A state program designed to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline is adding a new category this year aimed at helping Chicago-area communities preserve their beaches.

New State Grant Program Aims to Help Companies Sell Asian Carp

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)

If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. That’s the apparent strategy behind a new state grant program that will provide funding to companies that harvest and sell Asian carp.

Illinois AG Demands EPA Enforce Rule Limiting Landfill Pollution

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (Chicago Tonight file photo)

A group of state attorneys general, including Lisa Madigan, is demanding that the EPA withdraw its plan to delay a regulation aimed at reducing emissions of methane and other pollutants from landfills.

Chicago’s Divvy Divide: Convenient Bike-Share Program or Sign of Gentrification?

A Divvy docking station in the Chicago’s West Loop. (Tony Webster / Flickr)

A new study found that Evanston residents were generally accepting of bike-share programs like Divvy, while residents in Humboldt Park viewed such programs as signs of privilege and gentrification. 

Group Forecasts Statewide Impact of EPA’s Controversial Mercury Plan


The advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force warns that a Trump administration proposal to weaken standards for emissions of toxic mercury would harm residents and wildlife across Illinois. 

Chicago Offers 25 Drop-Off Sites for Recycling Your Christmas Tree

(Irene Tostado / Chicago Park District)

Trees collected through Chicago’s annual holiday tree recycling program are turned into mulch and wood chips for use at Chicago Park District locations. 

Advocates: EPA Plan to Weaken Mercury Rule Threatens Great Lakes Fish

(Frank McNamara / Flickr)

The Trump administration’s plan to roll back limits on toxic mercury pollution will harm Great Lakes fish – and potentially those who eat them, advocates say.

Illinois Issues Proposed Rules for Growing Industrial Hemp

(kat_geb / Flickr)

Farmers and others across the state are preparing to grow and process a new crop as Illinois finalizes regulations for industrial hemp. 

5 CPS Schools Selected for Green ‘Schoolyard Transformations’ in 2019

Project Manager Justin Rossman of Site Design Group explains the highlights of Ashe Elementary School’s planned garden to Dean Alonistiotis, aide to MWRD Commissioner Kimberly Du Buclet. (Courtesy Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

New outdoor spaces at a handful of Chicago elementary schools will provide safe play areas for kids in low-income neighborhoods while also mitigating flooding risks, according to program organizers. 

BBB Warns of Online Puppy Scams During Holiday Season

(George2001hi / Wikipedia)

The holidays are a popular season to bring home a pet, but that impulse can leave consumers vulnerable to a growing number of online scams, according to an alert issued this week by the Better Business Bureau.

A Look Inside Sue the T. Rex’s New ‘Private Suite’ at The Field Museum

Sue the T. Rex inside a new “private suite” at the Field Museum (Photos by Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW)

Sue’s new digs present the dinosaur in a more authentic light using technology that has come a long way since the T. Rex skeleton arrived in Chicago more than 20 years ago.

EPA Issues Violation Against Southeast Side Manganese Polluter

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

After finding high levels of brain-damaging manganese near Watco Transloading’s facility on the Southeast Side of Chicago, the EPA has accused the company of violating the Clean Air Act. 

Rauner to Michigan Gov. Snyder: Let’s Use Asian Carp Funding Now, Not Later

Gov. Bruce Rauner (Chicago Tonight file photo)

Michigan offered to give Illinois $8 million to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. But Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has a different idea about how to spend the money. 

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.