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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

EPA’s Pruitt Wants Lead-Free Drinking Water, But Offers No Plan

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks April 19 after meeting with residents of East Chicago’s lead-contaminated neighborhoods. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told representatives of a children’s health group last week that he wants to eliminate lead from drinking water within 10 years, but he has yet to offer a strategy to meet the goal.

‘Rainbow’ Dinosaur Revealed in Field Museum Study

An illustration of Caihong juji, a newly discovered species of dinosaur from 161 million years ago that featured rainbow-colored feathers. (Illustration by Velizar Simeonovski / The Field Museum)

The colorful display of feathers common among hummingbirds has roots in a bird-like Chinese dinosaur from 161 million years ago, a new study finds.

Gray Seal Pup Born at Brookfield Zoo

A male gray seal was born at Brookfield Zoo on Dec. 26. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

Brookfield Zoo welcomed a newborn gray seal on Dec. 26. The male pup weighed 36 pounds at birth and is expected to weigh more than 120 pounds by the time he is weaned at three weeks. 

Field Museum Scientists Help Protect 2 Million Acres of Rainforest

(Alvaro del Campo / The Field Museum)

A team led by Field Museum conservation ecologist Corine Vriesendorp has worked for 15 years to protect one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. This week, it was designated as a national park.

Dolphins, ‘Fitbits’ and the Deep Data Dive to Transform Animal Research

Four specially-designed suction cups are used to attach a bio-logging device to the backs of bottlenose dolphins at Brookfield Zoo. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

Brookfield Zoo is leading a first-of-its-kind study to collect data from dolphins and other aquatic mammals using a Fitbit-like device that figures to revolutionize human understanding of the animals’ behavior.

Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands: Shedd Reveals 2018 Travel Program

(Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

If scuba diving with whale sharks or kayaking past glaciers sounds like you’re kind of thing, Shedd Aquarium has a trip for you this year.

World Record-Holding ‘Bird Man’ Visits Chicago to Discuss Epic Journey

Noah Strycker birding in California in 2014. (Bkpix / Wikimedia Commons)

In 2015, Noah Strycker became a birding legend after a yearlong journey across seven continents to see more than half the world’s 10,000-plus bird species. He speaks this month in Chicago about the adventure and his new book “Birding Without Borders.”

Nearly 600 Tons of Dumped Tires Collected in Chicago Area


Public and abandoned properties in the Chicago area might appear a little less cluttered. The Illinois EPA collected 598.5 tons of used tires in December as part of a state program to mitigate hazards associated with them.

Chicago Recycling, Garbage Pickup Schedules Now Available Online

Confused about when the city makes blue cart pickups? You can now look up recycling and garbage pickup schedules online as Chicago looks to boost its dismal recycling rate. 

Colorful Macaws Launch New Bird Exhibit at Notebaert Nature Museum

Noodle, an 18-year-old Hyacinth macaw, sits on the shoulder of Celeste Troon, director of living collections at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

A trio of tropical birds has landed in Chicago this winter to show off their vibrantly colored feathers and occasional dance moves – but they won’t be here for long.

S.H. Bell’s Manganese Dust-Control Plan OK’d by City

S.H. Bell's bulk storage facility along the Calumet River on Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

Chicago public health officials have signed off on a Southeast Side company’s updated plan to cut emissions of brain-damaging manganese dust that regulators say pose a health risk to nearby residents.

Chicago Will Require Storage Company to Install Air Monitors

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

A Southeast Side company must install air monitors to detect levels of dust emissions from heavy metals processed on-site, according to a letter issued by the city this week.

Illinois Sues Baxter Healthcare for Polluting North Suburban Lake

(Chicago Tonight)

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim alleges that Baxter violated a federal permit several times over a five-month span by releasing contaminated water that exceeded pollution limits. 

Zoo's Snow Monkey Paternity Test Reveals Surprise Father

A paternity test revealed that Miyagi, one of three male Japanese macaques at Lincoln Park Zoo, is the sire of all four Japanese macaques born at the zoo since 2014. (Todd Rosenberg / Lincoln Park Zoo)

A paternity test to determine the sire of four Japanese macaques born since 2014 at Lincoln Park Zoo came back with a surprising result. 

High Manganese Levels Found in Children’s Toenails on Southeast Side

Children on Chicago’s Southeast Side have higher levels of manganese in their toenails than children in other parts of the city, according to preliminary results of a study aiming to measure the impact of toxic metals on children’s health. 

EPA Union Blasts Pruitt’s Pick to Lead Regional Office in Chicago

Cathy Stepp, left, former secretary of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, will take over in 2018 as head of the EPA’s regional office in Chicago. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Former Wisconsin politician Cathy Stepp “will bring a fresh perspective” to the EPA, agency chief Scott Pruitt said Tuesday. But the announcement drew blunt criticism from the group’s national employee union.

4 Shedd Penguins Celebrate Landmark 30th Birthday

(Brenna Hernandez / © Shedd Aquarium)

Meet Drake, Magdalena, Pebbles and Wellington. They are the first penguins to turn 30 at Shedd Aquarium, and among the oldest penguins in human care across the U.S.

MAP: Snowy Owl Sightings in Chicago Area

Bird enthusiasts are enjoying an “invasion” of snowy owls in Chicago and across northeastern Illinois this winter. Check out our map of recent snowy owl sightings.  

Why Do Animals (Including Humans) Play? A Chicago Researcher Explores

(Courtesy Chicago Zoological Society)

From siblings with snowballs to wrestling chimpanzees, playful behavior is usually easy to spot. But the question of why we play – and whether we all play for the same reasons – is less apparent.

Fracking Harms Health of Infants Born Nearby, UChicago Study Finds

Babies born within 2 miles of a fracking site are more likely to suffer negative health effects, according to a new study co-authored by a professor at the University of Chicago. 

Shedd’s Rescued Animals: How Are They Doing?

(Brenna Hernandez / © Shedd Aquarium)

Over the past year, staff from Shedd Aquarium’s Animal Response Team have come to the aid of animals across the globe. Here’s an update on how some of them are doing.

UIC Gets $4.2M Grant to Advance Efficient Energy Systems

Cliff Haefke, director of the UIC Energy Resources Center, left, and policy analyst Graeme Miller analyze the 7-megawatt combined heat and power combustion turbine at the UIC West Campus Utilities Plant. (Courtesy University of Illinois at Chicago)

Thanks to a new U.S. Department of Energy grant, UIC’s Energy Resources Center will promote and help install high-efficiency combined heat and power systems across the Midwest.

Asian Carp Expert to Lead New Shedd Research Team

Dr. Andrew Casper, Shedd Aquarium's new director of freshwater research (Courtesy © Shedd Aquarium)

A new team led by biologist Andrew Casper will expand Shedd Aquarium’s research of animals that live in local waterways—and how to protect them.

Rauner Silent on Committing Illinois to Paris Climate Goals

Gov. Bruce Rauner has thus far ignored calls to commit Illinois to meeting goals set in the Paris climate agreement, which aims to slow global warming through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

City Eyes Affordable Housing in East Garfield Park

(Google Maps)

Chicago is looking to transform two vacant lots into affordable housing, a proposal that’s part of an international sustainability contest the city hopes will help boost interest among potential developers.