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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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Investigators described the Park District’s procedures for vetting volunteers as “outdated” and “under-resourced,” with a single employee responsible for managing the entire volunteer program.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

DryHop, Lincoln Park Zoo to Release IPA Inspired by Rare New Zealand Bird

A male hihi bird on Tiritiri Matangi Island, New Zealand (Duncan Wright / Wikipedia)

For the second time this year, Chicago’s DryHop Brewers is joining forces with Lincoln Park Zoo in the name of wildlife conservation, this time for a rare and endangered New Zealand bird.

EPA Finds Lead Contamination in Southeast Side Soil – In Addition to Manganese

A map of the zones included in the EPA’s soil testing on the Southeast Side (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

The ongoing probe into harmful levels of brain-damaging manganese on Chicago’s Southeast Side has turned up another, more familiar neurotoxin: lead.

Field Museum Begins 3-Year Renovation of Native American Hall

| Marc Vitali
Field Museum conservation technicians Ellen Jordan and J. Kae Good Bear work on the care of cultural materials in the Regenstein Lab. (© Field Museum, photo by John Weinstein)

Many of the displays in the museum’s Native American Hall have gone unchanged since the 1950s. Now, Native American scholars and tribal members will work with the museum to “better represent” these stories.

Ex-Gymnastics Coach Faces 18-Count Indictment in Sexual Assault Case

Jose Vilchis (Will County Sheriff)

Jose Vilchis, who was charged in October with sexually assaulting a teenage gymnast in south suburban Channahon, now faces additional charges of criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse, according to a grand jury indictment.

Nine Mexican Wolves Leaving Brookfield Zoo for New Homes

A group of Mexican wolves at Brookfield Zoo (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

They are one of the most successful packs within the nationwide Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, but nine of the 10 wolves will leave Chicago for new homes as part of a plan to help save the endangered species.

Fall Colors Are on Full Display at Chicago Botanic Garden

The Bulb Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden)

Sunny days and cool nights have helped produce a vivid display of fall colors this season. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, thousands of trees are at their peak.

Chicago Plans to Expand Bike Sharing to ‘100 Percent of City’

A $2.5 million award to address climate change will help Chicago expand bike-share programs to all parts of the city, according to the mayor’s office.

16,000 Chicagoans Had Water Cut Off in Single Year, Study Finds

(Steve Johnson / Flickr)

An estimated 15 million people in the U.S. – including thousands of Chicago residents – experienced water shutoffs in 2016, in many cases because they failed to pay their water bills. 

Walmart to Install Solar Panels at 21 Sites in Illinois


The mega-retailer says plans to install solar panels at nearly two dozen sites across Illinois will represent a 25-percent increase in the state’s current solar capacity.

Durbin Calls for Increased Monitoring of Illinois Pork-Processing Plant

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Feb. 21, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling for federal action following a report that identified an Illinois meat-processing plant as the worst-polluting plant of its type in the country.

Chicago Group Gets $1M to Plant Trees, Combat Climate Change

(Laura Marie / Flickr)

Chicago-based environmental group Openlands has received a $1 million grant to address climate change by planting new trees and recruiting residents to protect them. 

EPA Settles With Chicago-Area Company Over Lead Paint Allegations

A warning sign on a tool factory in Rockport, Massachusetts. (Ben+Sam / Flickr)

A Bensenville-based home renovation company has agreed to pay nearly $53,000 for alleged violations of federal laws designed to protect against exposure to lead-based paint. 

Brookfield Zoo Rhino Celebrates Birthday After Surviving Life-Threatening Infection

Layla, an eastern black rhinoceros at Brookfield Zoo (Courtesy Chicago Zoological Society)

The 2,300-pound rhinoceros, Layla, logged an important milestone this week, celebrating her eighth birthday just months after overcoming a near-deadly infection.

New Group Targets Overlooked Stretch of Chicago River

The Lathrop Riverfront Group holds a kick-off paddle along the Chicago River. (Courtesy Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago)

The Lathrop Riverfront Group was formed to promote the section of riverfront near the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a Chicago Housing Authority project that is being redeveloped into a mixed-income riverfront community. 

Field Museum Offers Free Entry in Exchange for Help Digitizing Collections

A taxidermy mount of the foot of a Cooper’s hawk at the Field Museum (Courtesy The Field Museum)

From Thursday through Sunday, volunteers who help transcribe labels from the museum’s massive collection of physical specimens get free admission for the day and a behind-the-scenes tour.

Chicago-Area Gymnastics Coach Arrested on Sexual Assault Charges

Jose Vilchis (Will County Sheriff)

More than two decades after first being accused of sexual abuse, a longtime Chicago-area gymnastics coach was arrested Monday on charges of sexually assaulting at least one teenage girl who trained with him in the far southwest suburbs. 

Field Museum Exhibit to Toast Chicago’s Immigrant-Driven Beer History

| Paul Caine
Interior of a Chicago saloon, 1905 (Chicago Daily News negatives collection / Chicago History Museum)

Visitors to the Field Museum this fall will have a chance to soak up Chicago’s rich beer history, with a focus on the immigrant communities that established the city’s first breweries.

Diabetes Drug Could Prevent Deaths from Air Pollution, Study Finds

(SD-Pictures / Pixabay)

An inexpensive drug for Type 2 diabetes also decreases the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by air pollution, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Illinois Has Worst-Polluting Meat-Processing Plant in US, Study Finds

A beef-processing plant (istanbulimage / iStock)

A pork-processing plant in western Illinois released an average of nearly 2,000 pounds of harmful nitrogen per day into a tributary of the Illinois River last year, according to a new report.