Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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.

Obama, Mayors Resist Trump on Climate Change at Chicago Summit

Former President Barack Obama speaks Tuesday during a climate change summit in Chicago. (Chicago Tonight)

A good chunk of the U.S. will stay in the Paris climate agreement, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord. That was the message Tuesday from former President Barack Obama and several mayors from the U.S. and around the world. 

Officials Dedicate First Stage of McCook Reservoir

McCook Reservoir (Courtesy Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners)

Public officials gathered Monday to celebrate the completion of stage one of the McCook Reservoir, which will offer 10 billion gallons of storage capacity to prevent flooding once complete in 2029. 

South, West Side Residents to Emanuel: You’re No ‘Green’ Mayor

(Courtesy Little Village Environmental Justice Organization)

Organizers from several Chicago environmental groups are demanding more action from the city to combat air pollution in industrialized neighborhoods as Mayor Rahm Emanuel prepares to host a high-profile summit on climate change.

100-Plus Groups Urge Feds for More Funding to Save Monarch Butterflies

Conservation groups say the federal government needs to spend more to save monarchs, the beloved black-and-orange insects whose population has dropped in recent decades.

Horse Carriage Violations Spike, But Activists Say Oversight Lacking

(Nanamac47 / Wikimedia Commons)

Horse-drawn carriage rides are popular with tourists, but animal welfare advocates say the practice is inhumane—and that Chicago’s three carriage companies are routinely breaking the rules.

Senators Concerned About Delay in Finalizing Asian Carp Plan

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

Nearly a dozen U.S. senators, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, are speaking out about the latest delay over a plan to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

NEIU to Offer In-State Tuition for Students From Puerto Rico

Northeastern Illinois University's campus in Chicago's North Park neighborhood (Courtesy Northeastern Illinois University)

As Puerto Ricans recover from extensive damage caused by Hurricane Maria, students from the island can now get a discount at one Chicago university.

$300M for Great Lakes Program Passes Hurdle in Senate

(Frank McNamara / Flickr)

A key federal program responsible for protecting the Great Lakes is one step closer to being fully funded after it was targeted for massive cuts earlier this year in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

Indiana Agency Hasn’t Turned Over Records on Toxic Spill, Chicago Says

U.S. Steel's Gary Works plant (Ken Lund / Flickr)

Records related to an April spill of a toxic metal into a Lake Michigan tributary have not been given to Chicago. The city is now threatening to sue U.S. Steel.

New UChicago Course Examines Legacy of Nuclear Age

(Walter Albertin / Wikimedia Commons)

The days when Americans fretted over an imminent U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown might be over, but the consequences of a new nuclear age are still reverberating today.

Nearly $1M in Grants Awarded to Improve Chicago-Calumet Waterways

Calumet River (Courtesy Friends of the Chicago River)

A new $960,000 grant will improve 2.5 miles of streams for nearly 20 species of fish and create 10 acres of neighborhood green space in the Chicago-Calumet region. 

Brookfield Zoo Wolf Released into Wild Found Healthy in New Mexico

(Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team / Chicago Zoological Society)

A Mexican wolf pup born this spring at Brookfield Zoo and released into the wild as part of a species recovery program was tracked down in New Mexico and is healthy, the zoo announced this week.

Global Warming’s Impact on Lake Effect Snow: Fewer Flurries, More Rain

Streaks of snow stretching across the Great Lakes captured by a NASA satellite on Dec. 9, 2006. (NASA)

Lake Michigan is getting warmer, and eventually it will mean winters with less snow in Chicago. But don’t plan yet for winters free of the white stuff.

61 EPA Staff Have Left Chicago Office in 2017, And They’re Missed

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

Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, dozens of employees have left the EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago. Current and former employees say the loss of staff is already putting a strain on operations. 

Illinois Lawmakers Pass Bill to Protect Monarch Butterfly Habitat

Monarch butterfly populations have dropped by more than 80 percent over the past two decades. A bill approved this week aims to boost the monarch’s recovery by protecting milkweed, a plant that serves as the butterfly’s only source of food. 

Source of Bubbly Creek Oil Spill Likely to Remain a Mystery

Workers from the Environmental Protection Agency respond to an oil spill Oct. 26 at a fork of the Chicago River known as Bubbly Creek. (EPA)

The EPA likely won’t be able to determine the source of a late October oil spill in the Chicago River because the agency was notified about the spill two days after it occurred, the EPA said Tuesday. 

Lincoln Park Zoo Welcomes Newborn Goeldi’s Monkey

(Julia Fuller / Lincoln Park Zoo)

You’ll need to look closely to spot Lincoln Park Zoo’s new baby monkey. The infant, born Oct. 15 to first-time parents, is barely visible as it clings to its mother’s neck.

Regulations Unclear on Air Pollution Limits for Chicago Storage Company

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

Environmental advocates say a Southeast Side storage company violated city standards for air pollution earlier this year. But the company disagrees, asserting that the state’s more lenient law applies.