Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

Scientists at Lincoln Park Zoo Working to Save Puerto Rican Parrot

(Tanya Martinez / Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources)

Experts in Chicago are working to save one of the world’s most endangered birds. 

Report: Chicago’s Health At Risk with 151 Dirty Air Days

(Bryce Edwards / Flickr)

In 2015, Chicago air pollution reached elevated levels for a total of 151 days, a new report shows, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other negative health effects for city residents.

Chicago Commits to Renewable Energy for 900-Plus Government Buildings

(Chicago Mayor's Office)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday a commitment to transition the city’s municipal buildings and operations to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2025.

Armed Robbery Case Exposes Flaw in Chicago Park District Hiring

Organization plans to expand background checks following OIG report, Chicago Tonight inquiry

Jefferson Park is one of 597 parks operated by the Chicago Park District. (

After unknowingly hiring a man convicted of armed robbery, battery and other felonies and misdemeanors, the Chicago Park District is changing its policy on background checks.

Illinois Threatens to Sue Trump Administration Over Energy Rules

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (Chicago Tonight)

Illinois and nine other states are threatening to sue the Trump administration over delayed implementation of energy efficiency standards. 

Grassroots Group Envisions Transformed Southeast Side

Peggy Salazar, director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, works in the group's Hegewisch office in March. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

A community group has drawn up a plan to guide redevelopment of a heavily industrialized area in Chicago.

Second Site Linked to Manganese Dust on Chicago’s Southeast Side

Kinder Morgan's former site at 2926 E. 126th St. in Chicago. (Google)

A newly released report shows additional sources of manganese dust on Chicago’s Southeast Side, where residents were already dealing with exposure to manganese and other pollutants. 

Shedd Aquarium Celebrates Dolphin Awareness Month

First-time mother Katrl gave birth to a dolphin calf in April 2016. (© Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez)

What is it like to touch and work with dolphins? One Shedd trainer said they feel firm, smooth and a little colder than you might expect, according to the aquarium’s dolphin fact list.

Brookfield Zoo Addresses Ethics of Animal Captivity

(Brookfield Zoo / Chicago Zoological Society)

The ethical debate over zoos – and whether animals belong in them – has resurfaced over the past year, and now Brookfield Zoo is joining the discussion.

Chicago Lawmaker Proposes Urban Agriculture Zones

(Linda from Chicago / Creative Commons)

“The whole idea is to use our vacant land as a way to adjust the issue of food access by encouraging urban farms and community gardens in certain areas,” said state Rep. Sonya Harper.

Report: Candy-Flavored Tobacco Hooks New Generation of Kids

(Diedra Laird, MCT Campus)

Candy-flavored e-cigarettes and other sweetened tobacco products threaten to create a new generation of addicted users, warns a new report by five prominent public health organizations.

Illinois Lawmaker Wants to Protect Animals from Lead Poisoning


A state senator has proposed legislation that would partially ban the use of lead-based ammunition, but one gun rights group is calling the bill “a blatant attack” on the rights of hunters.

Donors Hear Extinction Stories at Shedd Conservation Event

Western pond turtle (Courtesy of Yosemite National Park)

The tale of the Western pond turtle was one of several success stories shared with donors Monday evening at a Shedd Aquarium event focused on conservation efforts nationwide. 

EPA Cuts ‘Matter of Life and Death’ for Chicago Communities

Experts say proposed cuts to the EPA would affect Chicago communities already impacted by pollution and other environmental threats. (Creative Commons /  © 2013, Jeremy Atherton)

Cuts to the EPA’s budget would affect a disproportionate number of minority and low-income residents in Chicago, experts say. 

Chicago to Investigate Manganese Sources

Chicago’s top public health official said her department will examine an area on the city’s Southeast Side that faces exposure to manganese dust.

Dragged Behind a Boat, Shedd Team Searches for Queen Conch in Bahamas

(© Shedd Aquarium / Sam Cejtin)

Shedd Aquarium researchers are studying queen conch populations in the Bahamas to understand the decline of the popular snail in the Caribbean. 

Illinois Eyes Expanded Trade With Cuba

(Kevin Dooley / Flickr)

Advocates for Illinois’ agriculture industry anticipate new export opportunities if the U.S. relaxes trade barriers with Cuba. 

New Sponge Can Soak Up 90 Times its Own Weight in Oil

(Argonne National Laboratory)

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have invented a new sponge that can absorb oil from water and then be wrung out and reused, a potentially game-changing tool for dealing with oil spills.

Neurologist: Manganese Exposure Limits Not Adequate

Manganese is one of the materials processed at a refinery in Worsley, Australia. (Courtesy of South32)

Federal limits for exposure to manganese might not be adequate to protect public health, says a Washington University neurologist. 

Alderwoman: More Info Needed to Evaluate Chicago Manganese Ban

Several advocacy groups are calling on Chicago to ban storage of materials containing manganese in residential areas following a 2016 study that revealed potentially harmful levels of manganese dust on the city’s Southeast Side.

Chicago Rejects Company’s Plan to Control Manganese Dust

A company on Chicago’s Southeast Side has 30 days to submit a revised plan to control the release of manganese dust, according to the city’s Department of Public Health.

Chicago Facility Linked to Manganese Meets Air-Monitor Deadline

A company under pressure from the EPA over potentially harmful emissions of manganese dust has met the agency’s March 1 deadline for installing air monitors at its Chicago facility.

Chicago Pushes Charging Stations as Electric Car Sales Rise in Illinois

(Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr)

Chicago is offering grant funding to cover up to 30 percent of equipment and installation costs for new direct current fast-charging stations, which can charge electric vehicles in 20 to 30 minutes. 

Bill Would Allow Illinois Farmers to Grow Industrial Hemp

(kat_geb / Flickr)

At least 16 states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes. Could Illinois be next?

Despite ‘Activist Fatigue,’ Chicago Community Addresses Manganese

Part 3 of our series examining pollution on Chicago’s Far Southeast Side

A group of Southeast Side residents and activists met Tuesday night to formulate a plan for confronting the latest threat of pollution in one of Chicago’s most industrialized areas.