BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington drivers facing possible citations for headlight or taillight malfunctions may soon receive a more welcome slip of paper from police: a voucher for repairs.
“This program will enhance traffic safety in our community and provide the financial support to anyone who needs light-related repairs,” Bloomington Police Chief Jamal Simington said. “This type of engagement is solution based and an act of true kindness to motorists, their occupants and a police officer that will never forget it.”
Bloomington city and law enforcement officials on Tuesday unveiled plans to hand out vouchers worth $250 for parts and labor to replace broken headlights, taillights or turn signals. Patrol officers will carry the vouchers starting Feb. 1.
The program is called “Lights On!” and was started by Minneapolis based non-profit MicroGrants, which provides small grants to low-income people to help their career or business, said CEO Don Samuels.
“It’s a great opportunity to give to the community a totally safe program that we don’t complaints (with) and we’re looking forward to that joy being spread among the citizens of Bloomington,” Samuels said.
Funding comes from representatives of Country Financial, who donated $6,000 that was matched by MicroGrants. A spokesman said the Bloomington-based insurance company has donated more than $4 million since 2020 to organizations supporting first responders, as well as teachers, military servicemembers and veterans.
Samuels said Bloomington is the second municipality in Illinois to introduce the program, after Romeoville, and the organization plans to expand services nationwide.
“I would have loved this when I was a patrol officer,” said Sgt. Keil Nowers, head of community engagement with BPD.
Under the new program, an officer who initiates a traffic stop for a defective taillight, headlight or turn signal has the ability to issue a voucher if there are no other violations or citations necessary.
“Instead of that,” Nowers said, “you’re getting no ticket, and you’re getting free money, even.”
Last year, Bloomington police conducted over 11,000 traffic stops, Simington said. About 2,500 of those were for general equipment violations, and only 2% of those were issued citations, he said. Others received warnings.
When drivers receive a voucher, Simington said, it is signed and dated by the officer. They then have 14 days to get the malfunction repaired and will be asked to answer a survey related to the program and their experience.
If an officer does cite someone for a general equipment violation, the individual can bring in proof of the repair within seven days of that citation being issued, Simington said.
Vouchers can be used at Walmart, Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts locations in Bloomington-Normal, Nowers said.
“The best part of it all, no taxpayer dollars are going in this either,” he said. “This is completely locally and MicroGrant-funded.”
Simington said he learned about “Lights On!” through law enforcement newsletters and was first approached about a year ago.
“The outcomes will be beneficial for the community and for the officers who extend this gesture, leading to positive interactions and more trust-building outcomes,” Simington said.
Every officer at BPD will have access to the vouchers, officials said.
Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe joked that it would have been nice if the program started three weeks ago when he was stopped for a similar violation, but overall it will make a genuine difference in the community.
“The police department takes the responsibility to protect and serve the city very seriously but they also place value on the work that they do with the residents to make our neighborhoods better places to live,” Mwilambwe said. “Policing is just one aspect of building a strong and safe community and partnering with this wonderful organization is a key part of that effort.”
Brides, grooms, bridesmaids and flower girls were busy preparing Sunday for "the big day" at the Elegant Bridal Expo, which returned for the 1…
Contact D. Jack Alkire at (309)820-3275.
Eating just one freshwater fish a year can dramatically increase the amount of toxic forever chemicals coursing through a person’s blood, according to a new study that reflects more than a half century of pollution contaminating the Great Lakes and rivers nationwide.
The alarming finding is based on an analysis of hundreds of fish caught by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2013. Though the EPA has concluded some of the chemicals are harmful at any level, the agency hasn’t drawn attention to its fish sampling or warned Americans they could be in danger.
Nearly every fish tested by the EPA was tainted with perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS, a forever chemical used for decades in Scotchgard stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foam and food packaging manufactured by Minnesota-based 3M.
PFOS builds up in human blood, doesn’t break down in the environment and triggers health problems such as liver damage, impaired fertility, immune system disorders, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol levels and reduced vaccine effectiveness. Long-term exposure also might cause cancer.
“These findings point to the urgent need to eliminate more releases of these chemicals into the environment,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and one of the authors of the new study. “We don’t want this problem to get any worse, especially knowing how long it’s going to take for it to get better.”
A single serving of freshwater fish during a year is equivalent to drinking water laden with 48 parts per trillion of PFOS for a month, Andrews and his colleagues concluded in their peer-reviewed study, published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research.
To put that number into context, the nationwide median of PFOS in drinking water is estimated to be less than 5 ppt. The highest concentration detected in Chicago drinking water so far is 2.8 ppt.
In June, the EPA announced there is effectively no safe exposure to PFOS and a related chemical, PFOA.
Exposure from eating fish is of particular concern for Native Americans, certain immigrant communities and low-income Americans who depend on lakes and rivers for a significant portion of their diet, Andrews noted, citing other studies.
Freshwater fish in the United States appear to be significantly more contaminated than seafood. The median concentration of forever chemicals in the EPA testing was 278 times higher than what the Food and Drug Administration found during the past four years in saltwater fish, shrimp, lobster, clams and oysters.
The highest level of PFOS detected in Great Lakes fish — 64,400 parts per trillion — came from white perch caught in Lake Erie near Monroe, Michigan, a Chicago Tribune review of EPA data found.
Yellow perch in Lake Michigan near Holland, Michigan, and Whiting were tainted with 22,900 ppt and 12,500 ppt, respectively. The level in walleye caught off the Door County peninsula in Wisconsin: 11,500 ppt.
EPA sampling in the Great Lakes during 2013 through 2015 did not include fish from Illinois waters. But in 2010 the agency found 19,000 ppt of PFOS in brown trout caught off North Avenue Beach in Chicago.
Disturbing levels also have been detected in the nation’s rivers and streams.
Northwest of Madison, the EPA found 74,200 ppt in smallmouth bass caught in the Wisconsin River. Upstream from Cave-in-Rock in deep southern Illinois, channel catfish pulled from the Ohio River had a whopping 135,000 ppt of PFOS.
Closer to Chicago, the agency found 25,500 ppt in channel catfish from the Fox River in Lake Barrington. The level in smallmouth bass from the Kankakee River near Bourbonais: 9,530 ppt.
Unlike other toxic substances such as mercury or PCBs, worrisome concentrations of forever chemicals aren’t limited to specific types of fish, EPA data shows. PFOS and related compounds — known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — bind to fish tissue and can’t be cooked or trimmed out.
“Mercury, for example, tends to be higher in bigger, older fish,” said Gavin Dehnert, an emerging contaminants researcher at Wisconsin Sea Grant who, along with several Indigenous tribes in the Upper Midwest, recently launched another study of PFAS in the region’s lakes, rivers and fish. “With PFAS you can have high levels in panfish, common carp or smelt, tiny fish that are near the bottom of the food chain.”
Andrews speculated one reason why the EPA hasn’t publicized its test results is because fish are an important source of protein and other nutrients. Burdening Americans with PFAS isn’t worth the trade-offs, he said.
EPA officials did not respond to questions Monday, a federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
PFAS still aren’t regulated in the United States. The Biden administration is proposing to list PFOS and PFOA as hazardous substances under federal law, which would make it easier to force polluters to clean up contaminated sites at their own expense. Other rule-making is expected to establish the first enforceable limits on the chemicals in drinking water.
Updated fish consumption advisories aren’t on the administration’s agenda, though some states, including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, caution people to limit or avoid eating certain fish based on PFOS contamination. Illinois officials only recently began surveying the state’s lakes and rivers for the forever chemical.
EPA fish sampling in the lower 48 states suggests current advisories aren’t protective enough.
Faced with hundreds of lawsuits, 3M announced last month it will stop making all PFAS by 2025, a quarter century after the company phased out PFOS, PFOA and several related compounds the global conglomerate pioneered after World War II. Scientists are finding replacements for PFOS and PFOA, introduced during the 2000s, are just as harmful, if not more so.
High levels of PFOS still being found in fish shows how persistent the chemical is in the environment.
“People are getting PFAS from so many different places, from their diet and from water,” said Christy Remucal, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin who researches forever chemicals but was not involved in the new study.
“You never want to hear that these chemicals whose names you can’t pronounce are in the water you’re drinking or the fish you’re eating,” Remucal said. “Some people panic and some people decide they can’t avoid it so why worry. That makes communicating the risks very challenging.”
READ THE STUDY:
BLOOMINGTON — The Love Shack, 1406 E. Empire St. in Bloomington, is this week’s pick for Eats of the Week.
The restaurant specializes in burgers and unique sandwiches. Owner Aaron Francis said he is carrying over the values from his immensely popular Pop-Up Chicken Shop, which moved last year from its prior home at the VFW Post 454 to 409 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington.
“There’s not a single menu in this town that has what we have, and we really pay attention to our flavors here. Everything’s hand-cooked, nothing is frozen, everything fresh. Ingredients are No. 1, “ Francis said. “This menu is something you see in like a big city like Chicago. This is a very food-eccentric place you can’t find anywhere.”
Francis said he tried out the concept at the chicken shop last summer and, persuaded by its strong performance, decided to open the second restaurant Nov. 1. The new restaurant’s name is an homage to the “love” poured into the food, he said.
Francis described his mother and family as his central inspiration. He has been cooking since he was 3 years old, he said, and he is descended from a long line of cooks on his mother’s side. He started out pursing a career in the business world, but eventually figured out his true passion was cooking and found a way to fuse the two together.
“The thing about this concept is that everything that we do at the Love Shack is with the utmost, highest standards of quality,” he said. “Everything from the burger meat to the fries to the buns is as highest quality I can get. I’m really in the game of elevated fast food.”
Francis said he is not in the restaurant industry to make money.
“Like, that’s cool but my employees are always No. 1,” he said. “They are the backbone of my company here. That’s something I’m really trying to turn the restaurant industry upside down, because (workers) are being underpaid.”
Francis and his head chef, Zakk Yuhas, curated the restaurant’s menu together. Francis credited Yuhas with a vital role in the restaurant’s success, as Francis spends most of his time at Pop-Up Chicken.
The most popular menu item is the double cheeseburger, which can be ordered with toppings like bacon and caramelized onions. Others include the catfish po’ boy, apple butter pork chop sando and wagyu corndog. Specials are also offered every week, including a sandwich special and a special milkshake.
“When I cook for people at my restaurants, I think that’s a very intimate relationship that I have with these customers, “ Francis said. “I’m making this food with my hands and these people are spending their hard-earned money to eat it. It’s a very intimate thing. So, we put a lot of love into our food.”
Sometime this year, Francis plans to open another pop-up restaurant near the Illinois State University campus in Normal, in the former Meatheads on Main Street.
Once operations in Bloomington are steady, he said, he hopes to open restaurants throughout the region, including in Champaign, Springfield and surrounding areas. He noted the success of Steak ‘n Shake, which started in Bloomington-Normal and expanded across the country, and said he hopes to follow suit.
As if that weren’t enough, Francis said he also hopes to open a sit-down dinner spot with a wine bar. His true passion, however, is cooking with fire, like smoking meats.
“My goal is to revitalize the food we get in this town. I’m not a big corporation, I’m really passionate about cooking, so I just thought something like this concept is something this town needed; this town was lacking a true locally owned good burger,” Francis said. “I’m trying to build a really good hospitality/restaurant group, so that’s why I opened up The Love Shack.”
Contact Olivia Jacobs at 309-820-3352. Follow Olivia on Twitter: @olivia___jacobs
WASHINGTON — Jill Biden’ s advocacy for curing cancer didn’t start with her son’s death in 2015 from brain cancer. It began decades earlier, long before she came into the national spotlight, and could now be further energized by her own brush with a common form of skin cancer.
The first lady often says the worst three words anyone will ever hear are, “You have cancer.” She heard a version of that phrase for herself last week.
A lesion that doctors found above her right eye during a routine screening late last year was removed Jan. 11 and confirmed to be basal cell carcinoma — a highly treatable form of skin cancer.
While Biden was being prepped to remove the lesion, doctors found and removed another one from the left side of her chest, also confirmed to be basal cell carcinoma. A third lesion from her left eyelid was being examined.
While it’s too early to know when and how Biden might address her situation publicly, her experience could inject new purpose into what has become part of her life’s work highlighting research into curing cancer and urging people to get regular screenings.
Personal experiences can add potency to a public figure’s advocacy.
“Nothing like ‘I’ve been there, done that’ and being personally involved,” said Myra Gutin, a first lady scholar at Rider University.
Biden’s spokesperson, Vanessa Valdivia, said “the first lady’s fight against cancer has always been personal. She knows that cancer touches us all.”
Biden’s advocacy dates to 1993, when four girlfriends were diagnosed with breast cancer, including her pal Winnie, who succumbed to the disease. She said last year in a speech that “Winnie inspired me to take up the cause of prevention and education.”
That experience led her to create the Biden Breast Health Initiative, one of the first breast health programs in the United States, to teach 16-to 18-year-old girls about caring for their breasts. Biden was among staffers who went into Delaware’s high schools to conduct lectures and demonstrations.
Her mother, Bonny Jean Jacobs, and father, Donald Jacobs, died of cancer, in 2008 and 1999, respectively. A few years ago, one of her four sisters needed an auto-stem cell transplant to treat her cancer.
In May 2015, Beau Biden, President Joe Biden’s son with his late first wife, died of a rare and aggressive brain cancer, leaving behind a wife and two young kids. Joe Biden was vice president at the time and the blow from Beau’s loss led him to decide against running for president in 2016.
Jill Biden, who helped raise Beau from a young age after she married his dad, was convinced he would survive the disease and later described feeling “blinded by the darkness” when he died.
After their son’s death, the Bidens helped push for a national commitment to “end cancer as we know it.” Then-President Barack Obama — Biden’s boss — put the vice president in charge of what the White House named the Cancer Moonshot.
The Bidens resurrected the initiative after Joe Biden became president and added a new goal of cutting cancer death rates by at least 50% over the next 25 years, and improving the experience of living with and surviving cancer for patients and their families.
“We’re ensuring that all of our government is ready to get to work,” Jill Biden said at the relaunch announcement at the White House last February. “We’re going to break down the walls that hold research back. We’re going to bring the best of our nation together — patients, survivors, caregivers, researchers, doctors, and advocates — all of you — so that we can get this done.”
In the years between Biden serving as vice president and running for president, the Bidens headed up the Biden Cancer Initiative, a charity.
Jill Biden, 71, has been using her first lady platform to highlight research into a cancer cure, along with other issues she has long championed, including education and military families.
Her first trip outside of Washington after the January 2021 inauguration was to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center in Richmond to call for an end to disparities in health care that she said have hurt communities of color.
She has toured cancer centers, including those for children, in New York City, South Carolina, Tennessee, Costa Rica, San Francisco and Florida, among others. She joined the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies — two of her favorite professional sports teams — for events, including during the World Series, to highlight efforts to fight cancer through early detection and to honor patients.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October, Jill Biden hosted a White House event with the American Cancer Society and singer Mary J. Blige, who became an advocate for cancer screening after losing aunts and other relatives to various forms of cancer.
The first lady also partnered with the Lifetime cable channel to encourage women to get mammograms. A Democrat, she gave an interview last year to Newsmax, the conservative cable news channel, to discuss the federal investment in accelerating the cancer fight.
She regularly encourages audiences to schedule cancer screening appointments they skipped during the pandemic out of fear of visiting doctor’s offices.