On The Radio – Young scholars key to future success of CGRER

Dr. Peter Thorne joined the University of Iowa faculty in 1988 and has served as a member of CGRER since its founding in 1990. (University of Iowa)
October 5, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at veteran CGRER member Dr. Peter Thorne and how he thinks recruiting young scholars will be key to the future success of the center.

Transcript: CGRER 25th Anniversary Member Profile: Peter Thorne

The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research – or CGRER – celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. One veteran member thinks that recruiting young scholars will be crucial to the center’s success in the future.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Peter Thorne serves as head of the Occupational and Environmental Health Department in the UI’s College of Public Health. Professor Thorne joined the UI faculty in 1988 and much of his research has involved toxicology ways that environmental pollution affects public health, particularly children.

Professor Thorne has been a member of CGRER since it was founded in 1990. As a veteran member, he thinks that intelligent, young researchers will be key to the continued success of CGRER.

THORNE: “A number of us who have been involved the whole time are getting a little grayer and not getting any younger so transitioning to the next leadership is going to be important. There’s no shortage of talent it’s just a matter of developing the talent and seeing that they’re nurtured and can take on these roles.”

Professor Thorne also serves as the chair of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board.

For more information about Professor Thorne and his work, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Dick Baker

KC McGinnis | October 2, 2015

Dr. Dick Baker thanks CGRER for giving him a chance to “cross-pollinate” with other researchers.

When CGRER was formed Dr. Baker, professor emeritus of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Iowa, was already working with a wide variety of scientists from geology, ecology and paleoecology, but with little structure. Dr. Baker looks at fossils of plants from the distant past – tens of thousands of years ago – to understand how humans’ current carbon dioxide output corresponds to those time periods. But for similar carbon dioxide levels, you have to go back even further in time: millions of years.

“Back to when palms were growing in the arctic.”

“There was no real gathering of these groups into one center,” he said. “So when CGRER formed I jumped in.”

Dr. Baker’s CGRER involvement allowed him to make contacts he could use in further research, something he found lacking at other institutions.

“So often you get people working in their own little fields, and there’s not any cross-pollination.”

Dr. Baker especially noted his collaborations with UI biologist Diana Horton, who ran the herbarium at the UI.

Dr. Baker said he’s “not too optimistic, but not too pessimistic” about the current debate on climate change, but he’s happy to see research centers like CGRER providing ways to group together multiple disciplines.

“I think this is maybe the widest group that I know of,” he said of CGRER.

Older school buses now eligible for replacement

(dhendrix73 / Flickr)
(dhendrix73 / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | October 1, 2015

New funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should lead to cleaner school buses.

The EPA today announced the availability of about $7 million in funds for school bus fleet owners to replace or retrofit older buses. Owners can apply to have up to 10 buses replaced and 10 retrofitted, with larger operations having the option to submit multiple applications.

The funding comes as a result of the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, now in its third iteration. It’s an effort to restore or replace older, diesel-powered engines, which emit larger quantities of pollution and toxins than newer buses. The focus on school buses will hopefully lead to a reduction in children’s exposure to toxins from diesel emissions. Buses dated 2006 or older are eligible for replacement under the program.

US lags behind EU in regulating lethal solvent

A barrel once containing methylene chloride now serves as the base for a street light in Hong Kong. (Georgia/Flickr)
A barrel once containing methylene chloride now serves as the base for a street light in Hong Kong. (Georgia/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | September 30, 2015

A recent investigative story by the Center for Public Integrity analyzes a lethal solvent found in various industrial products and how the United States has been slow to take regulatory measures to ban the chemical.

The article points out that accidental exposure to methylene chloride has led to at least 56 deaths since 1980. Methylene chloride is common in products such as paint strippers, degreasers, and carpet cleaners. Fatal exposures to the chemical date back to the 1940s. Around that same time researchers at Iowa State University were studying methylene chloride as a way to extract oil from soybeans.

Roughly three decades later, two medical researchers at the University of Wisconsin wrote a report outlining the dangers of the chemical and the criticizing various agencies for not taking action against it. The authors wrote: “The legal responsibility for protecting the public currently rests with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It has remained mute, as did the governmental agency originally responsible, the Environmental Protection Agency, when in 1971 the CH2C12 hazard was formally called to its attention.”

The article also points out industry leaders have lobbied against regulations on the chemical and have advocated for its industrial effectiveness.

Faye Graul, executive director of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, a trade group that includes methylene chloride manufacturers, said the way to stop the string of deaths is simple: “Proper use of the product.” Labels on the cans warn against using in areas that aren’t well ventilated.

Among those fatalities included in the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis is Traci Sheibal who in 2012 died using the solvent to clean a bathtub while working in Council Bluffs.

On The Radio: Iowa farmers implementing nutrient reduction strategies for the first time

Farmland in Story County, Iowa. (Karl Wycoff/Flickr)
Farmland in Story County, Iowa. (Karl Wycoff/Flickr)
September 28, 2015

This week’s On The Radio segment looks at new nutrient reduction strategies that some Iowa farmers are implementing for the first time with the help of newly available funding. 

Transcript: Farmers implementing nutrient reduction strategies for the first time

More Iowa farmers are ready to apply nutrient reduction practices for the first time this year.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Agriculture received 1,800 applications from farmers seeking to participate in a cost sharing program to help them implement nutrient reduction strategies. Over half of those farmers will be using a practice – like cover crops and no-till – for the first time.

The $3.5 million in funds will be applied to farmers in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, according to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. Farmers new to cover crops will receive a $25-per-acre cost share and a $10-per-acre cost share for no-till or strip till.

Cover crops provide a range of benefits by reducing soil erosion and increasing nutrient recycling on farmland.

For more information about nutrient reduction strategies, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.


CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Peter Thorne

Dr. Peter Thorne has been at the University of Iowa since 1988. (College of Public Health/University of Iowa)

Nick Fetty | September 25, 2015

As one of the first members of CGRER, Peter Thorne appreciates the synergies he’s seen develop between CGRER and the UI College of Public Health, where he serves as the head of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Thorne says much of his department’s research is divided into three categories: air and water quality issues associated with livestock production, the effect of climate change on public health, and non-agriculture sources of air and water pollution.

“The tools and expertise of CGRER members have been valuable to those of us looking at the interplay between environmental issues and public health,” he said.

Thorne also admires the way CGRER engages with the public on environmental issues.

“As scholars, we need to do more of this sort of engagement and education,” he said. “CGRER is a model for how to do this effectively.”

In looking to the future, Thorne believes it’s vital that current CGRER members help train the next generation of researchers and scientists.

“As we senior researchers grow older, helping with the transition to new leadership is essential,” he said. “There’s no shortage of talent, but we need to make sure these younger people are nurtured and supported.”

Francis highlights the importance of research in solving environmental crisis

A vendor holds a Pope Francis poster outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York (Victoria Pickering / Flickr)
A vendor holds a Pope Francis poster outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (Victoria Pickering / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | September 24, 2015

Pope Francis urged the U.S. Congress to work together for “our common home” during an address today in Washington.

In an hour long speech (full transcript here), the Holy Father followed the pattern laid out in his most recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, by addressing the interconnectedness between issues like poverty, immigration, wealth distribution and the family to care for the environment, and the potential for human ingenuity to help resolve the environmental crisis.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play,” he said. “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

During his pontificate Francis has continued the thread laid out by his predecessors Pope Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II, who called for a “global ecological conversion“: a move away from what Benedict XVI called “a misuse of creation [that] begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” The current degradation of both the natural and the social environment is indicative of what Francis calls “the throwaway culture.”

To address this, Francis called for a “right use of natural resources” that contributes to the common good not only of job creation but to care for the earth, which the Pope has tied directly to care for the poor and needy. The Pope was confident that American academic and research institutions could use their skills and new technologies to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

“I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead,” he said.