British startup company creates green cement


Photo by Eddie Welker, Flickr.

Construction of new buildings and facilities will continuously go on around all of us across the planet.  A British company called Novacem has developed a green cement that will greatly decrease the impact construction has on our environment.

Read more from the Smithsonian Magazine here:

“You know, cement is everywhere,” Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, an environmental engineer at Imperial College in London, says while sitting in a brightly lit college conference room in a hulking seven-story building held up by the topic of conversation. “It’s all around us.” Continue reading

UI students test Cedar Rapids’ soil for pollutants


Downtown Cedar Rapids Photo by Chepner, Flickr

University of Iowa engineer students, led by professor Keri Hornbuckle, published the finding of their study on Cedar Rapids’ residential soil samples. The students tested samples to determine their levels of PCBs and chlordane pollutants.

The study found that the pollutants’ levels were comparable to similar areas around the world, and were near the level where the EPA recommends remediation.

PCBs are a family of chemicals that were used for manufacturing many products up till its use was banned in 1979. PCBs are carcinogens, and have also been linked to other health issues involving the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and endocrine system.

Cholordane is a compound that was used in the U.S. as a pesticide up until 1988. Chlordane has been linked to a similar set of health effects as PCBs, including cancer.

For more information of the study, view the UI press release here.

Dry fall means increased risk of runoff damage


Photo by eutrophication&hypoxia, Flickr

Iowa’s unusually dry fall could lead to an increase in agricultural runoff. Because of the low stream flows across the state, any spill has increased effects – including a greater chance of fish kills and water quality issues.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources offers tips to reduce the risk of spills:

  • Watch pumps and hoses, monitoring closely for leaks and pressure losses.
  • Keep a spill kit handy with emergency equipment, phone numbers and tools.
  •  Think about how to move dirt quickly in case you need to create a small dam.
  • Make sure all manure is injected or incorporated into the field, or follow required separation distances from vulnerable areas like streams, wells and lakes.

Open feedlots are the most likely to have problems with runoff. Make sure lots are scraped and cleaned. It’s a good time for stockpiles to be land applied too.

On the Radio: Volunteers clean up Iowa River


Photo by Dan Conover, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below.  It features a group of eastern Iowa volunteers who cleaned up the Iowa River earlier this fall.

The Iowa River is one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, according to the American Rivers Organization, but local residents are doing their best to change that. Continue reading

Johnson County conservation buildings receive environmental awards


Photo by Multnomah County Library, Flickr

The Johnson County Conservation Board received gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) organization for their Conservation Headquarters building and Conservation Maintenance Facility building. The gold designation is the highest honor awarded through the LEED system.

Some of the buildings’ green features include occupancy sensors for the lights, the use of recycled materials during construction and a computer monitored geothermal heating and cooling system.

For more information of these eco-friendly buildings, view the North Liberty Leader’s article.

Six Iowa watersheds receive management funding


Last week watershed management received a boost across Iowa when the Economic Development Authority and the Department of Natural Resources distributed funding to monitor flooding.

Read more from the Iowa DNR press release below:

The Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today announced funding for six Watershed Management Authority (WMA) applications.  Recipients of the seed money will form a WMA to reduce future flood risks and improve water quality in a watershed.  Continue reading

Video of oak woodlands controlled burn


University of Iowa video producer Ben Hill took this footage of the controlled burn conducted on Connie and Robert Mutel’s oak woodlands near Iowa City.

To view a slideshow of the burn, click here.

To read an interview with Connie Mutel about controlled burns, click here.

Study finds lower ozone levels lift farm worker productivity


Photo by Mike Houge, Flickr.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a report earlier this month, detailing the positive impact that low ozone levels have on farm workers.

Read more from the New York Times here:

The study found that on average, when ozone levels declined by 10 parts per billion — approximately the level of tightening proposed by the E.P.A. — worker productivity climbed 4.2 percent. Extrapolating from that result, an across-the-board reduction of 10 parts per billion might yield a $1.1 billion annual increase in economic value in the nation’s agricultural sector. Continue reading

Photos from oak woodlands controlled burn


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On November 17th, UI senior science writer and archivist Connie Mutel and her husband, UI professor Robert Mutel, held a controlled burn of their oak woodlands near Iowa City. The fire lasted about three hours and was a success. Mrs. Mutel was kind enough to share photos of the event with the Iowa Environmental Focus.