Study: Fireworks contribute to air pollution, public health issues

A 2008 Fourth of July fireworks show in Des Moines. (Andy Langager/Flickr)
A 2008 Fourth of July firework show in Des Moines. (Andy Langager/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | July 3, 2015

Firework shows have long been a Fourth of July tradition but new research finds that they could be more damaging to the environment and public health than previously thought.

A recent study published in the journal Atmospheric Science found that firework shows lead to a 42 percent increase in concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air on July 4 alone. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) looked at data from 315 sites around the country between 1999 and 2013 and found that ten of the sites saw air quality levels that would be deemed unsafe based on Environmental Protection Agency standards. Air quality was found to be poorest between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Independence Day with levels generally returning to normal around noon on July 5.

“We chose the holiday, not to put a damper on celebrations of America’s independence, but because it is the best way to do a nationwide study of the effects of fireworks on air quality,” said Dian Seidel, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory in College Park, Maryland. “These results will help improve air quality predictions, which currently don’t account for fireworks as a source of air pollution. The study is also another wake up call for those who may be particularly sensitive to the effects of fine particulate matter.”

Data from EPA shows that high levels of fine particulate matter can cause health issues ranging from heart attacks to respiratory problems.

Check out this interactive map to look at real-time air quality data in your area.

Report identifies top clean and sustainable technologies for 2015

No-flush urinals - such as these at a McDonalds in England - are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Wikimedia)
No-flush urinals – such as these at a McDonalds in England – are just one of the environmentally-sustainable technologies discussed in the report. (Anna Smith/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | May 22, 2015

A recent report identifies 2015’s most promising technologies for addressing climate and other environmental concerns.

The 157-page report – “Top Technologies in Clean & Green Environment – 2015″ was published earlier this month in Research and Markets. The authors examine ways to address environmental concerns such as water scarcity, energy depletion and global warming. Specifically the authors look at the top 10 innovations in the Clean and Green Environment sector: (1) Atmospheric Water Generation, (2) Waste-to-Energy, (3) Waterless Technologies, (4) Water-Energy Efficient Technologies, (5) Solid Waste Upcycling, (6) Indoor Air Purification, (7) Reverse Osmosis, (8) Air Filtration, (9) Membrane Distillation, and (10) Capacitive Deionization.

Water quality and water scarcity issues have forced innovators to develop waterless and water-efficient technologies such as no-flush urinals and waterless printers. In addition to water, the report also examined technologies to protect the land (composting, waste-to-energy), the air (atmospheric CO2 removal, particulate air pollution control), and the general environment (biomass energy with carbon capture storage, non-vapor HVAC compression technology).

The report also identified six key challenges that stand in the way of green technologies: (1) high energy intensity, (2) net environmental impact, (3) lack of funding, (4) lag in supporting technologies, (5) end-user skepticism, and (6) unknown effects.

On the Radio: Smoke linked to tornado intensity, UI study finds

Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
Damage to the roof of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City from a 2006 tornado. (Laura Crossett / Flickr)
April 13, 2015

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a recent study by University of Iowa researchers who found a link between smoke from fires and tornado intensity. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

**Please feel free to download the audio file for this On the Radio segment and distribute to friends, colleagues or media. To download the mp3 file, right click this link and choose “Save Link As…”

Transcript: Tornadoes

A recent University of Iowa study has found that smoke from fires can contribute to the intensity of tornadoes.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters earlier this year. The researchers examined how smoke affected a system of severe weather events which occurred on April 27, 2011. This system produced 122 tornadoes and caused 313 deaths across the southeastern United States. The study found that smoke particles in the atmosphere lowered the base of the clouds and affected the speed of the winds which increased the intensity of the tornadoes. The research was conducted using computer simulations.

CGRER co-director Greg Carmichael and CGRER postdoctoral fellow Pablo Saide were co-authors of the study, along with researchers from other University of Iowa departments, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and NASA.

For more information about tornadoes and for a link to the study visit

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Al Gore coming to Iowa for climate communication training

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the World Economic Forum on January 21, 2015 (World Economic Forum / Flickr)
KC McGinnis | April 1, 2015

Iowans will have a chance to receive climate communications training from former Vice President Al Gore at an upcoming summit.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, being held May 5-7 in Cedar Rapids, will feature the former presidential candidate as well as scientists and strategic communicators, who will help attendees learn how to advocate for climate change policies at the grassroots level. Experts will talk about the science of climate change, the effects it’s having on local and global economies and potential solutions available today. They will also give instruction on how to use social media, public speaking, and media engagement to bring the climate conversation to the public.

The Climate Reality Project, founded in 2006 after the success of Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” aims to equip laypersons with the knowledge and skills necessary for bringing climate awareness to the general public and policy makers. The project advocates a turn from fossil fuels to renewable energy like solar and wind.

The Iowa training comes as the state leads the nation in percentage of energy produced by wind, with a quarter of its energy coming from the renewable source. It also comes with information relevant for farmers and agricultural experts looking to decrease emissions from the agriculture industry, which emits more greenhouse gases than any other industry in the state including transportation and energy.

The training is free, but does not include transportation costs. To apply to attend the conference by April 13, click here.

Scientists find evidence of human air pollution dating back to 1500s

The Adnes is the longest continental mountain range in the world stretching from Venezuela to Argentina. (Michael McDonough/Flickr)
The Adnes is the longest continental mountain range in the world stretching from Venezuela to Argentina. (Michael McDonough/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | February 10, 2015

Researchers have recently discovered evidence of air pollution believed to be from 16th century silver production in Bolivia.

The research team was led by Ohio State University professor Paolo Gabrielli with OSU’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. The researchers discovered an imprint of smog high in metal content in an Andean ice cap in Peru but the source of the pollution is likely hundreds of miles east in present-day Bolivia.

The air pollution was believed to come from to come from silver refineries in the mountain town of Potosí. Prior to Spanish colonization, the Inca people mined silver in the area and at one point Potosí was the silver mining capital of the world. However with Spanish colonization came more efficient methods for mining silver which in turn led to greater amounts of air pollution. Much of the pollution from the silver mines consisted of lead, arsenic, and other materials and was believed to have occurred during between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The article was published in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences. The authors conclude: “This anthropogenic pollution of the South American atmosphere precedes the commencement of the Industrial Revolution by ∼240 y(ears).” Some scientists say that human-caused air pollution – “though agriculture, mining, fossil fuel production and other industrial activities” – has put us in a period known as Anthropocene. However scientists debate about when exactly this period began and Gabrielli’s recent findings would suggest that the period started earlier than previously thought.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Paleoclimate.

Climate change denial is a turnoff to voters, poll finds

The United States capitol (Snapper CR29 / Flickr)
The United States Capitol (Snapper CR29 / Flickr)

Voters are overwhelmingly less likely to vote for a candidate who calls climate change a “hoax,” according to a recent poll.

The survey, conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and research group Resources for the Future, gathered opinions from voters related to climate change and politics. It found that an overwhelming majority of voters believe global warming will pose serious problems for the country if nothing is done to curb it, and that Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate who takes climate change seriously. In addition, 78% of respondents, including 60% of self-identified Republicans, agreed that the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by U.S. businesses.

Of note were the responses provided by Republicans, which indicate a shift away from outright climate science denial. While 48% of Republicans were more likely to vote for a candidate who said, “I believe that global warming has been happening for the past 100 years, mainly because we have been burning fossil fuels and putting out greenhouse gasses,” the same number, 48%, were less likely to vote for a candidate who said, “The science on global warming is a hoax and is an attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the American people.” However, politicians who use the “I’m not a scientist” line, an attempt at a non-answer, also scored favorably among Republicans, with 37% saying they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who used similar language regarding climate change.

This comes after a U.S. Senate resolution on climate science passed 98-1, stating that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” Challenges persist, however, in convincing Senate members that human activity causes climate change, with members split about evenly at 50-49. This led a panel of Iowa scientists to publish an editorial in The Des Moines Register further clarifying the general consensus among climate scientists: “We know humans, by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, have altered the climate.”

See the full poll results here: Global Warming: What Should Be Done?

EPA faces lawsuits for animal confinement air pollution

A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)
A pig at St Werburghs City Farm in the United Kingdom. (Ed Mitchell/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | January 29, 2015

Two lawsuits were brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday alleging that the group isn’t doing enough to prevent air pollution caused by large animal confinement facilities.

The lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. were brought about by a coalition of eight groups including the  Environmental Integrity Project, the Humane Society of the United States, Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Association of Irritated Residents (represented by the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment). The coalition says that the lack of regulation by the EPA has allowed factory farms to pollute the air and threaten public health.

Specifically the lawsuits pertain to petitions filed in 2009 and 2011. The 2009 petition was filed by the Humane Society of the United States and called for concentrated animal feeding lots – or CAFOs – to be categorized as a source of pollution under the Clean Air Act and for new standards to be enforced on new and existing CAFOs. The Environmental Integrity Project filed the 2011 petition and sought health-based standards for ammonia emissions. The lawsuit asks for the EPA to respond to these petitions within 90 days.

A spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said that beef producers have made efforts to reduce pollution without government intervention and between 2005 and 2011 were able cut emissions in water by 10 percent and greenhouse gas production by 2 percent. However, Iowa Pork Producers and an Iowa State University professor say that the link connecting CAFOs to health hazards is inconclusive.