800 Gallons of Spoiled Milk Contaminated Fourmile Creek

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Maxwell Bernstein | August 14, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is investigating a contamination of 800 gallons of spoiled milk that entered into the Fourmile Creek in Ankeny, IA at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, according to KCCI Des Moines.  

The spill originated from a Hy-Vee employee who disposed of spoiled milk by dumping it into a storm drain, after power outages from the derecho swept through the area on Monday, according to a statement from Hy-Vee that was cited in the news story. 

“Materials that we think are harmless can actually be very toxic to the environment. When disposing of a liquid into the municipal collection system, it’s important to check with local water waste treatment plant or DNR field office prior to disposal,” DNR Supervisor Ted Peterson said in the KCCI news story. 

New Study Supports Complete Loss of Arctic Sea Ice by 2035

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Nicole Welle | August 13, 2020

A new study used evidence from a warm period around 127,000 years ago to support predictions that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2035.

An international team of researchers used the UK Net Office’s Hadley Centre climate model to compare arctic sea ice conditions from the last interglacial with present day conditions. The new model allowed researchers to better understand how the Arctic became sea ice-free during the last interglacial and to more accurately create model predictions for the future.

The new climate model involves studying shallow pools of water that form on the surface of sea ice in the spring and early summer called melt ponds. Melt ponds are important because they affect how much sunlight is absorbed by the ice and how much is reflected back into space, according to a Science Daily article. Melt ponds facilitate further sea ice melt by creating surfaces that are less reflective and better suited to absorb sunlight.

Researchers discovered that, during the last interglacial, intense sunshine in the spring created large numbers of melt ponds. Because melt ponds heavily impact the rate at which sea ice melts, they were able to compare that model to current conditions and predict that the Arctic may be ice-free by 2035. Scientists working on the study hope that sea ice processes like melt ponds will be further incorporated into climate models in the future, and they are using their findings to emphasize the importance of achieving a low-carbon world as fast as possible.

Derecho Knocks out Power for Iowans

Maxwell Bernstein | August 12, 2020

On Monday, 112 mph wind gusts swept across the Midwest, creating damage and leaving over 1 million homes and businesses without power, with 400,000-plus occurring in Iowa, according to The Weather Channel

The wind gust, also known as a derecho, knocked out power, destroyed farms, damaged roofs, and killed a biker outside of Cedar Rapids. The derecho knocked out large chunks of the power grid, which affected 97% of Linn County, according to the Des Moines Register

As of today, nearly 150,000 MidAmerican Energy customers and 180,000 Alliant Energy customers are without power, according to KCCI Des Moines.  

KCCI provides a list of resources for Iowans who are affected by the derecho.

UI Researchers Discover a Link Between Atlantic Hurricanes and a Climate System in East Asia

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Nicole Welle | August 10, 2020

University of Iowa researchers may have found a new influence on how tropical storms develop in the Atlantic Ocean.

Researchers identified a connection between a climate system in East Asia and the frequency of tropical storm development in the Atlantic ocean. The study discusses the Rosby wave, an atmospheric phenomenon carried west to east by the East Asian Subtropical Jet Stream (EASJ). The EASJ is an upper-level river of wind, and Rosby waves ride it to the North Atlantic when tropical cyclones are most likely to form. The waves are known to affect wind shear, a key element to tropical storm formation, according to an ENN article.

The researchers analyzed various datasets and observed almost 40 years of Atlantic tropical cyclones during prime formation season. They then connected that information to EASJ activity during that same time period and discovered that a stronger EASJ is associated with fewer Atlantic tropical cyclones, according to Iowa Now.

“When the EASJ is stronger, it can enhance this pattern, which leads to stronger teleconnections and stronger wind shear in the North Atlantic,” said Wei Zhang, a climate scientist at IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at UI. “That can suppress Atlantic tropical cyclone formation.”

Researchers hope this new information can become a useful tool for predicting tropical cyclone formation in the Atlantic Ocean in the future.

Trump Administration Sued by Environmental Activist Groups Over Changes to NEPA

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Maxwell Bernstein | August 7, 2020

On Thursday nine environmental activist groups sued the Trump administration over changes being made to the National Environmental Policy Act. 

The lawsuit targets changes that includes environmental review for projects, stating that, “…entire classes of projects that may have devastating cumulative or indirect impacts on people and the environment.” 

President Trump’s overhauls include speeding up permitting to federal infrastructure programs which will silence predominantly minority communities that are impacted by federal projects, as reported by Iowa Environmental Focus. 

“If implemented, the 2020 Rule will cause real, foreseeable harms to people, communities, and the natural environment,” the lawsuit said. “It will allow ill-considered and uninformed project approvals that impair individuals’ health, especially in the most vulnerable and overburdened communities. It will permit projects that divide neighborhoods and impair habitat.”

Disturbing Natural Habitats Increases Risk of Wildlife Diseases Like the Novel Coronavirus

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Nicole Welle | August 6, 2020

A new study found that animals known to carry harmful diseases are more common in landscapes that have been converted into urban or agricultural areas.

Zoonotic diseases are caused by germs that pass between humans and animals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they account for about 75 percent of new or emerging diseases in people. While the destruction of natural habitats can lead top a sharp decline in some animal species, many of the animals that carry zoonotic pathogens multiply and thrive in human-dominated environments.

The study found that the proportion of animals that host pathogens harmful to humans is anywhere from 21 to 144 percent higher in human-disturbed areas than in non-disturbed habitats, according to an EHN article. Pathogen-carrying rodents, bats and certain birds tend to have traits, like high reproductive rates and reduced immune systems, that allow them to thrive in human-dominated environments. Larger species that rely on non-disturbed habitats, however, are more likely to be negatively impacted by human activity.

“As agricultural and urban lands are predicted to continue expanding in the coming decades, we should be strengthening disease surveillance and healthcare provision in those areas that are undergoing a lot of land disturbance, as they are increasingly likely to have animals that could be hosting harmful pathogens,” said Kate Jones, a senior author and professor at the UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research and ZSL Institute of Zoology, in a statement to Environmental Health News.

Iowa DNR Issues Beach Warnings for E. coli

Screenshot from DNR

Maxwell Bernstein | August 5, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued eight beach warnings across the state of Iowa because of E. coli. The beaches that are not recommended for swimming include: 

  • Backbone Beach (Dundee, Delaware County)
  • Denison Beach (Black Hawk Lake, Lake View, Sac County)
  • Emerson Bay Beach (West Okoboji Lake, Milford, Dickinson County)
  • George Wyth Beach (Waterloo, Black Hawk County)
  • Lake Darling Beach (Brighton, Washington County)
  • Lake Keomah Beach (Oskaloosa, Mahaska County)
  • McIntosh Woods Beach (Clear Lake, Ventura, Cerro Gordo County)
  • Nine Eagles Beach (Davis City, Decatur County)

This warning is in effect between Jul. 31 and Aug. 6, according to The Perry News

Around 1 in 3 Children Globally Have Blood Lead Levels Above CDC Action Levels

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Thomas Robinson | August 4th, 2020

Around 800 million children globally have blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per decilitre according to a new report from UNICEF. 

UNICEF reports that children around the world are exposed to lead on a previously unknown scale. Most of the affected children live in parts of Africa and Asia but there are also affected populations living in Central and South America, as well as parts of Europe.  Children are exposed to lead through the inhalation or ingestion of lead particles from contaminated drinking water or materials such as lead paint.  One particularly concerning route of exposure is from poorly recycled lead-acid batteries.  These batteries are becoming increasingly common as countries begin to develop and introduce vehicles.

Lead is known to have cumulative and adverse health effects on children’s development.  Lead impairs brain functions and can also cause damage to the nervous system and the heart.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describe an actionable level of 5 micrograms per decilitre to identify children with blood levels higher than most.  Unfortunately, no amount of lead is safe as even low blood lead levels have been linked to long term cognitive impairment.    

The United States is not immune from lead contamination in drinking water as can be seen through high profile events such as Flint, MI or Washington, DC.  Recent work in Iowa is looking to determine the extent of lead in local school’s drinking water which can be used to inform schools if they need to replace failing infrastructure.

Iowa GOP Lawmakers Push to Block Eminent Domain for Wind Farms

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Nicole Welle | August 3, 2020

Three GOP members of a legislative rules review committee are looking to block the Iowa Utilities Board’s move to allow developers to condemn property for wind and solar farms.

Sens. Waylon Brown, Zach Whiting and Mark Costello announced their opposition Friday. They believe that the rules giving the Iowa Utilities Board jurisdiction over the siting of renewable energy facilities and the state the ability to overrule local zoning to allow developers to condemn private property for approved projects are administrative overreach, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Some wind companies raised concerns over changing policy that has enabled an economic surge in the past. They also worry that some projects already underway could be stalled. Midamerican Energy, however, testified that the rule should include eminent domain if the state is going to govern siting.

The controversial rule has split environmentalists. Some believe it will help to push renewable energy development forward, but others worry that it could increase development time and cost. If the committee approves a session delay, the Iowa legislature will have the chance to consider the rule before it takes effect.

212 Environmental Activists Killed in 2019

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Maxwell Bernstein | July 31, 2020

report from the environmental centered NGO Global Witness found that 212 environmental activists were killed in 2019, which averages to more than four per week.  

The findings from the organization found that half of all reported killings occurred in Colombia and the Philippines. In 2019, 64 activists were killed in Colombia while 43 were killed in the Philippines.

The report found that 40% of the victims belonged to indigenous communities, with over a third of all fatal attacks between 2015 and 2019 being targeted toward indigenous people. Over 1 in 10 environmental activists who were killed were women. 

“For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown,” the report said. “Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work.”