‘Forever chemicals’ found in Ames drinking water


Graphic via the Iowa DNR.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 14, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found PFAS in Ames drinking water.

The city is Iowa’s ninth-biggest city had concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in its water, detected at 3.1 and 6.5 parts per trillion. The Iowa DNR wants Ames to test the drinking water quarterly because the concentrations were found in water already cleaned by the city’s water utility service.

The chemicals were also found in wells within city limits. One well that tested positive is the site of firefighter trainings. Firefighter foam is one of the most common materials with PFAS in it.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Rock Valley, an Iowa town of 4,000 people, also tested positive for PFAS. Wells in the city also tested positive. All of the PFAS levels in the two towns are below federal standards, but the Iowa DNR is planning on having the cities continue testing the water. West Des Moines water also previously tested positive for the chemicals.

The Iowa DNR has released less than half its water quality tests for the state. Supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner previously said testing is underway for cities in Iowa. He said results will be posted as the department receives them.

Scientists say 2021 was Earth’s fifth-hottest year on record


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 11, 2022

2021 was the Earth’s fifth hottest year according to European scientists, indicating global warming is here to stay.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said the average global temperatures over the year were 1.1 to 1.2 Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial era, according to Voice of America News. The scientists used satellite measurements for 2021 temperatures. The hottest years on record remain 2020 and 2016. A consequence of higher temperatures according to the scientists is the air absorbing more moisture, leading to increased amounts of rainfall and flooding.

The past seven years are all within the top seven hottest years on record. 2021 beat our 2015 and 2018 to get the fifth place spot, according to the New York Times. Freja Vamborg, a senior climate scientist at Copernicus, said the last seven years are quite close together in warming trends and were well off from the temperatures of years prior.

Copernicus has been keeping temperature records since 1950, but can go back even further with additional analyses of historic documents. The team’s analysis also found the rate of increasing carbon dioxide levels appear to have been down in 2021, while methane concentrations have grown at their fastest pace in the last 20 years.

Major weather events, like the La Niña early on in 2021, helped lower the overall temperature of 2021, allowing it to secure a lower spot on Copernicus’s rankings.

Iowa could see pipeline construction across state in May


Via Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 7, 2022

Navigator CO2 Ventures plans to formally petition Iowa in May for permission to build a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline across the state.

The pipeline would cross 36 of Iowa’s 99 counties and venture into a handful of other Midwestern state. The Texas-based company’s plans will cost upwards of $3 billion and would lay 900 miles of steel pipe in Iowa, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Navigator will need to receive permission from the Iowa Utilities Board prior to breaking ground. Navigator’s plan looks to provide Midwest customers with carbon capture and storage.

The company is close to ending its informational public meetings series. The meetings have been held in various counties to garner support from Iowans and to explain to communities what they can expect from the pipeline. Once the meetings end, Navigator can petition the state for permission to build. The three-member Iowa Utilities Board would have to decided that the pipeline serves “a public convenience and necessity” based on Iowa law prior to giving the company permission.

Iowans at various meetings have voiced concerns, including at a recent Ames meeting where the Dispatch reported residents were concerned about eminent domain and the potential hazard of pipeline leaks. Residents of Linn County were unhappy with the proposal in early December 2021, according to Iowa Public Radio.

There are a few more informational meetings before the company can petition. Meeting information can be found on the Iowa Utilities Board website.

Health risks from smoke worsen with more wildfires in the Western U.S.


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 5, 2022

As wildfires worsen in the Western U.S., air pollutants are reaching concerning levels.

Ozone and smoke are the two air pollutants that are most common to result from wildfires and extreme heat. The increase in the pollutants across the country can affect people’s lungs and cardiovascular systems alongside aggravating chronic diseases according to The New York Times. Increased levels of ozone and smoke in a community’s air can also lead to premature death.

A new study monitored the levels of ozone and smoke in the Western U.S. from 2000 to 2020. It found millions of people were exposed to more days of combined dangerous levels of smoke and ozone pollution every year. Researchers involved with the project said the worsening wildfires and heat that result in these pollutants are linked to climate change.

Daniel Swain, one of the climate scientists who authored the study, said the damages of wildfires are both short and long term, even if the shorter term risks usually get the most attention.

“Something may not necessarily have a high likelihood of killing you personally in the short term,” he told the Times. “But if you impose that same risk on tens of millions of people over and over again, the societal burden is actually very high.”

Road salt as a deicer continues to harm the environment


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 3, 2022

As snow returns to Iowa, road salt is being used to deice roads and walkways while it is bad for a variety of environments.

After the state’s first major snowstorm of 2022 hit on New Years weekend, the Iowa Department of Transportation continues to primarily use rock salt to deice roads across the state. Based on Iowa DOT estimates, the department uses nearly 200,000 tons of rock salts on highways and other roadways to clear ice and snow annually. The salt, however has various negative affects on the environment.

A 2018 study found that 37 percent of the drainage in the U.S. has seen an increase in salinity in the past half-century. The dominant source of the salinity increase was found to be road salt across the country. Drainage can also see increased levels of chloride because of deicing salt. If these chemicals get into waterways and streams, it can increase levels of salt and chloride that exceed guidelines for aquatic life as well as deplete oxygen from bodies of water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency road salt can also contaminate drinking water, increase soil erosion, and kill wildlife. There are, however, alternatives to road salt as a deicer that cause less damage to the environment. Using more porous pavement on roads removes liquid from the roads faster, limiting its ability to freeze-thaw periods and preventing too much ice from forming on roadways. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride deicers are also less harmful. The two agents also help improve soil structure when the water drains.

Iowa City passes Iowa DNR drinking water analysis


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 29, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found negligible amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS, in Iowa City’s drinking water.

The department released their findings on Wednesday. The tests were conducted following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory regarding two PFAS: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. If the two chemicals combined to have a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, it would exceed the EPA’s health advisory. According to a City of Iowa City release, the Iowa DNR did not detect either chemical in Iowa City’s samples.

While looking for other PFAS, Perfluorobutanoic acid was detected in Iowa City’s drinking water at 3 parts per trillion. In the release, Water Superintendent for Iowa City Jonathan Durst said the results were low and expected.

“The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR to monitor PFAS and conduct additional on-site testing,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest quality drinking water to our community.”

This water analysis came a month after Iowa City was found to have high levels of zinc in its water. The city reduced its daily zinc intake in early November.

Tougher vehicle emissions requirements finalized by EPA


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 28, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized tougher vehicle emissions requirements, reversing former President Donald Trump-era policies.

The new requirements shift the country to look towards electric vehicles and reducing pollution significantly over the next five years. The rules will decrease carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle by 3.1 billion tons through 2050, according to Reuters. The EPA’s guidelines coincide with the goals of President Joe Biden’s administration. Biden wants to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. to around 50 percent by 2030. He also has been pushing for stricter fuel efficiency standards, like former President Barack Obama did in the early 2010s.

In 2020, Trump rolled back Obama’s efficiency standards by 3.5 percent. The switch made is so vehicles in the U.S. only had to average 40.4 miles per gallon rather than nearly 47 miles per gallon by 2026 under Obama’s regulations.

The new EPA standards will take effect in the 2023 model year. The Alliances for Automotive Innovation, an auto trade association, said the new requirements will result in an increase in electrical vehicles and incentives from the government for consumers to switch to purchasing those cars. When announcing the finalization, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the standards were “doable” even if they are tough. He said he wants to move ahead to the next round of requirements soon.

“We are setting robust and rigorous standards that will aggressively reduce the pollution that is harming people and our planet,” Regan said.

Sustainable tips for the holidays


Via the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 24, 2021

As the holidays approach, there are many ways to prevent waste and remain sustainable when it comes to gift giving this season.

According to Stanford University waste increases in the United States by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This totals to nearly 25 million additional tons of garbage a year. Waste can be reduced significantly by reusing gift wrap, like ribbons and twine, as well as using old magazines, newspapers, or maps as wrapping paper. Holiday cards can be sent on recycled paper or via email to reduce waste as well.

Stanford also suggests buying recyclable wrapping paper and actually recycling it. Paper can also be reused for more than one wrap if it isn’t destroyed in the process of opening.

The University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability also came out with a list of local, sustainable gift giving options from Iowa City businesses. From cafes and restaurants to local shops, the list has options for all ages this holiday season and throughout the year. The list also encourages people to buy last minute gifts from sustainable, local businesses instead of large shopping malls.

As the New Year approaches, making Green Resolutions can improve one’s interactions with their environment. Whether it’s focusing on recycling or reducing your carbon footprint by carpooling or taking public transportation more often, Green resolutions can help people live more sustainably.

Des Moines Water Works votes to further discuss collectively governing water in the metro


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 22, 2021

The Des Moines Water Works board of trustees voted to further negotiate collectively governing drinking water production within the metro on Tuesday.

In a unanimous vote, the board plans to negotiate an agreement with other water utilities surrounding Des Moines, establishing a Central Iowa Water Works. While the vote doesn’t officially confirm Des Moines’s participation in the potential new, joint utility, but it does push the discussion forward according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Des Moines isn’t the only utility to contemplating further discussing a joint utility. West Des Moines Water Works and the Urbandale Water Utility are both set to vote on the topic in January. Regardless of how the two vote, the water utilities are not likely to decide on an agreement quickly. It’s likely the soonest Iowan’s could see a signed agreement and a Central Iowa Water Works is 2023. The idea of a regional utility for water has been in the works for four years.

The Des Moines board told residents there will be more public meetings for them to voice their concerns before any final decisions are made regarding the agreement.

Superfund sites to see cleanup with funds from infrastructure bill


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 17, 2021

49 Superfund sites across the U.S. will see clean-up efforts after the passing of a $1 billion bipartisan infrastructure law.

Superfund sites are polluted areas with hazardous waste all over the country. The locations are designated under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. There are sites in 24 states and Puerto Rico. The Environmental Protection Agency announced it would start clearing out a backlog of the contaminated sides after the passing of the infrastructure plan. The bill set aside $3.5 billion for environmental cleanup according to NBC News. This round is only the first installation of funds to clean up the sites, beginning with $1 billion.

The sites are disproportionately found in lower income communities where people of color live. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a site. According to The Hill, this funding will go to almost 50 different sites in the U.S. to begin projects to better understand and clean up the hazardous waste. The project will only begin to chip away at the long backlog of Superfund sites that need cleaned up.