FDA did not find contamination in Yuma romaine lettuce, PMA calls for investigation into environmental causes


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By Julia Shanahan | August 16th, 2019

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it did not find any contamination in romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, area. Five sometimes deadly outbreaks have been tied to Yuma since 2012, the FDA said this week.

The FDA tested 118 lettuce samples for shiga toxin-producing E.coli and salmonella. One test came back positive for STEC, but the agency determined it was not pathogenic. According to a report from Politico, the Produce Marketing Association said it’s not taking the results as a sign that everything is fine.

Bob Whitaker, Chief Science and Technology Officer at PMA, said, according to Politico, that due to the limited scope of the sampling, the FDA should not be encouraged to slow down investigations into food-borne pathogenic outbreaks. He added that the industry needs to dig into the role of the changing environment on food and contamination, according to the report.

The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that climate change is likely to have a big impact on food contamination, putting public health at risk. With increasing rainfall, temperatures, and extreme weather, bacteria, parasites, and harmful algae will persist, along with their patterns of corresponding food-borne diseases. Chemical residues of pesticides will be affected by the changes in pest pressure, and the risk of food contamination from organic pollutants and metals in crop soil will be affected as well.

The WHO study also said the risk for food contamination will not be even across the board. While some countries will see an increase in food production, other countries, particularly those that are lesser developed, will see negative impacts from climate change on food security. Climate sensitive illnesses will be one of the largest contributors to global food-related diseases and mortality, WHO reported.

It is currently unknown if climate change had any significant impact on contamination tied to the Yuma region.

Microplastics found in Arctic snow


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By Julia Shanahan | August 15th, 2019

Pieces of microplastic were found in arctic snow just weeks after World Meteorological Organization and Copernicus Climate Change program announced July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded, period.

Microplastics are falling from the sky via atmospheric transfer and are landing in remote places in the Arctic in substantial amounts, according to a study from Science Advances published on August 14. Scientists studied ice floes in Fram Strait, an unpopulated expanse of ocean near Greenland, and compared it to populated European sites. The study showed that the populated areas had a higher concentration of microplastics, but that the amount in remote areas was still high.

According to a report from National Geographic, scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research said the amount of microplastics in the atmosphere could potentially pose a risk to public health.  Temperature fluctuation among other things can cause plastics to break down into smaller fragments, which then produces the microplastics.

These institutes have been studying microplastics in the Arctic region since 2002 and have noticed drastic increases over the years. In the Arctic water column they found 6,000 microplastic particles in every 2.2 pounds of mud. In every 34 ounces of melted sea ice, they found 12,000 particles.

The report from Science Advances projects annual waste production to reach 3.4 billion MT in the next 30 years. Additionally, mismanaged plastic waste could reach 265 million MT by 2060. The report also highlights the fact that microplastics are ubiquitous in almost all ecosystems – freshwater, urban areas, terrestrial areas – because plastic is designed to be durable.

Farmers could be key allies in climate crisis


By Julia Shanahan | August 9th, 2019

According to a report from CNN, farmers could potentially practice farming in a way that would remove carbon from the air and put in into the ground.

From soybeans to corn to pine trees, plants already move carbon out of the air. The report suggests that with enough financial motivation and innovation, farmers could continue growing food while also practicing carbon management. Substances like biochar, charcoal and other organic material that is almost pure carbon, can be sprinkled over soil to keep carbon in the ground for thousands of years, and it doesn’t go back into the atmosphere.

The 2018 IPCC Lands Report says that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come out of the agriculture sector, pointing to diesel fuel and synthetic fertilizer.  Gene Tackle, a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in the CNN report that farmers could be key allies in helping to reduce, and even eliminate, global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The National Climate Assessment projects that the amount of days that exceed 90 degrees in  Des Moines could increase from 17 days to 70 by mid-century. Additionally, the latest IPCC report finds that growing food around the world will only become more difficult as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

Farmers in Iowa were burdened this past year with extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that has made it hard for some farmers to sell goods. There are currently no mandatory conservation practices that farmers must practice in Iowa – extra conservation practices are done on a voluntary basis across the state. 

Experts encourage towns to invest in composting


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By Julia Shanahan | August 2nd, 2019

Composting all organic waste could eliminate one-third of materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators, according to a study from Composting in America, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research, and Policy Center and Frontier Group.

The reports says that each year the U.S. disposes of enough organic material  to fill 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles ten times over. Only 326 U.S. towns nationwide provide curbside food pickup, leaving people no option but to throw food scraps in the trash.

The report says that increasing composting would help replenish soil and prevent erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and help combat climate change. Composting excess organic material would help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and return nutrients to the soil. 

In Iowa, some small compost facilities are exempt from solid-waste permits, but must adhere to a list of requirements: facilities must be greater than 500 feet away from any inhabited residence, outside of wetlands, 200 feet away from any public well, and runoff from the composting operation must be correctly managed – according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The national report lists several things that would make composting more accessible and user-friendly, saying that towns should offer curbside pickup for organic waste, make composting programs affordable, require commercial organic-waste producers to compost excess materials, and to encourage local markets to buy back compost materials to distribute to public projects or community projects.

Iowa’s electric-car expansion


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By Julia Shanahan | August 1st, 2019

MidAmerican Energy will build 15 new charging stations across Iowa to encourage Iowans to by electric cars, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

The company will invest $3.75 million to build the stations along U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City to Waterloo. The Des Moines-based company said their studies show that people like the environmentally-friendly vehicles, but worry about costs and availability of chargers. The new charging stations would charge vehicles in 20 to 45 minutes.

The amount of battery-electric vehicle registrations more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. From April of 2017 to September of 2018, battery-electric vehicles increased from 400 to nearly 800 vehicles. The combined total of battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2018 was 3,000 cars.

According to a 2019 report from the European Environment Agency, contrary to some skeptics, electric cars are better in terms of air quality and reducing the effects of climate change. The report also says that as renewable fuel becomes more prevalent in everyday use, the benefits of electric cars will increase.  

However, no car can be 100 percent clean, especially if the electric energy is not coming from a renewable source. The European Union, U.S., and China, are the biggest players in electric vehicles globally.

Japanese beetles invading gardens and vineyards


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By Julia Shanahan | July 26th, 2019

Japanese beetles are invading vineyards in Iowa in unexpected numbers, according to a report from The Des Moines Register.

The report said that about 50 to 60 percent of Iowa vineyards are spraying pesticides to prevent or combat Japanese beetles. The beetles like to chew on vines, grapes, and fruit trees, but are damaging flower beds in gardens and eating the foliage from trees and shrubs. 

The beetles lay their eggs underground, where the larvae can cause grass to wilt and turn brown. They are among one of the major pests in the Midwest, and cause great damage to crops each year. The bugs feed mostly on corn and soybean crops – two major crops in Iowa.

The beetle first arrived to the United States in the early 1900s. According to the Des Moines Register report, the Japanese beetle colony experienced a collapse in the winter of 2013-14, but have since been able to rebuild.

These beetles like to attack plants in groups, making damage more severe even though their life cycle is only 40 days. Spraying insecticides and being mindful of what you plant and where you plant it are some ways to prevent these beetles from eating up your garden. You can look at this list of the best and worst plants for Japanese beetles. 

New report shows Iowa’s slow progress in meeting Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals


By Julia Shanahan | July 19th, 2019

In a report from the Iowa Environmental Council, it will take about 900 years to meet wetland goals and 30,000 years to implement enough bioreactors to treat the number of acres set out it in the 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented in Iowa in 2013 with the goal of reducing the amount of nitrate and phosphorus runoff in waterways, and then eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The state hopes to cut nutrient runoff by 45 percent through voluntary programs and conservation practices.

In 2018, Iowa had about 880,000 acres of cover crops planted – a way to reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff. However, the NRS says Iowa needs about 12.6 million acres of cover crops, and the Iowa Environmental Council estimates it will take another 93 years until the state reaches that goal. The average rate of cover crop installation has decreased since the NRS implementation in 2013, but increased in 2018 by about 16 percent.

The NRS also aims to treat 7.7 million acres of wetlands – or see a 45 percent decrease in nutrient pollution – and as of 2017, about 104,000 acres were treated. The Environmental Council estimates it will take 913 years for the state to reach that goal at Iowa’s rate of adoption.

Bioreactors, which cost about $10,000 to $15,000 to install, only cover 1,250 acres of the state. Iowa’s strategy aims for bioreactors to treat 6,000 acres of the state.