Muscatine uses potentially hazardous materials for gravel

Slag is a potentially harmful byproduct that’s come under fire (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 22nd, 2019

Muscatine County has come under fire recently for using hazardous material for their gravel roads.

The county has recently been using slag, a byproduct of steel mills, to cover small side roads. Slag is left over after metal refining and smelting, and typically contains a high calcium content that can neutralize acids.

The concern with slag isn’t its calcium content–it’s the traces of manganese. It’s an essential element for different processes in the body, but overexposure could lead to long-term health problems, especially if inhaled. The dust from slag also contains metals that can have adverse health effects for children and toddlers, who are generally more susceptible to issues from these trace elements.

In light of these potential hazards, Muscatine County is suspending the use of slag indefinitely while samples are analyzed for a health and safety evaluation.


The potential hazard of salting roads in winter

Cloesup of road salt with gravel and sand used in icy conditions in winter.
Road salt is essential for winter safety, but it has its detriments. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 16th, 2019

Salting roads and sidewalks in winter is absolutely essential to reducing ice and sleet in the winter after streets have been paved. But road salt may have a negative impact on the environment overall.

Road salt is just that–salt, made of sodium chloride. Ferrocyanide, an anti-caking agent, and traces of iron and phosphorus exist in road salt as well. Salt melts and runs off into storm drains, making its way into drinking water; the chloride, specifically, is the biggest offender.

It only takes a teaspoon of salt to contaminate up to five gallons of water.

Salt can also damage soil and affect its ability to retain water. It can hurt plants and make pets and aquatic life ill. Salt is potentially fatal to birds that ingest it as well.

While road salt has a laundry list of environmental offenses, it’s still an imperative part of winter safety. Using less salt generally yields the same ice-melting effects; generally speaking, a coffee cup’s worth of road salt should be enough for a standard driveway.


New air quality rules for the EU

Though air pollution overall is decreasing, it still poses a great threat globally (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 15th, 2019

The European Union has recently released a new set of guidelines that aim to reduce air pollution. The goal, overall, is to improve air quality globally until it reaches the standards set by the World Health Organization. According to WHO, over 80% of the world’s urban population live with air quality that falls miserably short of these clean air standards.

Beginning in 2022, farmers’ use of fertilizer will be restricted, and certain types of stoves and vehicles will be more heavily regulated. The move comes during a wave of new studies emphasizing the dangers of air pollution; it’s been linked to dementia, early miscarriage, and heart conditions. An estimated 7 million people globally die of pollution-related causes every year.

Despite these new and stricter regulations, the UK may be exempt from the EU’s air pollution guidelines after Brexit. Many UK citizens are concerned with air pollution, however, as it is the fourth largest threat to public health. If the EU guidelines end up un-enforceable, citizens of the UK will have to press their representatives for different rules.

Adaptive architecture provides much-needed safety

Flooding and fires are still huge problems in many parts of the world (/img)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 9th 2019

In the midst of turbulent climate change, efforts to reduce harmful emissions from fossil fuels and replace traditional coal energy with green sources are long-term solutions that will help the planet in the long run–and these are solutions that are gaining more and more attention as leaders worldwide recognize the benefits of using green energy.

However, our environment, in the meantime,  is changing and shifting, and dangerously inclement weather patterns call for adaptive architecture and infrastructure to protect our most vulnerable populations from flooding and other natural disasters.

Reinforced houses built to potentially withstand hurricanes and ember-resistant structures are just a few examples of the kinds of safety guards many architects are now considering. Many cities in the Midwest that are especially prone to flooding have already begun changing their infrastructure by introducing flood walls, better drainage systems, and more greenery to buffer rising waters.

This renewed interest in adaptive architecture comes after an announcement by the World Bank Group to donate $200 billion over the next five years towards climate resistance and climate change. The money is set to be evenly split between these two solutions; it’s a recognition that while we’re aiming to reduce negative environmental changes altogether, many countries have already entered a dangerous point and need all the adaptive structures they can get.

A look back at Iowa’s energy story


Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 2nd, 2019

The United States changed its source, use, and attitude on energy drastically between 2001 and and 2017. Each star progressed in its own way, having different resources and laws and goals. Here’s a summary of Iowa’s energy story.

Wind power increased in Iowa exponentially in these past 16 years. From 2001 to 2017, the use of wind power in Iowa’s overall energy increased from 1% to 37%. Despite these increases in clean energy, Iowa still produces over 40% of its energy from coal.

Iowa is one of the windiest states in the country and is the third largest producer of wind energy, thanks to its largely flat landscape.  Iowa was also the first state to pass legislationin 1983 requiring some energy to come from a clean source, though an update to these terms would help set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future.

Fighting deforestation in 2019


Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 1st, 2019

Forest fires, green energy, and air and water pollution made constant headlines in 2018. But the new year brings new efforts, and now a different environmental concern is coming to the forefront: deforestation.

United Nations Environment has launched an aggressive plan to end deforestation by 2020. The UK, France, and Germany have all called on the EU to follow the steps of the proposed initiative. It’s thought that this plan is being pushed forward partially in reaction to the Brazilian presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro and his pledges to build a highway through the Amazon and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

Most deforestation–80% globally, in fact–is caused by agribusiness. While it’s understood that space is needed for certain types of crops and livestock, organizations like the High Carbon Stock Initiative would help determine the minimum amount of land that could be safely used for agriculture and which forest areas should be preserved for biodiversity.

Looking towards the future, it’s hard to say how Brazil’s election will effect deforestation in the Amazon, or the resistance and backlash this movement might incite. Regardless of the risks, the UN and EU are determined to end this practice within the next few years.


3d-printed snacks may help reduce food waste

In an age where people still starve, food waste is a huge problem. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 26th, 2018

We’ve covered food waste before after Thanksgiving, but it’s a subject worth exploring again.

The WHO Food and Agriculture administration estimates that up to 1/3 of all food–at least, in the United States–is wasted before it can be consumed.

Sometimes food is lost in transport. Other times it is rejected by supermarkets when it doesn’t meet their standards. Much food is also tossed by restaurants in compliance with health codes.

Several methods, like programs encouraging consumers to use “wonky-looking fruits and vegetables“, are attempts to reduce how much is thrown away, but two Dutch students came up with an even more concise method: if food is wasted, why not repurpose the waste into edible goods again?

Elzilinde Van Doleweerd and Vita Broeken, both University students, experimented with 3d-printing food, focusing mainly on bread. Elzilide used mainly bread for her trial, as it’s the most commonly thrown away foodstuff in the Netherlands. After creating a bread paste and adding seasonings, she used her printer to create a snack that surprised even her with its quality.

She took the idea to her friend, Vita, and they both currently work and run Upprinting Food. They mainly focus on helping restaurants with food waste, but the future is bright for this pair as they search for more ways to reduce one of our most persistent problems.