Preparing for disaster anytime, anywhere

In the wake of several natural disasters, we remain unprepared. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | September 11th, 2018

Natural disasters are a given in a landscape and territory as vast and diverse as the United States, but the recent barrage of disasters is leaving many citizens weary and ready to better prepare for the future.

Major natural phenomenons can completely uproot and disrupt lives, often changing them forever. 2018 brought with it an astounding number of disasters, including the California wildfires and several severe thunderstorms and hurricanes. Hurricane Harvey devastated swaths of homes in Houston last year; the effects of Hurricane Irma are still being felt in Puerto Rico.

For all of its obsession with preparedness during the Cold War era, where many families had copious extra supplies in their basements just in case that nuclear bomb dropped, Americans today are often remarkably unprepared for natural disaster. A survey done of Florida Key residents found that less than half of them actually obeyed the mandatory evacuation order that was issued when Hurricane Irma was about to hit.

Two professors from Wharton business school identified six factors that they believe contribute to this recent tendency towards being under-prepared for disaster, with a primary factor being optimism and selectivity. They hope that by tackling these factors one by one, people who live in disaster-prone areas can better protect what they have, just in case.

How flooding damages our infrastructure

Flood damage can have an immense impact on a city (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 4th, 2018

In the wake of recent stormy weather, Iowans are remembering the various floods that the state has survived over the past few decades. Thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and flash flooding are all par for the course during late summer, but the flash flooding especially can have some nasty effects on the infrastructure of a city.

When a city begins to flood, its sewer system is affected first, overflowing with the excess water and pouring down the streets.

While pooling floodwater damages the foundations of houses by slowly weakening the foundation materials, it is actually the initial impact of the floodwater that causes the most damage, shifting buildings over slightly in some severe cases.

Areas suffering flood damage also significantly decrease in market value, making it difficult for the affected families to afford repairs or resell their property down the line.

As Iowa City and Coralville prepare for flood season, it’s important to remember just how damaging floods can be for an unprepared city.

Cognitive issues and air pollution may share a link

Pollutants may impact mental ability (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 28th, 2018

A new study from China suggests a link between extensive exposure to air pollution and impacted cognitive ability.

The study, carried out by independent Chinese researchers and submitted to PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) for peer review, outlines the results of four years spent monitoring the basic math and verbal skills of roughly 20,000 Chinese citizens.

China currently stands as one of the most polluted developed nations, and has been aiming for a while to decrease its levels of air pollution with multiple green energy plans and vehicle restrictions.

The study measured a distinct decrease in the measured cognitive abilities of its target group, and compared these measurements to the levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and small particulate matter.

Pollutants are toxic, and the adverse effects on the body and respiratory system can impact a person’s ability to carry out tasks with focus and clarity.

It is important to note that the study, while finding a link, does not prove directly that high levels of pollution causes lowered cognitive function.

Contact lenses pose an environmental risk



Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 21st, 2018

Contact lenses have a bigger impact on the environment than previously thought.

The corrective lenses can be used once or multiple times, depending on the type. But with a plethora of daily-use contacts, more and more of the corrective lenses are being steadily disposed of.

Capable of correcting vision without the need of glasses, contact lenses are a soft and flexible plastic material, and this becomes a problem when wearers dispose of their old lenses by flushing them down the toilet or sink.

Disposing of contacts in the trash instead would be a much better option, as cluttering up waterways causes significantly more damage than simply filling up a landfill.

Some movements are being made to consciously recycle the plastic packaging for contacts as well.


The serious impact of forest fires

Forest fires have devastating effects on residents and the environment (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 14th, 2018

With forest fires being a pressing issue in California, Nevada, and Canada, recent studies have been published illustrating the effects of these wildfires on the environment, in an attempt to help people understand just how devastating they can be.

Merritt Turetsky, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph and an ecosystem expert, explains that forest fires burn away soil and vegetation around forest areas. The fires also destroy all of the soil anchoring what’s normally left of the trees after a large fire, leaving them at risk of being blown or batted away towards resident’s homes.

The erosion of natural soil removes what is essentially a forest’s protective layer, leaving the ground open for further erosion by raindrops and water, leading to potential interference with the soil occasionally contaminating nearby rivers and streams.

While Turetsky notes that fires now seem to burn away far more vegetation than in the past, he hopes that solutions will help control the deadly flames in future.

Pollution and heart issues

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Studies show a distinct link between low pollution and health risks (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | August 7th, 2017

A new report from the Queen Mary University in London links even low levels of pollution with heart and respiratory problems. Pollution, even in its lowest quantity, is sometimes linked to an increased risk of diabetes.

Dr. Nay Aung, an affiliate of Queen Mary, revealed some information from the study that linked people living near busy streets with an increased risk of enlarged heart ventricles.

This is not the first time that pollution has been linked to distinct health risks, either.

The World Health Organization published an updated statistic in 2018: a staggering 80% of the global urban population is exposed to higher levels of pollution than is deemed safe by the WHO. Most of those affected live in lower-income areas.




Plastic straws, bans, and disabilities

Straws are damaging to the environment, but to some, they are a necessity (/img)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | July 31st, 2018

Plastic straws are undeniably devastating for the environment. Roughly 500 million single-use plastic straws are disposed of each year in the United States alone, and the growing plastic pollution problem is concerning for many reasons. Straws are among the most common things found during beach clean-ups, and other forms of single-use plastic, like to-go containers and cups, are also a huge contributing problem.

There are biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws, like ones made of plant-based plastics, paper, and glass. But these are over four times more expensive per piece than a regular plastic straw, and it’s an investment that some businesses are hesitant to make.

The campaign to ban plastic straws entirely has gained incredible ground in a short amount of time, with California’s Santa Barbara leading by example and proposing an outright ban on the selling and use of plastic straws, with some hefty consequences for violating these rules. The move has been criticized–both because of its reported six-month jail time for breaking the ban, and the blatant disregard for the disabled community.

Many disabled people need straws in order to drink. Everything from Parkinson’s to severe mobility issues can completely render an individual unable to dispose of straws as they are not a luxury for some, but an important and necessary tool. Existing straw alternatives, like paper or glass, don’t have the flexibility or durability of traditional plastic straws that some disabled people need.

Supporters of the plastic straw ban are hopeful that innovation will find a biodegradable alternative for the disabled community in the future.