Iowa Seeks Funding for Coal Mine Mitigation


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Josie Taylor | August 5, 2022

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa will apply for up to $6 million of new federal funding to handle the pollution and other safety hazards posed by leftover coal mines in the southeastern part of the state.

The Interior Department invited states this week to apply for a portion of the $725 million set aside this year for abandoned mine cleanup from the 2021 infrastructure bill. States with more-substantial past mining are eligible for more than $100 million. Iowa’s eligibility was capped by the department at $6 million.

The funding would benefit Iowa’s Abandoned Mined Land Reclamation program, which began in 1983. It has mitigated about a third of the state’s roughly 300 sites so far, according to IDALS. The program is primarily funded through federal taxes on current coal mining, and the state gets about $2.9 million each year.

The extra funding is boost for abandoned mine cleanup efforts by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The extra funding in the infrastructure law was meant to both eliminate pollution from mining sites and to provide job opportunities in communities that have historically relied on coal mining.

New Research Found Climate Change Will Increase Hospitalizations


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Josie Taylor | March 10, 2022

Climate change is expected to increase the number of people requiring hospitalization due to critically low sodium levels in the blood, a condition known as hyponatremia. A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden predicts that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius would increase the burden on hospitals from hyponatremia by almost 14 percent. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Climate change is expected to trigger a rise in average global temperatures in the coming decades, resulting in a myriad of heat-related consequences for human health. One of those is hyponatremia, which can occur from a variety of diseases such as heart, renal and liver failure as well as from excessive sweating or fluid intake that dilute the sodium concentration in the blood.

Our bodies need sodium to maintain normal blood pressure, support the function of nerves and muscles and regulate the fluid balance in and around our cells. If blood sodium levels drop, it can lead to nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, seizures and even coma.

It is well known among doctors and scientists that hyponatremia cases increase in the summer months. Still, data on temperature thresholds above which risks amplify have been lacking, complicating clinical planning and predictions of health burden in future climate scenarios.

Parts of the U.S. are seeing a rise in hazardous air quality


Wildfire
Via Flickr.

Elyse Gabor | January 24, 2021

Climate change is causing the rise of two air pollutants in the Western U.S. Air quality in the environment had improved due to the Clean Air Act of 1970, but within the last 20 years, we have seen the air become polluted again due to hot weather.

People in the Western U.S. face health risks due to the hot weather. The heat is causing the number of wildfires to grow and increasing dangerous amounts of ground-level ozone and pollution called PM 2.5. This pollution enters your lungs, causing severe and potentially fatal health issues such as lung and respiratory problems.

These wildfires can also cause harm to people who live thousands of miles away from the affected areas. The smoke produced by the fires can travel quickly to other states and regions, making the air quality unsafe.

Climate scientist at UCLA Daniel Swain said even if regulations and extreme measures are taken, air quality conditions are still likely to worsen in the upcoming years. However, cities and towns can take steps to reduce the number of emissions during times of dangerous air quality.

Reducing Emissions from Fossil Fuels has Clear Health Benefits


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Josie Taylor | November 18, 2021

New research from NASA, Duke University and Columbia University shows that improving air quality by reducing the burning of fossil fuels could also improve human health and prevent economic losses.

When burned, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is one of the leading causes of climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that heat exposure caused by increased temperatures will be the largest health impact of climate change. Burning fossil fuels also emits air pollutants, such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides. This is linked to premature death and respiratory illnesses, including asthma. 

“Emission reductions help us in the long term to avoid disastrous climate change,” said Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell. He says those disasters can affect health, agriculture, overall wellbeing, the economy and more. 

The research shows clear benefits of reducing fossil fuel emissions. Globally, reducing emissions over the next 50 years could prevent about 4.5 million premature deaths, 1.4 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, 300 million lost workdays, 1.7 million incidences of dementia, and 440 million tons of crop losses nationwide. Roughly two-thirds of those benefits would still be realized if only the United States reduced emissions.

Revisiting Iowa Climate Statements: Impacts on the Health of Iowans


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Josie Taylor | October 11, 2021

In 2014, Iowans were seeing the real effects that come with climate change. Heavy rainfall, floods and a longer growing season were some of the impacts. The biggest impact, however, was the health effects of climate change. 

Repeated heavy rain events caused increased exposures to toxic chemicals and raw sewage because of flood waters. Along with that came degraded water quality, which hurt many in Iowa. In farming states like Iowa, higher water temperatures and decreased mixing have combined with high nutrient levels to create harmful algal blooms that make the water unsuitable for human and animal consumption.

An even more common health effect of climate change was its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health. With warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels in the air, plants produce not only more pollen, but also pollen with a higher allergen content. A longer growing season extends the period of exposure to allergens, and new allergenic plants moving northward into Iowa are magnifying the range of exposures. Respiratory problems such as childhood asthma have increased dramatically in prevalence since the 1980s. 

Seven years ago, scientists were concerned about new diseases arriving as a result of climate change. They saw new species of mosquitoes and ticks in Iowa capable of transmitting diseases such as Dengue Fever and Ehrlichiosis. With increasing temperatures, more rainfall, and longer summers, these mosquitos and ticks can live longer and expand their range. 

Overall, health concerns resulting from climate change were common and important. These issues were one of the biggest concern for Iowans in 2014, but they are still here today.

Biden Administration Proposes New Environmental Law


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Josie Taylor | October 7, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday, October 6,  announced that it would restore climate change protections to the nation’s bedrock environmental law. The proposed changes would require the federal government to evaluate the climate change impacts of major new projects as part of the permitting process. 

Under the Biden administration’s proposed changes, agencies will have to consider the direct and indirect impacts that their projects may have on the climate, specifically how it pollutes American neighborhoods.

The goal of this proposed goal is to protect Americans from the harmful effects of pollution. Air polliution is the biggest environmental risk for early death. World wide, 9 in every 10 people breathe unclean air. 

If an agency’s project was not approved, they could work with local communities to figure out how to make it safer. The federal agenencies and local communities would work together to find a solution that would result in less pollution. 

The Biden administration is expected to publish its proposed rule in the Federal Register on Thursday and will take public comments on its plans for 45 days before issuing a final policy.

Joe Biden has a New Goal of Cutting Down Methane Emissions


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Josie Taylor | September 27, 2021

The United States and European Union are working on a pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 17, 2021. He urged countries around the world to join before the U.N. climate summit later this year. 

Cutting out methane would be beneficial for both slowing climate change and for the health of every citizen. There is less methane in the atmosphere than there is carbon dioxide, however it is a much more potent greenhouse gas when it comes to warming the planet. Methane also causes unhealthy air pollution. 

Methane emissions have been going up very quickly recently, and research shows they need to drop by almost half by 2030 to meet the Paris climate agreement goals. This means that the entire world needs to cut methane emissions. 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but it also contributes to surface ozone, which is a toxic air pollutant. Reducing methane improves air quality, while reducing the effects of climate change. Another benefit is that the results are almost immediate. 

Small Increases in Ambient Carbon Monoxide Levels Result in Daily Mortality Increases


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Thomas Robinson | April 13th, 2021

In a recent study, researchers demonstrated that small increases in carbon monoxide can increase number of mortalities the next day.

Scientists have observed a positive connection between daily mortality and ambient carbon monoxide (CO) exposure from 337 cities in 18 countries.  The level of exposure they measured was of a low concentration below current air quality regulations which suggests that current measures may not go far enough in preventing negative public health outcomes from ambient CO.  A major finding in the study was that there seems to be no threshold between CO exposure and mortality, which suggests there is no safe level of exposure to ambient CO.

Carbon monoxide is released into the air from the incomplete combustion of carbon based fuel sources used to run cars or generators for example.  The air pollutant takes the place of oxygen molecules which prevents essential organs from receiving the amount of oxygen they need to function.  At high concentrations carbon monoxide can be fatal, but at lower concentrations it can cause fatigue and chest pains in those with heart problems.

These findings suggest that the global community should revisit current air quality regulations with a focus for how low level exposure to ambient pollutants influences public health.

Chronic Exposure To Air Pollution Likely Increases Risk For Heart And Lung Disease


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Thomas Robinson | February 23rd, 2021

In a new study by the American Heart Association, chronic exposure to low levels of air pollution have been linked to increased numbers of patients admitted to hospitals for heart and respiratory illnesses.

Researchers looked at how long-term exposure to different air pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), tropospheric ozone, and nitrogen dioxide affected hospitalizations of Medicare patients across the country.  They found that low concentrations of all studied pollutants increased the risk for negative health outcomes, and was likely responsible for thousands of hospitalizations.  For example, for every additional microgram per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) of PM2.5 researchers found the rate of stroke patients increased by around 2,500 patients.

A key finding from the study was that negative health outcomes were observed even for pollution levels below U.S. standards.  Their finding suggests that current standards are not adequately protecting at risk populations like the elderly. Another important factor to consider, is that predominantly poor communities are exposed to elevated levels of pollutants at much greater rates than more affluent communities which creates a disparity in how air quality affects different populations. More than half of the U.S. population is known to be exposed to low levels of air pollution, which should be of immediate concern for policy makers and health care providers.  

Activists Call on the Biden Administration to Focus on Environmental Racism


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Nicole Welle | January 25, 2021

Environmental justice activists are celebrating President Joe Biden’s executive orders aimed at dismantling the Trump administration’s numerous rollbacks, and they hope he will continue to prioritize environmental justice throughout his term.

The National Black Environmental Justice Network and activists like Catherine Flowers applauded Biden’s decision to nominate Michael Regan to lead the EPA after being urged to do so by environmentalists. They are also encouraged by his willingness to talk about environmental justice and push for diversity in his administration. Biden nominated Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, and she will be the first Native American to hold that position. He also signed an executive order blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a move that Indigenous leaders have long advocated for, according to a Washington Post article.

A 2017 study revealed that more than one million Black Americans suffer from higher risks of cancer because they live within a half-mile of natural gas facilities. People of color are also more likely to live in regions that suffer from extreme heat, and minority communities are more likely to be centered in areas with high levels of pollution. These issues have been historically overlooked by the federal government.

Activists hope that the Biden administration will continue to focus on environmental racism as it implements future policy changes. The environmental justice movement has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and its influence has extended beyond state and federal governments. The Washington Post reported that many environmental groups are “facing a moment of racial reckoning” and have chosen to address their historical ties to racism and white supremacy. The Sierra Club, for example, issued a public letter denouncing its founder, John Muir, who was known to make racist comments against African Americans and Native Americans. Pedro Cruz, the director of healthy communities at the Sierra Club, hopes to push other big environmental organizations to better address environmental racism as well.