Researchers Use Honeybees to Test Environmental Contamination Levels


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | July 20, 2020

Researchers created a non-invasive tool to sample environmental contaminates in honeybee hives.

Bees are good bioindicators of environmental contamination because they get coated with everything in their surroundings, including pollutants. Because they have a wide flight range and sample from a range of spaces, they can pick up build-up from the air, water, ground and trees. They also spread the nectar they collect to other bees and throughout the hive.

Researchers have used honeybee hives to understand the environmental contamination in their area in the past, but the process was often harmful. It involved capturing bees and extracting whatever they had ingested or transported on the surface of their bodies. Sampling could also be done with pollen reserves, larvae and honey. Not only was this often very difficult and time-consuming, it also often disrupted the normal functioning of hives, according to a PHYS.ORG article.

Professor José Manuel Flores, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cordoba, collaborated with researchers at the University of Almeria to put a new device into operation. APIStrip (Absorb Pesticide In-Hive Strip) is a non-invasive polystyrene strip that is placed in a hive and can absorb a variety of pesticides and other pollutants for testing. This device will allow researchers to continue to use honeybees as sample collectors and improve environmental health without jeopardizing the safety of honeybee colonies.

Des Moines Registers Worst Air Quality In The Country After July 4th


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | July 14th, 2020

After July 4th celebrations earlier this month Des Moines had the worst air quality in the country measured at an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 588.

Fireworks shot off overnight on July 4th triggered an air quality advisory from July 5th into the morning of July 6th.  The highest reading occurred early in the morning on the 5th with conditions returning to safer levels later on that day.  The poor air conditions were caused by a high pressure weather system with slow moving air that prevented the movement, and dissipation, of pollutants away from Des Moines.

The AQI is a national metric used to describe air quality through reporting on common air pollutants listed in the Clean Air Act.  There are six AQI levels which range from good (0-50) to hazardous (301 and above).   Local air quality can be found using AirNow, which supplies the AQI and also which pollutant is primarily responsible for any poor air quality.

When the AQI is as high as it was in Des Moines (588) pollution in the air poses a noticeable risk to human health.  Symptoms of poor air quality can include irritation of eyes or nose, shortness of breath and coughing.  When poor air quality conditions like in Des Moines persist outside activity should be avoided to limit inhalation exposure to pollution.

Saharan Dust Cloud Reaches Iowa and Affects Air Quality


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | July 2, 2020

A giant plume of dust that originated in the Sahara Desert traveled across the Atlantic ocean and into the United States early this week.

The dust cloud first appeared over states in the gulf of Mexico before traveling up into the Midwest. It reached Iowa last weekend, and the EPA issued an air quality forecast for Iowa June 29 placing parts of the state in the “moderate” category. This level of pollution could pose some health risks for a small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution, according to air quality forecasts on AirNow.

The dust plume was part of the Saharan Air Layer, which is a mass of dry, dusty air that forms over the Sahara Desert in the summer and moves over the North Atlantic every few days, according to NOAA. The dust caused the air to appear hazy in parts of the Midwest, especially during sunrise and sunset.

When the wind is strong enough, the dust can reach the United States and be concentrated enough to cause air quality issues. However, the extremely dry air can also help suppress hurricane and tropical storm development over the Atlantic Ocean, and minerals in the dust can help replenish nutrients in rainforest soil when it is able to reach the Amazon River Basin.

Air Pollutant Levels in China Exceed Pre-COVID-19 Levels


Source: CREA analysis of MEE real-time air quality monitoring data

Maxwell Bernstein | June 5, 2020

China’s air pollutant levels have exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels according to a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.  

These air pollutants include PM2.5, NO2, SO2, and ozone which can harm human-health. Levels of air pollutants have decreased during China’s national lockdown in February, bottomed out in early March, and are now above levels from the same time last year. 

The graph above, which was produced by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, shows the percent change in different air pollutant levels between this year and last year in China. 

“Rebounding air pollutant levels are a demonstration of the importance of prioritizing green economy and clean energy in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. All eyes are on China, as the first major economy to return to work after a lockdown,” the report says.

Three Conservation Groups Intend to Sue the EPA for Failing to Enforce Pollution Rules in Poor Communities


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | June 4, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release on May 28 announcing a lawsuit against the EPA for delaying the reduction of sulfur dioxide air pollution in a number of communities.

Areas of Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Puerto Rico and Guam were included in the lawsuit issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health and the Sierra Club. The cities and counties listed in the lawsuit are being exposed to dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant produced by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA by law to set air quality standards, determine when and where air pollution exceeds the national limit, and ensure that plans are in place to clean up that pollution by a set deadline. In the current affected areas, the EPA has missed these deadlines by anywhere from two months to over four years.

The EPA has already determined that exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution can lead to health problems in humans and trigger ecological harm. The people in the areas listed are currently at a higher risk of heart and lung disease, asthma and contracting COVID-19 due to constant exposure to the pollution. Sulfur dioxide pollution also contributes to acid rain and damages lakes, rivers and entire ecosystems.

Young children and the elderly are more vulnerable and at a higher risk, and the problem is made worse by the fact that the areas in the lawsuit include large minority and indigenous populations that are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and air pollution.

A New Report Reveals a 24% Increase in the Number of Companies Asking Suppliers for Environmental Transparency


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | May 21, 2020

CDP, an environmental non-profit organization, recently announced a 24% increase in the number of companies asking for environmental data reports from their suppliers this year.

CDP helps investors, companies, cities, states and regions manage their environmental impacts by providing them with a global disclosure system that measures and interprets environmental data, according to the CDP website. 30 new purchasing systems began working with CDP to help manage their supply chains more sustainably, and over 15,000 environmental transparency requests were sent to suppliers this year, according to an Environment + Energy Leader article.

Companies are asking suppliers to disclose information regarding their impacts on deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water safety and climate change. Organizations that utilize CDP resources can use the information collected to make more sustainable, informed decisions when working with suppliers.

CDP is a global organization, but their biggest spike in participants this year came from North America. Nike, Nordstrom and The Clorox Company were three of the 17 North American companies that joined this year, adding to CPD’s list of members which already includes companies like Walmart, Microsoft and Stanley Black and Decker.

Iowa School Districts Receive $300,000 from the EPA to Replace Older School Busses and Reduce Diesel Emissions


(Image Via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | April 30th, 2020

The Environmental Protection Agency awarded $300,000 to 10 Iowa School districts April 23 to help replace old diesel buses with new, more efficient models that will decrease diesel emissions.

These funds were part of a $11.5 million plan to replace 580 buses in 48 states and Puerto Rico. The EPA hopes the new buses will reduce the emission of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both being commonly associated with aggravated asthma, lung damage and other health issues.

The EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act provides funding for the plan. Applicants receive rebates between $15,000 and $20,000 per bus when replacing engine models older than 2006. The amount awarded depends on the size of the bus. Buses made before 2006 were not required to meet certain emission standards, and the EPA hopes to phase out the use of those older buses still in operation. Newer models that meet EPA standards are up to 90% cleaner, according to the EPA’s news release.

The funds were distributed in conjunction with the 50th annual Earth Day celebration.

“Earth Day’s primary goal is to protect the environment for future generations. These rebates help to do just that by continuing to improve air quality across the country and providing children with a safe and healthy way to get to school,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement on the EPA’s website.

The DERA program has funded more than 1,000 clean diesel projects and reduced emissions in over 70,000 engines since 2008.

Earth Day in the time of COVID-19: A Message from Co-Director Jerry Schnoor


Jerry Schnoor at Eawag
CGRER Co-Director Jerry Schnoor shares his reflections on the 50th annual Earth Day (contributed photo). 

Jerry Schnoor | April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020, is not just another Earth Day.  It is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day – the one that changed my life forever.  Naive and over my head as student body president at Iowa State-1970, my world was on fire with righteous indignation against a compulsory draft for an unjust War in Vietnam.  At times I actually thought that it would tear the country apart.

The first Earth Day strangely diverted my immediate attention, and the diversion would last a lifetime.  Brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and organized by Denis Hayes as a national Teach-In, Earth Da

 

y spawned immense bipartisan gatherings of 20 million people in the streets for one unifying goal – a healthy Planet Earth.  Earth Day ignited in me a realization that my chemical engineering education from ISU could morph into something green and more fascinating, that is, trying to understand water quality, biodiversity, and the biogeochemistry of Earth’s processes.  Discerning remedies for the massive disruptions that 7.7 billion people and an $80 trillion GWP can inflict on the earth has proven even more challenging.

This year we celebrate Earth Day with digital gatherings due to coronavirus.  It’s not the same, but perhaps the pandemic can teach us some valuable lessons.  Some people were slow to accept the dismal science of a spreading pandemic – they lacked trust in health professionals’ recommendations for social distancing, staying home, and closing businesses, sporting events, churches and social gatherings.  But the flattening curves of Wuhan, South Korea, Singapore, and even Italy, Spain, and New York bear testament to the wisdom of their call.

Our national plan for the pandemic Covid-19 was non-existent, like the Emperor’s new clothes, plain for all to see.  Pandemics are “global disease outbreaks” and they require national plans and concerted global action.  As recently as 2003-2004, WHO mitigated much more rapidly a similar virus, SARS, by careful messaging and international cooperation of 11 labs in 9 different countries.  U.S. and Chinese scientists together developed a vaccine within a year.  Far too little cooperation exists today, both at home and abroad.  Politics and hyper partisanship are disastrous in a time of global need.  We can do better.

Analogies between climate change and our pandemic response are obvious.  We have no national plan for either.  As a young egg-head professor at the University of Iowa, I published my first modeling paper on climate change and its consequences in 1994, many years after others had done so.  It projected (surprisingly accurately) the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today with business-as-usual.  That’s exactly what happened – business as usual.  If you had told me that the U.S. would still not have comprehensive climate change and energy legislation in 2020, I would have told you, “you’re crazy”.

But it’s in the history books.  We have failed to listen to the science and failed to reduce our gargantuan greenhouse gas emissions — the planet cannot take it anymore.  Now it really is a Climate Emergency.  What’s more, we are threatening to extinct 1 million species in the next generation as well – the Biodiversity Crisis.

Coronavirus humbles us all.  How can one not be moved by the sight of doctors, nurses, custodians, and admissions clerks risking their lives for the rest of us?  How can one not weep to see the miles of cars lined-up at food banks because families have nowhere else to turn?  Playing out in the richest country in the world gives great pause.

Yes, we need science-based decision making on coronavirus and on climate change, but we need compassion and understanding as well.  Noted columnist Sarah Van Gelder writes, “Changing hearts and opening minds begins when we listen”.  Imagine the world we want, where everyone is safe and healthy, where the air is clean and the water is pure. Then, let us celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that spontaneous, bipartisan, original Earth Day by speaking from the heart and listening to each other.

Jerry Schnoor is professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Research at the University of Iowa.

 

COVID-19 Contributes To Largest Reduction of CO2 Emissions Since World War II


Maxwell Bernstein | April 17, 2020

The economic effects of COVID-19 are contributing to the largest reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since the end of World War II according to Newsweek. This year would entail the first reduction of carbon dioxide emissions since the 1.4% drop after the 2008 financial crisis. 

The economic standstill of COVID-19 is predicted to decrease global carbon emissions by 5% in 2020 according to Utility Dive, a website that covers topics on trends in the utility industry. 

This decline is due to less transportation-use and less demand on the power sector from commercial businesses; the two major drivers of air pollution. Fewer people are traveling and working in order to maintain social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Compliance Reporting During COVID-19 Pandemic


(Image via Flickr)

Nicole Welle | April 16th, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an order on March 26 announcing the suspension of the enforcement of environmental compliance reporting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before this change, businesses were required to report and limit all air emissions and water discharges, meet requirement for hazardous waste management and maintain standards for safe drinking water. Businesses that failed to meet these EPA-issued standards could face fines.

The recent order states that factories, power plants, and other facilities are encouraged to keep records of any instances of non-compliance with EPA instituted regulations. However, they will not face any fines for violations as long as the EPA agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than intentional disregard for the law, is the cause.

In its order, the EPA did not designate an end date for the suspension or address the potential ramifications this decision could have for public health and safety. Allowing industry to police itself could cause air and water pollution to go unchecked and put the safety of drinking water at risk, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

Compromising access to clean water could make it more difficult for the U.S. healthcare system to provide the sanitary conditions necessary for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic according to the IEC. The Washington Post also reported that the wording of the EPA’s order is broad enough that companies could get away with practices that put public health at risk well into the future.