New UI research could help fight pollution with microorganisms


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Concrete and other surfaces are often covered in a thin film of pollution and pollution fighting bacteria and fungi (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 20, 2019

As pollutants like particulates, PCB and pesticides filter out of the air, they often accumulate on surfaces like asphalt or building exteriors. When it rains, the pollutants can run off into water sources.

University of Iowa researchers recently published findings in Earth and Space Chemistry, revealing that a variety of bacteria and fungi live within the film of pollution on such surfaces. Some of those microorganisms are able to digest and break down the pollutants.

Researchers Scott Shaw (chemistry) and Timothy Mattes (civil and environmental engineering) intend to sequence the DNA of these organisms in the future. They will then be able to determine which could potentially be cultivated for fighting pollution in other areas, according to Iowa Now.

CGRER, the UI Center of Health Effects of Environmental Contamination,  the U.S. Department of Defense Army Research Office and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission funded this research.

New report highlights vulnerability of Iowa’s impoverished to flood impacts


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Cedar Rapids flooding (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | December 18, 2019

A new report from the Iowa Policy Project considers the roles equity should play when crafting policy for disaster response and mitigation.

“Frontline communities”–which feel the “first and often hardest” direct impact from a disaster like a flood or earthquake–have lower capacity to recover or mitigate, according to the report. This is in part because properties in these high-risk communities are cheaper, so residents are more likely to live below the poverty-line and belong to other disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.

“These communities are themselves set up for a disaster down the road and continuing downward spiral and being trapped where they are until the community can’t take it anymore and has scattered, or they’re just continually suffering over and over as these disasters strike,” the report’s author Joseph Wilensky told Iowa Public Radio.

Wilensky, a graduate student in the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning, reported that these “frontline” communities are less likely to receive full compensation for damages in as timely a manner as wealthier communities. He pointed to several examples from Iowa’s 2008 flood.

He also reported that allocation of Iowa’s watershed mitigation funds (both past and proposed projects) disproportionately benefits wealthier populations, as the cost-benefit method used favors protecting more expensive property, reducing economic damage.

Wilensky made several policy recommendations in the report as well. These include “rebalancing” the cost-benefit method to consider larger impact, considering whether mitigation efforts located outside of the frontline communities–which may qualify for less federal funding–could be helpful and hiring a state watershed coordinator to guide mitigation project applications.

Rising flood risk in Iowa and the Midwest due to climate change makes this report and its considerations especially pertinent.

 

U.N. report illuminates global ’emissions gap’


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Top greenhouse gas emitters, excluding land-use change emissions due to lack of reliable country-level data, Figure 2.3 a+b — The top emitters of greenhouse gases, excluding land-use change emissions due to lack of reliable on an absolute basis (left) and per capita basis (right) [via executive summary]. 
Julia Poska | November 29, 2019

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its 10th Emissions Gap Report Tuesday. Though more countries pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions every year, the report revealed that collectively, the “gap” between where emissions are and where they should be to minimize atmospheric warming is huge.

Some  findings from the report include:

  1. Global GHG emissions have risen about 1.5% annually in the last 10 years. The U.S. leads in per capita emissions, while China’s overall emissions are nearly double those of the U.S., the second highest emitter. Trends do not indicate a “peak” in global emissions occurring anytime soon.
  2. G20 Summit members account for 78% of global emissions, and while as a whole the group of 20 countries and the E.U. is on track to exceed its 2020 emission reduction goals, several countries (including the U.S.) are actually behind on their goals.
  3. If projections hold true, global emissions in 2030 will be 60 GtCO2e. To meet a 2 degree warming goal, emissions would need to be 41 GtCO2e. For a 1.5 degree goal, 25 GtCO2e.
  4. We must triple or even quintuple reduction cuts to meet goals. The executive summary  reads, “Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required per year to meet the projected emissions levels for 2°C and 1.5°C would only have been 0.7 per cent and 3.3 per cent per year on average. However, since this did not happen, the required cuts in emissions are now 2.7 per cent per year from 2020 for the 2°C goal and 7.6 per cent per year on average for the 1.5°C goal. “

The report suggests a number of potential “entry points” for transformational change required to implement solutions, as well as a discussion about the “potential for energy transition” and energy efficiency. Read more here.

 

Iowa Energy Districts bring local leadership to renewables


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Energy Districts encourage home solar projects like this one (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska| November 22, 2019

Though the state of Iowa as a whole has focused on shifting to renewable forms of energy–wind in particular–for years, some localities feel the transition has not been speedy enough. A handful of “Energy Districts” have formed in recent years with intent to push their communities forward in the renewable energy adoption.

These districts are independent and non-partisan entities led by a small staff and a local board of directors, according to the Winneshiek Energy District website. Winneshiek’s was the first such district to form (in 2010) and has since has encouraged and aided others. A recent Energy News Network article said Iowa now has eight districts active or in planning, including two in Iowa City and Des Moines.

The Energy Districts are modeled after Soil and Water Conservation Districts, local authorities formed after the 1930s Dust Bowl to encourage local solutions to resource conservation. With the goal of empowering locals to transition to renewables on their own terms, Energy Districts provide services such as:

  • Energy auditing and planning assistance to homes, farms, businesses and institutions (often in partnership with Green Iowa AmeriCorps).
  • Educational opportunities
  • Advocacy for improved renewable energy policy
  • Guidance to other localities hoping to establish Energy Districts

A fact sheet provided by the Winneshiek County Energy District says the entity has helped create a $14 million investment in renewable energy, over 100 energy jobs and a 100,000 ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Winneshiek County alone.

UI offers free lead testing kits to state residents


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Faucet from Creative Commons. 

Julia Poska | October 16, 2019

Iowa residents can improve their drinking water and support environmental research by participating in the University of Iowa’s “Get the Lead Out” initiative through Oct. 26.

The program offers free lead testing kits to Iowa residents outside of Johnson County. The UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering; and Center for Health Effects and Environmental Contamination are leading the initiative to collect information for a new database of lead levels in drinking water across Iowa.

Because lead, especially toxic to children, was once used commonly in household products, it may still be present in aging household plumbing across the state.

Interested households can email get-the-lead-out@uiowa.edu  to request and receive three bottles (and instructions) for collecting tap water samples.  After sending samples back to the university for testing, they will receive their results, an explanation and suggestions for improvement (such as adding a filter to the faucet).

Johnson County residents can contact any DNR-certified testing lab, such as the State Hygienic Laboratory, to acquire testing kits.

 

 

Why is action on climate change more important than ever before?


Kasey Dresser| September 19, 2019

The Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe was released yesterday at press conferences in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Yesterday, at the Cedar Rapids Press Conference, Dr. Jerry Schnoor was asked what he would say to individuals that do not currently see climate change as a major issue. 

This year’s statement warns Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region. Based on the most up-to-date scientific sources, the statement makes clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in coming decades.  The statement describes some of the sobering impacts of hotter heat waves and more hot days. The 9th annual Iowa Climate Statement was endorsed by a record 216 science faculty, researchers and educators from 38 Iowa colleges and universities.

Check out the full Cedar Rapids Press Conference on our Facebook Page.

On The Radio- Microplastics are everywhere


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(flickr/ Slyde Handboards)

Kasey Dresser| July 29, 2019

This weeks segment looks at increasing microplastic pollution worldwide. 

Transcript: 

Plastic is in the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the water we drink. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus 

Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem that is exponentially increasing due to consumerism and an increase in the amount of plastic used daily. 

Most of our plastic will likely end up in the ocean, where when exposed to light will break down into microscopic particles called “microplastics.” These very small plastic bits can be harmful to our environment and health.

A new study by the University of Newcastle in Australia, discovered that an average person could be ingesting approximately 5 grams or about a credit cards worth of plastic every week. Everyday food and beverage consumption could add up to 52,000 microplastics pieces each year. 

The study also suggests that an average person could consume an approximate 1,769 particles of microplastics a week, just from tap or bottled water—which makes drinking water the largest source of human plastic intake.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. 

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.