It’s ‘Radon Action Month’ in Iowa (for very good reason)


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The entire state of Iowa is at risk for high levels of radon (Wikimedia Commons).

Julia Poska | January 17, 2019

This week, Gov. Kim Reynolds designated January as “Radon Action Month” for the state of Iowa. Various areas across the country share that designation. Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health encourage people to test their homes for radon and take steps towards resolving the issue if a problem is discovered.

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that forms when naturally occurring uranium in soil and rocks decays. It often leaks from soil into homes via water, cracks in foundations and walls, or poorly sealed windows. Long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers in the U.S.

Iowa has high levels of radon across the board. Every county is listed as EPA Radon Zone 1, meaning over 50 percent of tested households had radon levels above the EPA’s 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) threshold for recommended testing. In 2014, testing in some Iowa counties indicated average levels above 10 ppi. The U.S. average is 1.3 pC/I, according to the Iowa Radon Homebuyers and Sellers Fact Sheet.

If a homeowner determines that radon in their home is above 4 pCi/L, public health agencies recommend mitigating the issue. First, call Iowa’s Radon Hotline (1-800-383-5992) for information and guidance. Then contact a registered radon mitigation contractor to determine how to best solve the issue in your home and implement strategies like suction, sealants and pressurization.  According to the Kansas State University National Radon Program Services, such a system typically costs about $800 to $1500 dollars.

RESOURCES

Testing kits can be purchased cheaply your local county health department, at the Iowa Radon Hotline (1-800-383-5992), or online (ratings here).

Information about mitigating a radon issue can be found here.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s official list of registered radon mitigation specialists can be found here.

Learn about radon data for your locality here.
*** Keep in mind that these data are based on averages from a small sample of homes    in the area, and may not be a useful indicator for radon exposure risk in your home.

More information on radon

Report details health effects of exposure to common road material slag


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Slag is used to cheaply supplement gravel on roads like this one (flickr). 

Julia Poska | January 11, 2019

A report from the Iowa Department of Public Health has stirred up concern in Muscatine County and around the state this week over the health effects of steel slag, a cheap waste product from steel manufacturing that’s used to supplement gravel on rural roads.

Muscatine County has used slag in county roads for over 5 years, and many private homes and businesses use the material as well. Residents have complained to the county about bits of metal in the roads and health concerns about slag dust for years, but this report was the first official indication of risk. It found that children up to 18 years old are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of metals like manganese when playing near slag-supplemented roads.

The Muscatine County Board of Supervisors will vote Monday on whether to stop using slag in county roads, and will likely formulate a plan to remove existing slag. A local slag opposition group will collect samples from households before then to determine current levels of dangerous metals.

Many people are upset that the state and county allowed slag to be used in roads to begin with, and are unhappy with Muscatine County’s initial response to the report.

“I suppose that all county boards and city councils have problems, but our county leaders just seem to care about making themselves look good and it makes all the people who they represent look like idiots,” one Muscatine woman write in a letter to the Des Moines Register, who wrote about the issue in depth earlier this week.

The news has alarmed people in other Iowa counties as well. Engineers in Marion, Warren, Winnebago and other counties have since conducted tests for dangerous slag on their own roads.

 

On The Radio- Ecosystem services


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Flickr/ckocur

Kasey Dresser| December 24, 2018

This weeks segment looks at how the relationship between humans and ecosystems will change with the affects of climate change.

Transcript:

Climate change will alter the relationship between humans and ecosystems. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Ecosystem services are benefits that humans gain from nature. Some of these benefits will diminish in coming years, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment released in November. 

Some ecosystem services provide resources like food, water and fuel. Iowa’s economy depends heavily on one such service—agriculture. The growing season is starting earlier and becoming wetter, which will impact crop yields.

Other services protect humans from natural dangers such as disease-carrying insects, like mosquitoes and ticks. As northern climates get warmer the ranges of such pests and the diseases they carry are expanding. 

Cultural services include natural provisions for recreation, tourism, aesthetics and spirituality. Climate change will impact sporting seasons and threaten cherished landscapes. 

Changes will vary among regions and ecosystems, making the future hard to predict. Some losses are inevitable, though, and may compromise human industry, livelihood and sustenance. 

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

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

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018


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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor answer questions about the Iowa Climate Statement.

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu and Kasey Dresser | October 11, 2018

The Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate was released earlier today at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. The statement was announced by Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and Ulrike Passe, Associate Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University.

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Ulrike Passe (left) and Jerry Schnoor read the climate statement and answered questions

The eighth annual statement, “Iowa Climate Statement 2018: Designing Buildings and Communities for Iowa’s Future Climate,” released Thursday, October 11 was signed by a record 201 science faculty and researchers from 37 Iowa colleges and universities. The statement describes the urgent need to fortify our building and public infrastructure from heat and precipitation and looks to the future weather of Iowa, suggesting ways to improve Iowa’s buildings to suit those changing weather patterns.

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The climate statement holds a record number of signers
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Extreme precipitation is just one factor influencing this year’s climate statement topic

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Watch the press conference on our Facebook page

Read the climate statement

Clive, IA: $1.25 million buyout for flooding protection


Kasey Dresser | October 1, 2018

City officials of Clive, IA have approved a buyout for home and business owners affected by the June floods. The buyout will focus on properties affected in Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek.

“We have dangerous flash floods on Walnut Creek and North Walnut Creek, and the frequency and intensity of that flooding is increasing,” said Clive City Manager Matt McQuillen.  “The properties we’re targeting have been flooded multiple times in the past decade.  In this case, the most effective way to protect lives and property from future loss is to remove the buildings and improve the natural floodplain function.”

City taxes will not be increased to purchase the properties. City council members will continue to discuss flood mitigation and preparedness strategies for the future.

Applications from property owners in the acquisition area must be submitted by November 5, 2018. Additional information about property criteria can be found here or at the City of Clive website.

Marshalltown, IA continues to struggle after tornado in July


 

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Debris still in the streets

Kasey Dresser | September 12, 2018

On July 19th of this year, Marshalltown, IA was hit with a devastating tornado. 89 homes were destroyed and 525 sustained major damage. The  tornado struck a low income part of town making it very difficult for the small town to bounce back. Many people in the area had little to no insurance.

Lennox and JBS Swift & Co., the two largest employers have made sizable donations to help rebuild property. With disaster relief help, several employers have been able to continue to provide health insurance to their employees despite no longer having jobs for them. However, the process is slow and there are many people in the town still living in destroyed homes despite the tornado occurring months ago. Marshall County Family Long Term Recovery Committee is currently going door to door to evaluate which homes can still be lived in long term. Greg Smith, chairman of the Iowa Disaster Human Resource Council, stated, “It is not unusual for the poorest of the community to become poorer after a disaster.”

There is also large concern from business owners they may not have the insurance money to rebuild their company. It is a city requirement to use the original materials instead of replacing it with something cheaper, like wood. The collapse of these business will leave many people unemployed.

Even after the physical damage is cleared away Marshalltown will likely face a difficult couple years. Jim Zaleski, the city’s economic development director and tourism marketer, has helped with tornado relief in other towns. He believes,” the tornado was a catalyst, ” and will “force the community to take some hard looks at what was going to happen over the next decade.”

Heavy flooding expected in Cedar Rapids


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Picture taken at Tuesday, September 4th 12:11pm

Kasey Dresser | September 5, 2018

The Cedar Rapids area is currently under river flood warning. The Cedar Rapids River is expecting to crest at 16.5 feet midday Thursday. The crest is the highest point of a flood wave. For reference, Cedar Rapids’ last flood was in 2016 and crested at 22 feet. The devastating 2008 flood crested at 31 feet.

Mayor Brad Hart held a press conference yesterday stating that preparations were in place. City workers are preparing for 18 feet to be safe. Hart stated, “I’m confident that no matter how high the river gets this week, that we’ll rise above it and protect the community as best we possibly can.”

Right now there is expected to be no damage. City Public Works Director Jen Winter’s biggest concern is “water coming back into our storm sewer system and backing up.” “Unless something fails, we anticipate that no, that there would not be damage,” she said. “In some cases, depending on the age of a building, some people do get water in their basements despite the fact that we have kind of plugged off the river from backing up.”

You can access updates on the City of Cedar Rapids website.