Northeast Iowa streams, springs and wells test positive for disease-causing microbes


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E. coli bacteria, which was found in its pathogenic form in northeast Iowa waters (flickr).

Julia Poska| May 3, 2019

Luther College biologists have found disease-causing bacteria and parasites in Winneshiek County water, in some cases at disease-causing concentrations, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Over half of the 48 surface water samples Jodi Enos-Berlage and Eric Baack took at streams and springs tested positive for cryptosporidium, a parasitic protist that can cause digestive distress for weeks. Half of the 22 private wells tested showed cryptosporidium, too, but at significantly lower levels, the researchers said.

Twenty percent of the surface waters tested positive for the Shiga toxin, as well, which is produced by the pathogenic strain of E. coli. At some sites, the concentration of the toxin in just one cup of water would be high enough to cause fever and digestive distress if consumed.

The biologists also tested for indicators of human and animal feces, which could have carried those pathogens into the water via farm runoff or aging septic systems. Baack told IPR he was surprised to find low-level  fecal contamination widespread in surface waters.  The researchers found less fecal contamination in wells.

 

 

 

A different look at glyphosate


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Glyphosate, found in most weed-killers, is not cancer-causing, EPA finds | Photo by Dan Hamill on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | May 1st, 2019

UPDATE: We find it important to mention that though glyphosate has been found to not contribute to cancer by the EPA, some independent groups have their doubts about the safety of this chemical, and it’s true that we are not fully aware of what long-term exposure to glyphosate does. The article has been revised accordingly.

Cancer is scary, carcinogens scarier. The uncertainty behind many common carcinogens and chemicals–what leads to cancer after prolonged exposure and what doesn’t–is certainly stressful, which is why extensive studies into different suspected cancer-causing chemicals is essential.

Sometimes, before concrete evidence can be found, suspected carcinogens spark widespread panic. Glyphosate is one such suspected carcinogen. A common chemical found in RoundUp weedkiller, the ingredient has been linked to alleged negative health effects for years. Glyphosate works by blocking enzymes in certain plants, effectively regulating weeds that would otherwise leech crops of their nutrients.

Recently, Monsanto, the conglomerate that produces RoundUp, was hit with several lawsuits, including one from a customer who had used the weedkiller for decades–and claimed that his cancer diagnoses was a result of long-term exposure to the glyphosate in the product. The federal jury overseeing the case ruled in the man’s favor. Monsanto has, so far, appealed all of the lawsuit rulings.

Glyphosate touches more than just weeds in lawns–it’s the most-used herbicide in US agriculture. It also may not be as dangerous as we thought: studies from the US Environmental Protection Agency suggest that glysophate is not, in fact, a carcinogen. They say that there is not much evidence linking glyphosate exposure to the development of cancer cells, and the EU, following thousands of peer-review studies, has long sanctioned glyphosate herbicides as safe for general use.

Of course, glyphosate–and weedkiller in general–should not be ingested in any way, and basic caution is recommended when handling the product. While the risk of developing cancer from spraying away a cluster of dandelions from a front-porch garden may be slim to none, the health effects of larger, long-term glysophate exposure is still up for debate.

 

 

New report reveals prevalence of well contamination in Iowa


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Click here to explore new findings on well contamination from the Environmental Working Group and Iowa Environmental Council. 

Julia Poska| April 25, 2019

If you own a private well in Iowa, it’s likely contaminated with dangerous bacteria, nitrates or both, according to a new report from the Iowa Environmental Council and the Environmental Working Group.

“Wherever Iowans test for these contaminants, they have a pretty good chance of finding them,” the report’s primary author, economic analyst Anne Schechinger said in a press release.

The report was released yesterday as an interactive map, using dots in three colors to indicate the relative levels of contamination between counties based on state testing from 2002 to 2017. Because the EPA does not require testing for private wells, the vast majority of Iowa’s private wells are never tested. Only 55,000 of Iowa’s estimated 290,000 wells were tested during the study period.

Over 40 percent of those wells contained fecal coliform bacteria, considered unsafe in any amount. Twelve percent had nitrate levels above the EPA’s 10 parts per million safety standard. Twenty-two percent had nitrate levels above 5 ppm, which recent studies have linked to increased risk of numerous health problems, according to the report. The average nitrate level rose to 5.7 ppm over the years of study.

Over that entire period, eight counties tested fewer than 10 wells, meaning this report tells an incomplete story. Findings indicate that those counties, which appear the cleanest on the map, may actually be among the most at risk.  Only one-third of wells were tested more than once. Those that were tested repeatedly often showed continued contamination, indicating lack of action.

 

Floodwater and contamination


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Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com | The Mississippi is an especially large source of possible floodwater contamination

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 10th, 2019

Most floodwater is unsanitary at best and infested with dangerous bacteria at worst, experts find, and recent storms in Davenport have brought to light the issues with rising water levels and contamination.

River water is a typical site for sewage and stormwater runoff. It’s also a source of energy, transport, and water for commercial and residential use; the Mississippi alone provides drinking water for some 18 million people.

But flooding disrupts the water purification process and pushes much of the contaminated water out, especially when storm drains become compromised. Spring typically brings heavy rain and an increase in water levels, but concentrated snowfall and changing weather patterns have caused the Mississippi to spill over in several cities. In Davenport, citizens know not to wander in the water: floodwater around the Modern Woodman park baseball stadium tested positive for E. Coli.

Most bacteria found in floodwater causes gastrointestinal issues, and staying safe from these contaminants is one of the recommended ways to deal with flooding, according to OSHA. Infection and sickness are just some of the risks following any natural disaster that causes floods, and staying out of the water is the best way to stay safe.

On The Radio- BP Oil


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Photo taken on April 3rd 2013 in Mauritania near Tiguent Parc-National-Diawling (jbdodane/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| April 8, 2019

This weeks segment looks at BP’s place in the coming decades with rising demands for renewable energy.

Transcript:

BP Oil and Gas has made energy demand predictions about the future—but are they accurate?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP became known globally in a decidedly negative light.

Almost a decade later, and with settlement payments still being paid out, the energy company has thrown its weight behind renewable energy. BP outlines in its annual energy outlook that the planet could run on mostly renewable sources by 2040.

There is a small detail that some environmentalists find troubling, however; the BP report also lists an estimated rising global demand for energy well into the 2040s, while other scientific reports estimate that global demand will taper off and even out by the 2030s.

A rising global demand for energy is a given, as underdeveloped countries begin working on their infrastructure and making improvements for their citizens. But overestimating how much energy will be needed globally in the future could allow oil companies to continue selling more fossil fuels, even as renewable energy use grows.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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

On The Radio- Endangered Insects


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contrabandbayou/flickr

Kasey Dresser| April 1, 2019

This weeks segment is not an April fools joke; bugs could disappear within the next century.

Transcript:

At their current extinction rate, insects could completely disappear within a century. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Insects are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, reptiles, and birds. One in three species is endangered, and the world’s total mass of insects has been dropping 2.5 percent annually, according to a new scientific review. 

It’s well known that losing bees will reduce pollination for some of our favorite fruits and nuts, but devastated insect populations will leave other critters hungry as well. Insectivores and their predators will starve if insects disappear. 

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences analyzed 73 previous studies to assess the state of global insect populations and determine the cause of decline. 

They believe intensive agriculture is the main driver. Wildland is increasingly converted to farmland, and new pesticides like neonicotinoids seem to “sterilize” the soil, killing larvae before they can move to safety, one researcher told the Guardian News.

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

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

Iowa can count water contamination among flood damage


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Flooding in Red Oak Iowa March 14 (via Jo Naylor on flickr). 

Julia Poska| March 28, 2019

Last weekend, President Trump approved Iowa’s $1.6 billion disaster declaration, to help cover flood damage to homes, businesses, farms and levees. Not accounted for is the cost of degraded water, now an issue in Iowa and across the Midwest.

The Gazette reported Monday that eight manure lagoons had overflowed in western Iowa. State Department of Natural Resources officials told the paper that conditions in the east had neared similar levels.  Manure overflow can harm aquatic life and contaminate water for drinking and recreation.

Manure spread onto fields also enters waterways when those fields flood, when snow melts and when it rains. One Buena Vista county feedlot operator may face DNR enforcement after spreading manure during three rainy days in March, the Gazette reported.

Unless a special waiver is granted, farmers cannot legally apply manure on snow covered ground December 21 through March. Farmers are anxious to get manure out of storage, and weather permitting, will be able to apply in coming days.

Manure, pesticides sewage and fuel in flood water could contaminate the 1.1 million private wells in 300 flooded counties in 10 states, as approximated by the National Ground Water Association. The Des Moines Register shared Tuesday an Associated Press report on risk to well water in the rural Midwest.

The risk of water seeping into wells heightens when water sits stagnant for days or weeks, as it has done since the floods. Liesa Lehmann of the Wisconsin DNR, told the AP that well owners should assume their water is contaminated if flood water sits nearby. She said to look out for changes in color, smell or taste.

Once flooding recedes, Lehman said, owners should hire professionals to pump out, disinfect and re-test wells.