On The Radio- 2,500 chemicals sites at risk for floods


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Sites at risk for high and moderate flooding 

Kasey Dresser | April 16, 2018

This weeks segment looks at chemical sites across the U.S. that are located in flood risk areas.

 

Transcript:

Twenty five hundred toxic chemical sites in the U.S. are located in areas with high risk for flooding. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Last year the Climate Science Special report predicted a higher flood risk going into 2018. The heightened risk is from heavy rainfall and rising sea levels that lead to coastal floods and potential hurricanes. As of now, fourteen hundred toxic chemical sites are at high risk and eleven hundred are at moderate risk of flooding. 

Last year, Hurricane Harvey released hazardous pollutants at more than 40 sites. In 2012 Tropical Storm Debby destroyed a chemical plant in White Springs, Florida that produced phosphates to be used in fertilizer. Flooding from the tropical storm overflowed the Suwanee River destroying the algae and duckweed growth and caused the oxygen levels in the lakes and rivers to plummet. Record-breaking rains in May of last year overflowed storage ponds of sodium hydroxide sending the contaminant into the Alabama River.

Currently federal law and most state governments do not require a flood risk plan for toxic chemical sites. More needs to be done to protect our waterways from natural disasters.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

“Frost-free” days increase, so does allergy season


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Climate Central’s graph illustrates how the number of frost-free days in Des Moines has increased over time. (Climate Central)
Jenna Ladd | April 11, 2018

Given that spring snow fell across Iowa this weekend, it may be hard to believe that the frost-free season across the U.S. is actually getting longer.

A recent report found that, on average, the last spring freeze is occurring earlier while the first fall freeze is happening later. Researchers define the frost-free season as the total number of days between the last day of 32 degree Fahrenheit or lower weather in the spring and the first day of 32 degree Fahrenheit weather in the fall.

The lengthening of this season means that pollen-producing plants have a longer growing period. One study in particular found that the growing season for ragweed, a common allergen in the U.S., lengthened by two to four weeks between 1995 and 2009. This data was collected from ten sites from the southern U.S. through Canada. Iowa has added nine days to the average length of its frost-free season from 1986-2015 when compared with the average from 1901-1960.

Not only are allergy-causing plants benefiting from longer growing seasons, but an uptick in atmospheric carbon dioxide also increases pollen counts. Last year was the worst allergy season in recent record and experts expect this year to be similar.

Dr. Joseph Shapiro, an allergist and immunologist from California told CBS news, “A recent study showed that pollen counts are likely to double by the year 2040, so in a little more than 20 years we’re going to see a significant increase [in seasonal allergies].”

Climate Central’s recent report provides an interactive graph that allows users to select a U.S. city and see how the frost-free season’s length there may have changed since 1970.

EPA cuts back fuel efficiency standards


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Despite claims from the EPA that sales of electric vehicles have gone down since 2013, research shows that sales of plug-in hybrid, battery electric and fuel-cell vehicles have increased since that year. (Roadside pictures/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | April 4, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that it is rolling back Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards.

The previously instated greenhouse gas emission standards required that passenger vehicles get 54 miles per gallon by 2025. Automobiles have surpassed energy plants and become the U.S.’s leading source of greenhouse gases.

The EPA’s announcement cited automobile industry arguments against the standards like significantly more expensive vehicles and driver safety. These claims were supported by industry-funded research. The EPA cited one study, for example, which estimated that the price of each vehicle would increase by $6,000 if the current regulations stayed in place. However, many other research groups found the study to be flawed and maintain that increased fuel efficiency standards will actually raise the cost of automobiles by about $2,000.

Dave Cooke, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote a blogpost in response. He said,

“Rather than pointing to the fact that these standards are cost-effective for consumers, that we have the technology to meet and exceed these standards by 2025, and that these standards have tremendous positive impacts on the economy, the ideologues currently at the EPA have decided to ignore this evidence and misconstrue how the standards work.”

According to its press announcement, the EPA has begun working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to lower corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). Scientists suggest that the slashed regulation would have been akin to closing down 140 coal plants for a year, offsetting 570 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Biodiversity declining worldwide


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The sun sets over one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, the Amazon Rainforest. (Anna & Michael/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | March 30, 2018

Biodiversity, or the overall variety of life forms on Earth, is decreasing substantially in every region of the world due to land use change and climate change.

A compilation of four new United Nations scientific studies, which were recently approved by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), details the loss. Over three years, researchers assessed biodiversity and ecosystem services in the Americas, Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Europe. They found that biodiversity and nature’s ability to provide for humans’ basic needs has declined in every region due to habitat loss overexploitation and unsustainable use of natural resources, pollution, increasing numbers of invasive species and climate change.

In the Americas, the studies found that species richness is about thirty percent less than it was when Europeans first arrived on the continent, and the rate of biodiversity loss in that region seems to be speeding up. They report that under “business as usual” circumstances, 40 percent of the region’s biodiversity will be lost by 2050. While land use and population growth plays a larger role in other regions of the world, climate change is the primary driver behind species loss in the Americas. Given that the natural world provides an estimated $24 trillion per year in ecosystem services to humans in the Americas alone, biodiversity loss is not a concern reserved only for environmentalists.

Protection of key biodiversity areas in the Americas increased by 17 percent between 1970 and 2010. However, the authors point out that these efforts fall short as less than 20 percent of crucial biodiversity areas in the Americas are currently protected.

Sir Robert Watson is the chair of IPBES, he said,

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people sound, to many people, academic and far removed from our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth – they are the bedrock of our food, clean water and energy. They are at the heart not only of our survival, but of our cultures, identities and enjoyment of life. The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk not only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead. Fortunately, the evidence also shows that we know how to protect and partially restore our vital natural assets.”

To read more about the types of biodiversity loss in other areas of the world, click here.

On The Radio- Eco-friendly sunscreen


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(aninini/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 26, 2018

This week’s segment looks at a new company working to create environmentally safe sunscreen. 

Transcript: 

An eco-friendly sunscreen is currently being developed in an attempt to help the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Sunscreen is an absolute must for defending against ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays. UV rays are very damaging to the skin and repeated sun exposure can contribute to a higher probability of getting skin cancer. But many sunscreens use oxybenzone and octinoxate (oc-tin-ox-ate), two chemicals that can accumulate in the ocean and are toxic to marine life.

As people swim and enjoy the ocean waves, the sunscreen on their bodies is slowly washed away into the ocean water. An estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen pollutes coral reef areas of the ocean every year.

Scientists at the University of Florida have recently discovered a more natural, less harmful key ingredient to sunscreen—shinorine (shin-oh-rine), a UV-absorbing amino acid. Shinorine is produced from algea. Extracting a usable amount takes a long time, as algae grows very slowly.

Researcher, Yousong Ding, discovered that he could increase the production of shinorine by genetically altering algae. He hopes that his findings will persuade cosmetic companies to integrate the natural material into eco-friendly sunscreens.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Carbon emissions on the rise after years of stagnation


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Carbon emissions increased in 2017 for the first time in years. (Sunny Vhaii/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 22, 2018

Global carbon emissions were higher than ever in 2017 according to Global Energy and CO2 Status Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris.

Carbon emissions reached a record 32.5 giggatons last year after remaining stable for the three previous years. This figure can be thought of as putting 170 million additional cars on the road. The spike in carbon emissions has been attributed to two factors. First, global energy demand increased by 2.1 percent last year. This is double the average 0.9 percent increase over the previous five years. About seventy percent of this demand was met by emission producing fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal. Second, energy efficiency improvements slowed down during 2017.

“The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient,” Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, said to Reuters. He continued, “For example, there has been a dramatic slowdown in the rate of improvement in global energy efficiency as policy makers have put less focus in this area.”

Scientists say the carbon emissions need to peak soon and then decrease dramatically by 2020 in order to meet the international climate goal of keep average global temperature rise lower than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Although carbon emissions increased most places, the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan all saw reductions in carbon emissions. Surprisingly, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 0.5 percent, more than any other country.

On The Radio- Phosphorus in fresh water


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Salanfe Lake Dam (Soma Biswas/flickr)

Kasey Dresser | March 12, 2018

This week’s segment looks at the high levels of phosphorus in the world’s fresh water.

 

Transcript:

The world’s freshwater is becoming overloaded with phosphorus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant life and is commonly found in agricultural fertilizers and sewage runoff. An excess of phosphorus in water, however, can create a process called eutrophication. This process depletes oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic life.

A recent study from Water Resources Research reported sewage and agricultural run off adding a little over one million tons of phosphorus to rivers and lakes each year. Agricultural fertilizer contributed to 38 percent of the contamination. Another large component is poorly treated sewage.

Despite international trends of increasing phosphorus levels, Iowa waterways have reported decreasing levels of phosphorus over the last few years.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.