This week’s episode of EnvIowa features a discussion with CGRER co-director Dr. Jerry Schnoor. He is, among other things, a professor of civil and environmental engineering with a long career studying climate change, water quality and environmental toxicology. Listen to hear Schnoor discuss the urgency of climate change, his efforts to clean up chemical pollution using plants and why he wants our youth to get angry.
Today’s installment of the EnvIowa podcast features an interview recorded Feb. 7 with Dr. Andrew Forbes, an evolutionary ecologist at in University of Iowa biology department. Forbes chats about the ecological importance of parasitic insects and shares insights about other creepy crawlies like emerald ash borers and periodical cicadas.
Listen to learn more about his work on insect diversity and speciation.
A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years.
That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.
Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.
The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.
CGRER’s Co-director Jerry Schnoor sat down with Iowa Public Radio to discuss what life with climate action would like and how Iowans can adapt their own lives with impending climate changes. We have already seen severe flooding and intense preciptations, but what’s next? You can listen to learn more here.
The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research is excited to announce the revival and reimagination of our EnvIowa podcast. This weekly podcast will feature 10- to 20-minute interviews with Iowa environmental experts, mainly our own member scientists.
While these researchers are certainly well versed in the complicated jargon of their disciplines, our interviews aim to make their ideas accessible to a general audience. Questions focus not only on the research itself, but how the experts believe it can be applied to solve environmental challenges.
Today’s installment features an interview recorded January 28 with Dr. Silvia Secchi, an interdisciplinary economist and geographer at the University of Iowa. Listen to learn more about Dr. Secchi’s fascinating research on human/environmental interactions in the Mississippi River watershed and how agriculture in particular plays a role within the larger system.
New observational research has found that people with high exposure to common “pyrethroid” insencticides were 56% more likely to die during a study period than others. Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in the exposed.
CGRER member Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, is an author of the study, published Jan. 30 inJAMA Internal Medicine.
Pyrethroid insecticides are used in most household insecticides and some pet products and head-lice shampoos. The study followed a sample of 2,116 adults who took the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002, representative of the U.S. population as a whole. The researchers noted levels of pyrethroid-associated chemicals in their urine and found death records to determine how many had died by 2015, as well as their cause of death.
While those with higher pyrethroid exposure were more likely to die overall, the highly exposed were three times more likely to suffer cardiovascular deaths than others as well. Bao said in an Iowa Now feature that the study does not prove that the insecticides are the cause of death, only that death and exposure are correlated.
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.
As Thanksgiving is a holiday both reflectance AND eating a ton, Americans who are grateful for both the food on their plate and the planet that provided it might be interested in the BBC’s “Climate Change Food Calculator,” published in August.
The food calculator provides estimates of annual greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use for one person’s consumption different food items based on how frequently the user says they eat those foods. Results are based on global averages.
The food calculator does not have information on turkey specifically, but below are results for daily consumption of other foods often shared on Thanksgiving:
Potatoes: 16kg greenhouse gases
Wine: 114kg greenhouse gases, 5,026 liters of water
Bread: 21kg greenhouse gases, 8,995 liters of water
Chicken: 497kg greenhouse gases, 33,294 litres of water, 616m² land
Beans: 36kg greenhouse gases, 8,888 liters of water
Pork: 656kg greenhouse gases, 95,756 liters of water, 926m² land
So enjoy your feast tomorrow, if you are having one, but remember to thank the Earth for the resources it took to get your meal on your plate, too.
Though cover cropping has proven advantageous for soil and water conservation in Iowa, the practice’s benefits to atmospheric quality may be negligible, new research from Iowa State University found.
When farm fields are left bare during the winter and spring, wind and water transport soil and nutrients off the land and into streams and rivers, degrading both the field and water quality. Exposed soil typically releases carbon into the atmosphere at increased rates compared to planted areas, contributing significantly to climate change.
Cover cropping involves planting alternative crops like rye or clover to cover and nourish the land throughout the off-season. The conservation practice holds soil in place, pulls atmospheric carbon into plant material and adds carbon back into soil upon decomposition. Sequestering carbon in plants and soil is key to combatting climate change.
That carbon may not remain in the soil for long, however. The new study, published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy, found that the added soil carbon stimulates microbes in the soil that emit carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as they digest the organic matter.
The research — conducted by ISU assistant professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology Steven Hall and grad student Chenglong Ye — highlights the need for a variety of solutions for the planet’s numerous natural resource problems. While cover crops are a proven protectors against water pollution, we will need to implement other strategies to make farming carbon neutral, too.
The United States has officially notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
President Trump announced his intent to withdraw on the campaign trail and again in January 2017. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday that the administration had begun the formal, one-year withdrawal process that day. U.N. rules declared Nov. 4 the first day formal withdrawal was possible, according to the BBC.
If a new president is elected in 2020, he or she may choose to reenter the agreement, which intends to minimize global temperature increase by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in participation nations.
In the meantime, over 3,000 U.S. cities, counties, states, businesses, tribes and institutions have declared intent to cut emissions in line with the agreement via the “We Are Still In” declaration. In Iowa, 26 parties have signed on including…
The cities of Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque and Fairfield
Johnson and Linn Counties
Coe College, Grinnell College, Kirkwood Community College, Luther College, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa