E. Coli Founda t Terry Trueblood Lake in Iowa City


Photo taken by Josie Taylor on June 6, 2022

Josie Taylor | June 29, 2022

High levels of bacteria were found in the water at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The City of Iowa City has warned against swimming in the lake because of this. 

The city has done regular water tests at the lake, called Sand Lake, in previous summers, but this is the first time there has been a no-swim advisory due to high levels of E. coli bacteria. E. coli can carry parasites or other pathogens that sicken swimmers. It can come from geese, humans or agricultural runoff. 

Paddle boarding and other activities that do not require going in the water will still be allowed at the lake. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does weekly water tests at 39 state park beaches between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. The agency reported 106 swim advisories for E. coli or microcystins last summer.Iowa City has posted signs at Sand Lake advising against swimming. The advisory will be in effect until water quality improves, the city said. Updates will be posted on the city’s Parks & Recreation website.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

Reducing Emissions from Fossil Fuels has Clear Health Benefits


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | November 18, 2021

New research from NASA, Duke University and Columbia University shows that improving air quality by reducing the burning of fossil fuels could also improve human health and prevent economic losses.

When burned, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is one of the leading causes of climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that heat exposure caused by increased temperatures will be the largest health impact of climate change. Burning fossil fuels also emits air pollutants, such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides. This is linked to premature death and respiratory illnesses, including asthma. 

“Emission reductions help us in the long term to avoid disastrous climate change,” said Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell. He says those disasters can affect health, agriculture, overall wellbeing, the economy and more. 

The research shows clear benefits of reducing fossil fuel emissions. Globally, reducing emissions over the next 50 years could prevent about 4.5 million premature deaths, 1.4 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, 300 million lost workdays, 1.7 million incidences of dementia, and 440 million tons of crop losses nationwide. Roughly two-thirds of those benefits would still be realized if only the United States reduced emissions.

The Senate passes a major infrastructure bill, turning focus to anti-poverty and climate plans


Elizabeth Miglin | August 11, 2021

The U.S. Senate, on Tuesday, passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill which would provide funding for climate related infrastructure resiliency if passed by the House.  

After previous weeks of intense debate over one of the largest federal investments into the nation’s outdated public works system, the Senate voted 69 in favor with 30 opposed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation has the possibility of impacting nearly every aspect of the American economy with projects ensuring rural access to broadband and clean drinking water, modernizing roadways and environmental sustainability projects, according to the New York Times. Regarding the climate, the bill focuses on investmenting in clean energy, environmental clean-up projects and making infrastructure more resilient, according to The White House

Alongside the infrastructure bill, Senate Democrats agreed to an outline of an $3.5 trillion antipoverty and climate plan, on Monday. The climate legislation aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fund research focused on climate change’s effect on agriculture, create a Civilian Climate Corps to enact climate-based public works projects and improve the durability of coastlines. Funding for both the antipoverty and the climate plan are expected to come from tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is expected to be debate by the House at the end of August, with the antipoverty and climate plan expected to be passed by the Senate by the end of this week.

UN climate change report is “code red for humanity”


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 10, 2021

A top United Nations panel on climate change warns the key 1.5C temperature limit will be surpassed in a decade if a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) is not sustained, according to a new report released on Monday. 

In the newest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s governments are blasted as having been too slow to cut emissions. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now the highest they have been in at least 2 million years, with the past decade being the hottest in 125,000 years. The assessment bluntly notes the burning of oil, gas and coal; deforestation; and industrial agriculture practices are the main contributors to climate change. Many of climate changes’ already visible impacts, such as the rising sea levels and global surface temperature, are irreversible for centuries. 

Since 1988, the IPCC has released six reports assessing contemporary scientific findings related to climate change. Made up of internationally recognized scientists, the panel’s findings often shape future UN climate related resolutions and aid international legal efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. 

The report comes less than three months prior to “COP26,” a major climate summit held in Glasgow. Most members of the Paris Agreement will be at the summit and are expected to submit updated pledges as well as to set tougher targets for emission reductions by 2030. 

Iowa farmer leads class-action lawsuit against herbicide manufacturers


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Elizabeth Miglin | May 18, 2021

An Iowa farmer is leading a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the creators of a commonly used herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease. 

The Iowa case was filed May 3rd in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on behalf of Doug Holliday, a farmer who works near Greenfield in Adair County. Holliday has been using Paraquat on his crops since the 1990s and alleges the manufacturers of Paraquat have failed to adequately warn users that exposure increases their risk of developing Parkinson’s. This is one of many class-action claims filed against the manufacturers of Paraquat during the past two weeks. 

This herbicide has been sold under the name Gramoxone since 1962; Paraquat which is owned by the US-based Chevron and Switzerland-based Syngenta has been sold in the US since 1964. The weed killer is banned by countries around the world, including the European Union nations and China for its connections to Parkinson’s disease and its highly poisonous nature. Both Chevron and Syngenta have defended Paraquat and have questioned the studies connecting it to Parkinson’s disease.

The federal government estimates in 2017 alone, over 15 million pounds of Paraquat was applied to American croplands according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. This estimate is expected to increase as Paraquat is increasingly used as an alternative herbicide to Roundup, a herbicide under increased scrutiny as a possible carcinogen. 

Small Increases in Ambient Carbon Monoxide Levels Result in Daily Mortality Increases


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Thomas Robinson | April 13th, 2021

In a recent study, researchers demonstrated that small increases in carbon monoxide can increase number of mortalities the next day.

Scientists have observed a positive connection between daily mortality and ambient carbon monoxide (CO) exposure from 337 cities in 18 countries.  The level of exposure they measured was of a low concentration below current air quality regulations which suggests that current measures may not go far enough in preventing negative public health outcomes from ambient CO.  A major finding in the study was that there seems to be no threshold between CO exposure and mortality, which suggests there is no safe level of exposure to ambient CO.

Carbon monoxide is released into the air from the incomplete combustion of carbon based fuel sources used to run cars or generators for example.  The air pollutant takes the place of oxygen molecules which prevents essential organs from receiving the amount of oxygen they need to function.  At high concentrations carbon monoxide can be fatal, but at lower concentrations it can cause fatigue and chest pains in those with heart problems.

These findings suggest that the global community should revisit current air quality regulations with a focus for how low level exposure to ambient pollutants influences public health.

Warmer Winters Likely To Expand Range For Tropical Species


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Thomas Robinson | March 30th, 2021

A recent review has highlighted that warming winters are likely to result in an expanded range for some tropical plants and animals across the United States.

Scientists have found that multiple tropical plant and animal species, such as mangrove trees and manatees, are already expanding northward resulting in what is called tropicalization.  The largest factor for northward expansion of tropical species is whether they will suffer from freezing conditions or not, and as winter’s have warmed the line where those conditions occur has moved northward.  Extreme cold events, like what happened recently in Texas, function to push back the advancement of tropical species, but these events are happening even less often than they already do which allows species that have expanded northward to become more tolerant of the cold.

Unfortunately, warmer conditions are also expected to allow invasive species such as certain tree beetles to move further north, as well as a few mosquito species.  The mosquitoes pose a threat to public health because they are known to carry diseases such as Zika and yellow fever.  Additionally, researchers are concerned about how the expansion of new species into northern habitats threatens the biodiversity of the invaded ecosystems. Insect populations have been declining across the globe, particularly in the U.S. Midwest, and it is likely that the addition of new and adaptable species will compromise existing insect populations.

Des Moines Water Works Detects Toxic PFAS in Drinking Water


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Nicole Welle | March 29, 2021

Des Moines Water Works recently detected low levels of PFOS, a toxic chemical found in multiple human-made products, in finished drinking water in Des Moines.

PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) is part of a large list of compounds called PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances), which are commonly found in products like popcorn bags, pizza boxes and clothing. These chemicals repel water and oil, and they are commonly called “forever chemicals” since they do not break down and stay in the environment for a long time. PFAS levels detected in Des Moines drinking water were at 6.5 parts per trillion, which is well below the EPA’s health advisory level of 70 ppt. However, even low levels are a concern and have triggered further investigation, according to a Des Moines Water Works announcement.

PFAS chemicals are known to pose threats to human health and the environment. The EPA has connected them to cancer, low birth weight, immune system problems and thyroid issues. While the levels detected in Des Moines’ drinking water are low, a lot more testing is required before specialists can fully understand how PFAS are affecting Iowa’s water supply.

Des Moines Water Works has reached out to the Iowa DNR, the Iowa Attorney General and Iowa’s Congressional delegation to ask for help in resolving the issue. The Iowa DNR plans to test 50 locations they consider highly vulnerable to pollution for PFAS contamination. The federal Department of Defense is also conducting tests to follow up on high PFAS contamination previously detected in groundwater near the Des Moines and Sioux City airports.

Microplastics And Biofilms Can Promote The Antibiotic Resistance Of Pathogens


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A recent study conducted at the New Jersey Institute of Technology demonstrated that biofilms formed on microplastic surfaces can serve as reservoirs for pathogens and promote antibiotic resistance.

Researchers found microplastic particles in wastewater treatment facilities boosted the antibiotic resistance of measured pathogens by around 30 times. Plastic surfaces are relatively hydrophobic which can result in the formation of biofilms that allow pathogens to interact with antibiotics in the wastewater.  When pathogens in the biofilms are able develop antibiotic resistance they can create a new challenge by sharing their resistance with other pathogens using antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs).  Increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics has been labeled a significant global threat which is now likely to be influenced by the prevalence of microplastics our wastewater. 

Microplastics are either manufactured for products like toothpaste or handsoaps, and can also be found as debris from other plastic products.  These plastic pollutants have been detected across the globe in many different environments and they present a unique public health challenge.  Additionally, toxic chemicals are known to be attracted to plastic debris in the oceans which can then be released into organisms when they ingest plastics. 

We currently don’t fully understand how low level chronic exposure to microplastics and the contaminants they may release has on the human body, but there is evidence that these particles can act as endocrine disruptors and cause significant harm.