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After previous weeks of intense debate over one of the largest federal investments into the nation’s outdated public works system, the Senate voted 69 in favor with 30 opposed to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.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”


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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


Via Flickr

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. 

High Quality Waters At Risk From Proposed Manure Plan


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | March 2nd, 2021

A proposed plan for a manure application has come under scrutiny for the potential harm it could cause in some of Iowa’s high quality waters.

Supreme Beef, a cattle company in northeastern Iowa, has applied to spread cow manure in a 30 mile area around their operation near Monona IA.  Critics have warned that the plan may threaten water quality in the region, and pose a risk to the brown trout, a popular Iowa fishing attraction.  The plan proposed by Supreme Beef has been targeted for the likelihood for manure overapplication as well as a failure to include required conservation practices.

The area where manure would be spread is close to the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek, an area where brown trout reproduce, which presents a threat to water quality because of northeastern Iowa’s karst topography.  Karst topography is characterized by easy groundwater flow, which means that any manure seepage or contamination from the surface could easily influence the water quality of the region. Iowan’s in the area have needed to address similar issues previously, particularly for private well owners.

Currently the DNR is accepting written comments for the plan until March 8th before they will issue a decision for Supreme Beef’s manure application.

Chronic Exposure To Air Pollution Likely Increases Risk For Heart And Lung Disease


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | February 23rd, 2021

In a new study by the American Heart Association, chronic exposure to low levels of air pollution have been linked to increased numbers of patients admitted to hospitals for heart and respiratory illnesses.

Researchers looked at how long-term exposure to different air pollutants such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), tropospheric ozone, and nitrogen dioxide affected hospitalizations of Medicare patients across the country.  They found that low concentrations of all studied pollutants increased the risk for negative health outcomes, and was likely responsible for thousands of hospitalizations.  For example, for every additional microgram per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) of PM2.5 researchers found the rate of stroke patients increased by around 2,500 patients.

A key finding from the study was that negative health outcomes were observed even for pollution levels below U.S. standards.  Their finding suggests that current standards are not adequately protecting at risk populations like the elderly. Another important factor to consider, is that predominantly poor communities are exposed to elevated levels of pollutants at much greater rates than more affluent communities which creates a disparity in how air quality affects different populations. More than half of the U.S. population is known to be exposed to low levels of air pollution, which should be of immediate concern for policy makers and health care providers.  

Climate Driven Increase In Bat Species Richness Likely Connected To COVID-19


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | February 9th, 2021

In a new study, researchers have published a link between climate driven shifts in bat populations, and the emergence of COVID-19.

Researchers mapped the global range of bat populations, as well as changes in global vegetation within the past 100 years to determine how changes in global bat species richness were driven by climate change. There were many regions across the globe that experienced local increases in bat populations, such as parts of Brazil and eastern Africa, however a major hotspot was the Yunnan province in southern China.  Over the 100 year time span, around 40 bat species flocked to the province, which is a significant concern as it is known that the number of coronaviruses in a region is closely linked to local bat species richness.  Researchers point out that the Yunnan province is also the likely place of origin for both SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. 

Bats are studied because they are known to carry the largest amount of zoonotic diseases out of all mammals, and both the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks have been attributed to bat populations.  Zoonotic diseases are illnesses that are transferred to humans by animals when both populations begin to interact. As human’s develop and expand into animal habitats these interactions become more common, especially as climate change drives the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes.  In a separate study, it was shown that over 60% of emerging infectious diseases, like COVID-19, are linked to animal to human transmission.