Coffee grounds to carbon-neutral fuels


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Coffee by Rudolf Vlček
Kasey Dresser | November 10, 2017

In the U.S, 1.5 million tons of coffee grounds are wasted each year. Bio-Bean is a company founded in 2013 by Arthur Kay, a London based entrepreneur. His idea takes excess coffee grounds and turns it into clean fuel to power buildings, vehicles, appliances and more. Coffee grounds are not only carbon neutral but they burn hotter and slower than wood.

To begin the process, bags of coffee ground waste are gathered from businesses, transportation stations, factories, stores, etc. The bags are shredded and separated. Next they’re dried to extract the water and put under a high pressure system to create “Coffee Logs.” Right now, “Coffee logs” are the most popular for hearth fires and stove top cooking. The company already recycles thousands of tons of coffee grounds annually and plans to keep going. According to National Geographic research every ton of coffee grounds Bio-beans keeps out of landfills, saves 200 trees. Not only is this an effective environmental protection plan but it saves coffee shops and instant coffee factories a lot of money that would have gone to disposing of the excess waste.

Iowa DNR warns of health effects caused by fireworks


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Fireworks were legalized in Iowa for the first time since the 1930’s this year. (flickr/Jorgen Kesseler)
Jenna Ladd | June 30, 2017

A wide array of fireworks are now legal in Iowa, but officials warn that the festive explosives can have consequences for human health.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a statement this week encouraging people to sensitive to poor air quality to stay upwind and a safe distance away from firework smoke. Fireworks contain a fine black powder that allows for explosion and metals that provide their vibrant colors, both substances can get trapped near the ground, often accumulating to unhealthy levels.

A monitor in Davenport revealed unhealthy levels of fine particles in the air near Independence Day in 2008, prior to this year’s legalization of a much broader range of fireworks. The elderly, pregnant women, children and people with respiratory conditions like asthma are most likely to be affected. The statement recommended these populations stay indoors if they are unable to avoid areas with smoke accumulation and to contact their physicians if they experience any difficulty breathing.

Contaminants found in private wells pose health risks for Iowans


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Those interested in having their well tested for nitrates can do so for free by contacting their county health department. (co.hardin.ia.us)

Jake Slobe | January 16, 2017

This weeks’ On The Radio segment discusses nitrates in Iowa drinking wells and the negative effects they can have on human health.

Transcript: A 2016 special report found that water from many private wells in southwest Iowa contain high levels of contaminants that pose health risks for humans.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

IowaWatch, a nonpartisan, non-profit news organization, tested twenty-eight wells in southwest Iowa as a part of their special report titled, “Crisis In Our Wells.” Eleven of the wells, which were tested in May and June, contained nitrate levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s health standard limit of 10 milligrams per liter. Water from fifteen of the wells tested had unsafe amounts of bacteria, and a few wells contained trace amounts of arsenic and lead.

The report notes that high levels of nitrates in drinking water can increase residents’ risk for some types of cancer, diabetes, thyroid conditions and reproductive problems. Bacteria in drinking water, while not necessarily harmful on its own, can be a sign that the well is susceptible to outside contaminants such as agricultural runoff or septic system leaks.

About 288,000 Iowans rely on private wells for their drinking water. Those that are interested in having their well water tested can do so free-of-charge by contacting their county health department.

For more information about these findings and for a link to the complete IowaWatch special report, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

Experts urge Iowans to test for radon gas in homes


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Radon mitigation systems use a ventilation pipe and a fan to push radon gas from the basement of the home into the open air. (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
Jenna Ladd | December 29, 2016

As temperatures in Iowa plummet, residents are spending more time indoors, and some experts say there could be associated health risks.

Health officials and experts publicly encouraged Iowa residents to have their homes tested for radon this week. Anthony Salcedo, service manager at Thrasher Basement Systems in Omaha and Council Bluffs, said the odorless, colorless gas is found in many homes in the area.

Salcedo said, “We’re plagued with it, Iowa, Nebraska, we actually lead the country. It’s in about 70% of all homes.”

He noted that the presence of radon has nothing to do with the construction of the home. Salcedo explained,

“It’s not a foundation issue, it’s basically just what we’re building on. It could be a brand new home, it could be a 50-year-old home. We have a lot of clay soil and there’s no way to stop it on the front end. The soil breaks down, the uranium deposits, the radon gases will eventually make their way into your home and cause those health issues.”

Radon inhalation is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, it leads to 400 deaths from lung cancer in Iowa each year. Paul Niles, a certified physician’s assistant at Akron Mercy Medical Clinic, has set out to educate his patients about radon.

Niles said, “Most people confuse radon with carbon monoxide.”

At-home radon testing kits can be purchased for about ten dollars from most hardware stores. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the test reads above 2 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L), homeowners should consider having a radon mitigation system installed. Niles explained that the Akron Mercy Medical Clinic has had a mitigation system installed. A pipe along with a fan pushes radon gas from underground into the open air outdoors.

He said, “Every county has high levels of radon. While you’re outside in the environment, it doesn’t really cause any health problems, but it’s when you’re in confined spaces that it can really do damage to the lungs.”

Buchanan County ISU Extension and Outreach has partnered with Buchanan County Environmental Health to provide a free public radon workshop. Residents can attend the workshop to learn more about radon, how to test for it at home and what to do after the test results come in.

Free Public Radon Workshop
When: 
Tuesday, January 24th, 7-8:30 pm
Where: Quasqueton City Hall, 113 Water St N – Quasqueton

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All of Iowa falls into the EPA’s zone 1, meaning that Iowa homes are very likely to have high levels of radon contamination. (Iowa Air Coalition)

Iowa Environmental Council 2016 Annual Conference


Jenna Ladd | September 15, 2016

The Iowa Environmental Council will host its 2016 Annual Conference titled ECOnomics: Dollars, Sense & Sustainability next month in Ankeny. This year’s conference will focus on policies, programs, and practices that benefit the economy, communities and the environment.

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Keynote Speaker Jon D. Erikson

The keynote address, “We the Planet: Building an Ecological Economy in the Age of Humans,” will be given by Jon D. Erikson. Erikson is a Fellow of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and a Professor at the Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. The daylong event will also feature Speaker of Honor Rob Bilott. Bilott will discuss the regulatory, legal and scientific challenges of ‘unregulated’ drinking water contaminants during his address. The conference also features a panel of business owners that practice environmental stewardship.

ECOnomics: Dollars, Sense & Sustainability will take place at the DMACC Ankeny Campus on October 6th, 2016. The event has been approved for 3.25 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit, and discounted rates are available for students. For more details or to register, visit the event website.

Keynote speaker Jon D. Erikson offers a crash course in ecological economics during his work with the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics in 2011.

 

 

Natural Christmas trees could be a green alternative this holiday season


A family at a Christmas tree farm (Mass Office of Travel / Flickr)
A family at a local Christmas tree farm (Mass Office of Travel / Flickr)

With the holiday season in full swing, natural Christmas trees grown in Iowa may provide a greener way to deck the halls.

Each year, around 100 Iowa farmers grow various pines, spruces and firs for holiday decor on more than 1,500 acres of farmland, much of which is unsuitable for other crops. Unlike artificial Christmas trees made of plastic and synthetic materials, natural Christmas trees produce minimal waste, can be recycled as mulch, and absorb carbon dioxide while producing oxygen during their lifetime, usually 6 to 12 years before harvest. While artificial trees remain in landfills for centuries after use, natural Christmas trees can be reused as decoration or sunk into fishing ponds to make refuges for fish. They can also be used as sand and soil erosion barriers near river beds.

Iowa tree farmers saw a rebound in tree growth this year, after drought in 2012 killed off crops across the state. Growers must constantly monitor their trees for insects and leaning to ensure proper balance and form. Iowans harvest about 39,500 Christmas trees each year, mostly by selecting and cutting down the trees themselves at the farm. For a list of Christmas tree growers in your area, visit the Iowa Christmas Trees website. City utilities often provide information and services about tree pickup and recycling.

 

 

On the Radio: New energy efficiency standards for refrigerators


A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)
A woman grabs groceries from her refrigerator. (Illustration: Michelle Tribe / Creative Commons)
November 17, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at new standards for refrigerators which could reduce energy consumption by up to 25 percent. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: Refrigerator standards

New energy efficiency standards that went into place for refrigerators in September are expected to save customers on utility bills while also reducing their carbon footprint.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Department of Energy estimates that the standards will reduce refrigerator energy consumption by 20 to 25 percent. This is expected to save households up to 200 dollars on electricity bills annually. This is the first update to energy standards for refrigerators since 2001.

Long-term estimates from the Department of Energy show that over the next 30 years the new standards will reduce national energy consumption the equivalent of five percent of total energy used in the U.S. in a single year. It is also estimated to reduce carbon emissions by 344 million tons during the same period.

For more information about the new refrigerator standards and appliance rebates from Iowa utility companies, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-15/pdf/2011-22329.pdf
http://www.appliance-standards.org/blog/how-your-refrigerator-has-kept-its-cool-over-40-years-efficiency-improvements
http://thehill.com/regulation/217600-green-groups-cheer-new-refrigerator-standards
http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-your-homes-energy-use
http://www.midamericanenergy.com/ee/include/pdf/ia_res_reference_sheet.pdf
http://www.ilec.coop/aspx/Products.aspx?ProductID=83
http://www.easterniowa.com/energy-efficiency/rebates
https://www.blackhillsenergy.com/save-money-energy/rebate-information