Blue-green algae toxins harm children and pets


Lakeside Park Boat Launch
Photo from Winnebago Waterways, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | August 28, 2019

A child was poisoned earlier this summer in southern Iowa by a blue-green algae toxin that has been blamed for the deaths of six dogs across the country this summer. The algae, also called cyanobacteria, can cause rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases liver failure. It is especially dangerous for children and pets.

Overgrowth of this algae occurs in waters that are rich in nutrients. In Iowa, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in water primarily comes from fertilizer runoff. Besides the harmful effects of their toxins, overgrowth of these algae can also impact other forms of life beneath the water’s surface by blocking sunlight and stealing oxygen and nutrients from other organisms. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tests state park beaches for microcystins, the toxic byproduct of blue-green algae, and issues swimming advisories if the water contains more than 20 micrograms per liter. However, this is less restrictive than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended standards of 8 micrograms per liter. 

Cyanobacteria blooms often look like foam or floating paint near the water’s surface, though they can also hide beneath the water’s surface and may not be visible. When cyanobacteria die, they produce a bad smell, similar to rotting plants. The Center for Disease Control recommends that people avoid swimming and boating in water where algae appears or where water is discolored, and to rinse off as soon as possible if you are exposed to water that may contain cyanobacteria.

Air pollution may impact mental health, study says


Photo by AJ Nakasone on Pexels.com

Tyler Chalfant | August 27th, 2019

Air pollution may be linked to bipolar disorder and depression, according to a study recently published in PLOS Biology Journal. Researchers examined the health data of millions of patients in the United States and Denmark and found that patients exposed to poor quality air were more likely to be diagnosed with each of these conditions. 

Research conducted on dogs and rats had previously shown that air pollution can cause brain inflammation and symptoms resembling depression, and scientists say it is likely that human brains can be exposed to pollution in similar ways. 

Some critics claim that this study raises an “intriguing possibility” in linking air pollution to psychiatric disorders but fails to make a clear case. Besides bipolar disorder and depression, the study also tested for links between pollution and schizophrenia, personality disorder, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease, and failed to find a significant correlation. 

While potential links between pollution and mental health remain largely unexplored, the negative effects of air pollution on physical health have long been known. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution causes about 3.8 million premature deaths annually through heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, and cancers. 

Air pollution has grown worse in most low and middle-income cities over the past several years as demand for power and the use of private motor vehicles have increased, putting many people at risk of long-term health problems.

On The Radio- Ohio’s bug invasion


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Mayfly (Paul/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| August 26, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the dramatic increase in summer mayflies in Ohio. 

Transcript: 

Part of northeastern Ohio went through a mayfly invasion this summer like never before. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus 

The Mayfly swarm was so dense that weather radars picked up the swarm of mayflies as they moved out of Lake Erie into the nearby cities. 

Mayflies covered cars, buildings, and storefronts. Mayflies are not uncommon for Ohio residents; however, the high volume of mayflies that have descended on some areas is undoubtedly out of the ordinary. 

Mayflies like clean water and they love to hatch their eggs in Lake Erie.  They lay their eggs on top of the water surface and they sink into the lake sediment. In about a one to three years, they ascend to the surface, emerging fully winged and ready to take flight. 

Mayflies do not have a long-life cycle. Individual mayflies live up to two days after they emerge. A swarm of mayflies typically lasts about a month. 

According to The Ohio State University, Sea Grant College Program this is a good thing because a swarm is a sign of healthy water in the Great Lakes. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency uses insect population data to determine how clean the water is in the Great Lakes.

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

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Iowa representatives criticize EPA’s biofuel waivers


Tyler Chalfant | August 21st, 2019

On Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted waivers from federal biofuel law to 31 small oil refineries. Members of Congress from Iowa on both sides of the aisle have criticized this move for hurting the state’s renewable fuel industry. 

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries are normally required to blend biofuels like ethanol into their gasoline, or to purchase credits from those that do so. However, exemptions are available for small refineries that can prove that compliance with the rule would cause significant financial strife.

From 2013 to 2015, the EPA granted no more than eight waivers per year, but since Trump took office, the number of waivers has quadrupled. This latest round brings the total to 85 since 2016, and includes refineries owned by ExxonMobil and Chevron.

13 ethanol plants have recently shut down, three of them permanently, in part due to the loss in demand caused by these waivers. The country’s largest ethanol producer POET blamed the EPA as it was forced to close an Indiana plant on Tuesday.

Senator Chuck Grassley accused the government of not keeping its word and “screwing the farmer when we already have low prices for grain.” Iowa is the leading producer of corn and ethanol production in the U.S., and the industry supports nearly 43,000 jobs in the state.

UI researchers recommend improvements to private well testing program


Tyler Chalfant | August 20th, 2019

The University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) released a report Monday outlining ways in which Iowa’s program to protect drinking water from private wells can be improved. According to the report, the state’s Grants to Counties program has been severely underutilized, with between 29-55% of the funds awarded to participating counties remaining unspent.

The program was created in 1987 as a part of the Groundwater Protection Act to provide funding for testing private wells for contamination, as well as reconstruction of private wells and plugging of abandoned wells. The US Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate private wells or recommend standards for individual wells, though it recommends testing wells annually for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. Nearly 300,000 Iowans rely on private wells as their primary source of drinking water.

CHEEC’s report, published in partnership with the UI Public Policy Center, recommends improving the Grants to Counties program by expanding the contaminants tested for, to include substances such as pesticides, manganese, lead, and copper. It also suggests prioritizing the most vulnerable wells and the counties with the greatest need, which have the greatest number of private wells and least access to Rural Water, and are already those that are most likely to better utilize the funding. Funding could also be used to assist with remedial actions, increase marketing for the program, and close gaps in the inventory to more accurately estimate the number of private wells in the state. 

On The Radio- Drinking water and your health


 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Kasey Dresser| August 19, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how nitrate pollution in drinking water can affect pubic health. 

Transcript:

The Environmental Working Group released a study that links nitrate consumption through water to an increased risk for cancer.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

In Iowa, nitrate pollution in drinking water remains an everyday threat. The current federal limit for nitrates in drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter, but according to the study, adverse health risks can be caused by a nitrate amount just one-tenth under that federal limit. The Environmental Working Group recommends a nitrate limit of 0.14 milligrams per liter in order for there to be no health risks.

The risks for bladder and ovarian cancers are increased for postmenopausal women. According to the study, nitrate pollution potentially caused over 12,000 cases of cancer in the U.S. – or 300 cases annually – totaling $1.5 billion a year in medical costs.   

The high volume of nitrates in water can be attributed to Iowa’s farm runoff that contains fertilizer and manure. In 2018, IIHR research engineer Chris Jones released a study that said the Des Moines River, Cedar River, and Iowa River combined produced a nitrate equivalent of 56 million people.   

There are currently no state or federal regulations for farmers in terms of controlling agricultural run off. Some political leaders and farm groups support the voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy of 2013, which aims to eliminate 45 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E Mason.

Climate change threatens food production


Tyler Chalfant | August 14th, 2019

A report released Thursday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that climate change will make crops scarcer and less nutritious. Even as the global population rises, the number of people without enough to eat has been shrinking in recent decades, but rising temperatures, increased flooding, and more extreme weather patterns could reverse that progress.

Staple crops like wheat have been found to offer less protein, iron, and other important nutrients when grown at high carbon dioxide levels. A study earlier this year found that the world is already losing 35 trillion calories from crops each year. That amounts to about 1% of all food calories, or enough to feed 50 million people. 

The effects of climate change vary by region, however, with the greatest loss of food production happening in Europe, Southern Africa, South Asia, and Australia. While Illinois has seen an 8% production in corn yield, Iowa has actually seen gains in production due to climate change, according to Deepak Ray, a senior scientist with the University of Minnesota. 


A part of the problem is that food production contributes to the very process that is harming it. Depending on the accounting method, the industry contributes somewhere between a quarter and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. That footprint can be reduced by farming in ways that are better for the land, including limiting the use of fertilizers and planting crops that add carbon to the soil, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.