Mason City truck-washing operation fined for back-to-back violations


Oil Slick
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Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A state environmental officer caught a truck washing operation illegally disposing of diluted corn oil. This incident occurred in Mason City, Iowa, after the officer was sent there by the DNR due to looking investigating the illegal dumping of an agricultural chemical the day before. 

When the officer arrived at Brookstone Specialty Services, he saw that on top of the pollution from the agricultural chemical, the business was also disposing of dilute corn oil illegally. The company was fined $10,000 for both incidents. The company is believed to have saved $11,000 by illegally dumping the pollution instead of proper disposal. 

According to the DNR, the first incident occurred in late 2020 after there had been reports of dead fish and the smell of petroleum coming from a nearby creek. An investigation revealed that Brookstone Specialty Services accidentally allowed brown sludge caused by distilling grain from the trucks and trailers to drain into Chelsea Creek. The drainage was originally believed to have gone to the city’s sewer system. Upon further inspection, it was determined that the creek also contained livestock bedding that had been washed into it. The company hired people to come and scoop the bedding from the creek to dispose of it properly. 

The second incident happened in June of 2021. Jacob Donaghy, an environmental specialist for the DNR said, ​​“We had a complaint that they were dumping this green stuff outback.” He continued on saying, “We went there and sure enough, there was green stuff out back. It was just being dumped on the soil.”

The neon green liquid was a chemical that is normally used to prevent nitrogen from leaking off of farm fields. When the container was being cleaned out, someone rinsed the residue left by the chemical and dumped out the remaining water. When Donaghy arrived to investigate the first incident, he found the neon green liquid.

Wastewater Leaks into Creek in Creston


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Josie Taylor | April 14, 2022

The bank of a creek in Creston, IA collapsed and severed a sewer line on Tuesday, which spilled untreated wastewater into the creek for about four hours until city workers were able to repair it, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

According to State Records, Hurley Creek goes through much of the north and west sides of town, and there have been restoration efforts to stabilize the banks. A shift of the soil likely caused the cast-iron pipe to come apart, said Dan Olson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR. 

The wastewater leak in the creek happened Tuesday about a mile upstream of the McKinley Lake, which was created about 150 years ago by damming the creek, the DNR reported. The lake is a public attraction for a zoo with bears, elk, wolves and exotic birds, among other creatures.

Originally, the pipe was constructed under the creek bed, but it had been exposed by erosion over the years, he said. About five gallons of sewage was flowing into the creek each minute.

An estimated 1,275 gallons of sewage leaked into the creek, which Olson doubted would have much of an impact on the McKinley Lake. 

A Wastewater Pipe Break Leaked Wastewater into the Des Moines River


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Josie Taylor | March 24, 2022

A wastewater pipe break near Birdland Park in Des Moines caused about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater to leak into the Des Moines River on Tuesday, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This leak did not affect drinking water. 

The station has an overflow pipe that discharges directly into the river. An estimated 3,500 gallons of diluted wastewater flowed through it each minute. Tom Atkinson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, said this likely happened due to cold temperatures, although leaks are most common when there’s heavy rain.

The leak created a murky plume in the river, but the environmental effects were muted because the river is so large. DNR does not believe that any fish were killed due to the leak. 

Des Moines, along with other cities in Iowa, combine sewer systems, meaning they transport wastewater and stormwater runoff in the same pipes. Such systems are prone to leaking untreated wastewater into waterways. 

A project to separate the systems is expected to finish this year, according to the city’s website.

Environmentally friendly facility leaked manure into northwest Iowa creek


Manure digester at Lochmead Farms
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Elyse Gabor | February 15, 2022

According to the DNR, a facility near Rock Valley polluted a creek after it leaked around 376,000 gallons of contaminated water. The facility was constructed by Colorado company, Gevo, which creates environmentally friendly fuels from manure. 

The polluted water moved to a crop field and drained into Lizard Creek. The creek flows into Rock River, and as of now, the extent of contamination is unknown. 

Gevo creates renewable fuel by extracting methane from manure produced by cattle. The gas is then transported to California, where it fuels low-emissions cars. The company plans to operate this year. 

The Rock Valley digester, one of three manure holding sites in the area, was contaminated early last week. As the leak began to seep into the ground, someone discovered the polluted water and traced it back to the new facility. According to Gevor spokesperson Heather Manuel, facility workers are trying hard to find the source of the leak. The company will also be checking all digesters moving forward. 

The DNR is unsure of what caused the leak to happen. They are also unclear as to how long the digester has been leaking.

Disaster Cleanup from Last Weeks Storms will be Expensive and Time Consuming


Josie Taylor | December 23, 2021

Communities across the U.S. Southeast and Midwest will be assessing damage from the tornado outbreak on Dec. 10-11, 2021 for some time. It’s clear that the cleanups will take months, possibly years, and will cost a lot of money. 

Dealing with mass amounts of debris and waste materials is one of the most significant challenges for communities in the wake of natural disasters. Often this task overwhelms local waste managers, leaving waste untouched for weeks, months and even years. 

Climate-related disasters like floods, landslides, storms, wildfires and extreme hot and cold waves afflict millions of people around the world. These events have been increasing over time, particularly over the past several decades. There has also been an increase in loss from natural disasters. 

Disasters, like tornadoes, commonly produce thousands to millions of tons of debris in a single event. For example, waste can include vegetation, such as trees and shrubs; municipal solid waste, such as household garbage; construction and demolition materials; vehicles; and household hazardous materials, including paints, cleaning agents, pesticides and pool chemicals.

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. 

Controversial Manure Management Plan Approved By Iowa DNR


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Thomas Robinson | April 6th, 2021

Supreme Beef, a cattle operation stationed in northeastern Iowa, has had their proposed Manure Management Plan (MMP) approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The approval comes after a long series of hearings for the MMP that has faced scrutiny for the risk the plan poses to some of Iowa’s cleanest waters.  In particular, critics emphasized how unlikely it was that the cattle operation would evenly spread manure in the proposed 30 mile radius and that over application on farms closer to the feedlots could potentially pollute surface and groundwaters in the area. 

Northeastern Iowa is particularly susceptible to groundwater pollution from runoff and infiltration because of the porous karst topography found in the area.  Environmentalists who opposed the plan focused on Bloody Run Creek, a popular spot for fishing tourism because of the brown trout that can be found there, as an example of a pristine water that could be harmed by the IDNR’s decision. If the Creek was harmed Iowan’s could lose out on fishing tourism and the loss of one of the few “high quality” waters present in the state.

The Iowa Environmental Council has spoken out against the IDNR’s decision to approve the plan in a statement that took aim at the preferential treatment agriculture receives over environmental concerns.  

University of Iowa engineers receive $1 million to turn wastepaper into plastic


Folded paper
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Elizabeth Miglin | March 25, 2021

Earlier this month, University of Iowa engineers Xuan Song, Chao Wang, and H.S. Udaykumar, in partnership with Impossible Objects, Inc., received nearly $1 million from the REMADE Institute for their project to improve the speed and reduce the labor costs of remanufacturing recycled wastepaper. 

The project aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) and smart additive manufacturing (AM) technology to turn recycled paper and cardboard into high-value fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) composites. Aerospace, automotive, marine and construction industries use FRPs in most advanced engineering structures. Increasingly, FRPs have replaced heavier and more expensive infrastructure materials and systems, such as steel and concrete. 

The project is one of only 24 chosen in the latest round of funding by the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership created by the United States Department of Energy. The institute provided a total of $43 million in research funding to support the development of new waste technologies in order to encourage a transition towards a circular economy.

Manufacturing currently makes up 22% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Song, Wang and Udaykumar hope to address this and that their research will encourage widespread adoption of recycling wastepaper into FRP plastic. 

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. 

U.S. Ships More Plastic Waste Overseas Despite New Global Restrictions


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Nicole Welle | March 15, 2021

Over 180 countries agreed last year to place strict limits on plastic waste exportation to poor countries, but new trade data from January shows that plastic exports from the United States have increased.

Participating nations met at Geneva in 2019 to add plastic scrap to the Basel Convention, a treaty that places restrictions on shipping hazardous waste. The new addition makes it illegal for most nations to accept plastic scrap shipments unless they are in their purest form. However, the U.S. has continued to send large shipments overseas to poor countries in the months since the addition took effect in January, according to a New York Times article.

The lack of compliance likely stems back to the United States’ refusal to ratify the global ban. The U.S. is one of the few countries that did not ratify the convention, but it is still subject to its laws since participating nations are banned from trading with non-participating nations. So far, this has not stopped American companies from exporting more scrap plastic than ever. January reports showed that the U.S. exported 48 million tons that month, a 3 million-ton increase from the previous January.

The convention’s main goal was to reduce the amount of plastic wealthier countries, like the U.S., were shipping over to poorer countries. The waste often ends up in landfills, oceans or other natural landscapes instead of being recycled, and poorer nations often can’t safely handle the amount of waste coming in from the U.S. Of the 25 million tons of plastic waste the U.S. sent to poorer countries in January, much of it went to Malaysia, one of the convention’s participating countries. Advocates worry that continued lack of compliance on this level will cause more problems in the future. Even if receiving countries refuse to accept American plastic at their ports, American companies could refuse to take it back and find a way to send it elsewhere.

The U.S. government would need to pass legislation to ratify the convention, and it will remain limited in its ability to stop the exports until that happens.