Hawaii’s sunscreen ban


5565696408_8819b64a61_z.jpg
Coral reefs provide food and shelter to numerous marine animals. (flickr/USFWS)

Eden DeWald | July 11th, 2018

Hawaii is making a move to protect its coral reefs. A bill banning the distribution or sale of synthetic sunscreens in Hawaii was signed by Governor David Ige earlier this month. The ban will go into affect in January of 2021, and will prevent the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.

There are two main types of sunscreen found in any drugstore—chemical and physical. Physical sunscreen, or mineral sunscreen, often has active ingredients such as titanium and zinc oxide, which reflect or scatter UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Synthetic sunscreens, which often contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, soak into the skin. They protect the wearer by changing the electromagnetic affect of UV rays. Physical sunscreens are not at all affected by the ban and will still be available for retail sale and distribution.

According to a 2015 study, oxybenzone has been found to cause the bleaching of coral reefs, as well as endocrine damage. There have been fewer studies done concerning octinoxate, but similar damaging effects have been associated with this chemical. Approximately 14,000 gallons are estimated to end up in the waters off the coast of Hawaii each year, consequently banning sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate has the potential to remove thousands gallons of coral reef damaging chemicals from the environment each year.

Seattle bans straws


Straws
Five hundred million straws are used everyday in the US (Jeff G/flickr)

Eden DeWald | July 4th, 2018

Seattle is making a move to reduce single use plastics, by banning straws and any single use plastic utensils from restaurants and all other dining venues. Straws that are reusable or can be composted are still allowed, but the ordinance has a strong preference towards not providing any straws.  

Five hundred million plastic straws are used everyday in the United States. Because they are so lightweight, used straws find their way into the ocean quite easily. Once in the ocean, straws wreak havoc on marine life and seabirds. Approximately 70 percent of seabirds and around one third of turtles found have ingested, or gotten some kind of plastic superficially stuck on their body. There are around fourteen cities in the US that currently have straw bans, but Seattle is the largest city so far to place a ban on straws. However, New York City and the state of California have also gained momentum towards banning single use plastic utensils. 

The city of Seattle has made many other steps towards their mitigating impact on the surrounding ecosystem, including its efforts to help the salmon population. The Salmon in the Schools program allowed schoolchildren to hatch salmon and release them into, providing important environmental education to school children as well as helping to bolster the salmon populations numbers. 

 

Rise in toxic algal blooms


13540013124_dd92ce0f58_z
A sign warning swimmers not to take a dip in algae infested waters (Amanda S/flickr)

Eden DeWald | May 30th, 2018

With the first day of summer well on its way, so are toxic algal blooms.

Cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, are a type of photosynthetic bacteria that produce microcystin toxins. These pose both short term exposure and a long term exposure threats to humans. Skin contact with microcystin can cause digestion issues, a sore throat and even liver damage. Whereas long term contact can create side effects as serious as cancer and liver damage. Microcystins may cause damage via ingestion or skin contact. Cyanobacteria are not only a danger to humans, and can cause large populations of fish to die off and disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria blooms have become a growing threat for waterways in the United States. The amount of blooms has grown substantially even in the past few years according to the Environmental Working Group, which saw a rise from three self reported algal blooms in 2010, to 169 reported blooms in 2017. 

The Environmental Protection Agency sites commonly used fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus as causes for these algal blooms. When excess fertilizer runs off and finds its way into a waterway, it can create a dangerous potential home for cyanobacteria which utilizes these elements within its chemical processes.

Potential prevention methods for toxic algal blooms can include approaches such as planting vegetation buffer strips near waterways, and changing the way that fertilizers are applied to crops to prevent excess from being utilized.

 

Species loss varies significantly under different climate change scenarios


7475472152_60dcfe3c63_o
Insects were found to be more susceptible to climate change than other land animals and plants. (Joe Hatfield/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | May 24, 2018

According to a recent study published in the journal Science, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels rather than 2 degrees Celsius could significantly reduce terrestrial plants and animal species loss.

The study analyzed the geographic habitat ranges of 100,000 land plant and animal species, including insects. Scientists monitored how suitable habitat ranges changed under three climate change scenarios: the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit goal set by the Paris Climate Accord, a 2 degrees Celsius increase and the 3.2 degrees Celsius increase Earth is expected to experience by 2100 if no further climate action is taken.

They found that if global warming is held at 2 degrees Celsius, 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates will lose more than half of their suitable habitat range. In contrast, if global temperature increase is kept under 1.5 degrees Celsius, just 6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates would experience the same fate.

Rachel Warren is an environmental biologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and one of the study’s others. She said to the Los Angeles Times, “All the previous scientific literature looked at 2 degrees as the lower limit because that was what was being discussed at the time.” Warren continued,”The takeaway is that if you could limit warming to 1.5 degrees, the risk to biodiversity is quite small. At 2 degrees it becomes significant, and at 3 degrees almost half the insects and plants would be at risk.”

Of note, the study found that insects were more sensitive a warming climate than vertebrates and plants. For example, the typical insect under the 3 degrees Celsius warming condition would lose 43 percent of its habitat range.

Hymenoptera declared to be the most species rich animal order


27890238422_b5b82fbf3e_z
A parasitic wasp pauses on a leaf (Katja S/flickr)

Eden DeWald| May 23rd, 2018

University of Iowa professor Andrew Forbes has been conducting research that may intimidate those who aren’t fans of parasitic wasps. Forbes specializes in studying these wasps that belong to the Hymenoptera order, which also includes insects such as bees and ants.

In a preprint paper, meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed, Forbes asserts that the Hymenoptera order is more species rich than originally thought. Previously, Coleoptera— the beetle order, was thought to be the most speciose. However, Forbes’ specialization in parasitoid wasps allowed him to make the connection that there can be multiple species of parasitic wasps preying upon a single species of insect. Based on this ratio, one species of host insect to many different species of parasitic wasps, it would make sense that Hymenoptera is the most species rich order. The paper concludes that Hymenoptera has perhaps 2.5-3.2 times more species rich than Coleoptera.

Species richness is an important factor in general biodiversity. And although parasitic wasps may sound quite gruesome, they can provide useful services. Parasitic wasps prey on insects that are bothersome to humans such as garden pests like caterpillars, and even mosquitoes.

On The Radio- Plastic pollution


eightmillion.jpg
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to contain 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. (Phys.org)

Kasey Dresser | April 30, 2018

This weeks segment looks at the negative impacts of increasing plastic pollutants in our environment. 

Transcript: 

Plastic entering our environment is a growing concern!

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Plastic pollution is a serious problem. Microplastics are plastic pieces less than 5mm in diameter. They are present in almost every form of water, from lakes to rivers to our tapwater supply. Floating trash, largely composed of single-use plastic, has formed large masses on the ocean. 

Plastics don’t break down the way most organic material does. Plastic photogrades, meaning it simply breaks into smaller and smaller pieces over time. At the smallest levels, plastic particles on a nanoscale begin to change, and more easily move through its surrounding environments into surface water, groundwater, or soil. 

Single-use plastics found in packaging are some of the largest contributors to plastic pollution. Consumers can help solve the problem by repurposing plastic themselves and cutting some plastics out of their life, such as single-use straws and utensils. 

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.
From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone. 

Lyme disease on the rise


5655990422_c606f6eb10_b
Deer ticks are the most common vectors of lyme disease. (John Flannery/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2018

Incidents of lyme disease are on the rise thanks to climate change and land use change.

There are about 30,000 cases of lyme disease reported to the Center for Disease Control every year in the U.S., which is up from approximately 10,000 annual reports in the 1990s.

Deer ticks or black-legged ticks that carry lyme disease require a certain number of frost-free days to complete their life cycle. As the climate warms, these ticks are plaguing parts of North America that have not previously been home to them. In recent years, deer ticks have been found as far north as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, Canada. Cases of lyme disease in Canada rose from 144 cases annually in 2009 to 917 cases annually in 2015.

Land use change is also increasing the prevalence of lyme disease. As urban developments sprawl out into previously forested land, humans live in closer quarters with the lyme disease vectors.

Early symptoms of lyme disease include fever, chills, and a “bulls eye” rash around the tick bite. If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics. However, as many as 30 percent of people do not develop the bulls eye rash and often mistake the other symptoms for another illness. If left untreated, lyme disease can cause heart palpitations, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and facial palsy, among other symptoms.

The Center for Disease Control is working to educate health care professionals about how to recognize lyme disease in patients and the most effective treatments for it. Scientists from Bard College and Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have also enrolled 1,000 households in Duchess County, New York in a study testing some new deer tick control methods. The five year study is using bait boxes that apply a small amount of fipronil (found in products like Frontline) to tick-carrying mammals like squirrels and chipmunks and a fungal spray that kills ticks to determine whether the methods are effective in keeping tick populations down.

Tick-borne illnesses are the most likely harmful human health effect for Iowans as a result of  climate change according to the Medical Society Consortium.