Iowa researchers recommend infrastructure changes in response to rising temperatures


Tyler Chalfant | September 26th, 2019

Researchers from the University of Iowa spoke at a press conference last week about rising temperatures in the state. The models used in the 2019 Iowa Climate Statement indicate that the number of days over 90 degrees in Iowa will rise from 23 to 67 by 2050.

Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, spoke at the Cedar Rapids Public Library on Wednesday, September 18th about the changes needed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. 

Those changes include solar farms and installing solar panels on homes, building wind turbines, improving energy efficiency and battery storage, along with carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture practices, and reforestation. “All of these things take time. It takes time to change our infrastructure,” Schnoor said, but added that action is necessary in the next 16 months. 

Peter Thorne, of the UI Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, also spoke at the press conference, warning of the health risks posed by extreme heat. Heat is responsible for more than 600 deaths in the U.S. every year, making it the leading cause of weather-related deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control. 

Schnoor and Thorne also suggested infrastructure improvements to help prevent these deaths. This could include a program to cool homes during hotter months the way the Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program helps with heating costs during the winter. 

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.

First cases of chikungunya virus acquired within US


Photo by Ramón Portellano; Flickr
Photo by Ramón Portellano; Flickr

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are reporting the first domestically acquired cases of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus.

Two infected individuals have been identified in Florida; neither had left the country recently enough to have contracted the virus elsewhere.

Chikungunya is not new to the United States; according to the CDC, the US sees an average of 28 cases per year. Until this point, however, these incidents have occurred exclusively in travelers returning from countries where the virus is common.

Symptoms of the Chikungunya virus include fevers and joint pain that usually cease within a week, although the latter can become chronic. Although no vaccine is available, the virus is very rarely fatal, and both US cases appear to be doing well.