From humid air to clean water: new innovation in sustainability


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Cacti inspired a recent study on water condensation, with potential implications for water-stressed areas around the world (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 10, 2019

Ohio State University researchers believe clean drinking water can be harnessed from nighttime air, when water is more prone to condensing. They have been developing methods for capture with the aid of some unusual experts: desert lifeforms.

The pointy tips and sharp spines on cacti collect water from nighttime fog and funnel it town to the plants roots. Desert grasses do the same with pointed blades.  Beetles collect water on their backs, which feature water-repellant and water-attracting spots that push the water towards the bugs’ mouths. These features help the plants and insects survive in harsh, low-water conditions.

The researchers, led by Bharat Bhushan, professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State, have been experimenting with materials, shapes and textures using 3D printed models in foggy enclosures. They have already determined that conical shapes and grooved textures are efficient water collection methods and hope to test prototypes in deserts outside the lab as they continue to develop designs. They published their findings so far in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in late December.

The final products of their work could have implications for water-scarce areas, where strife over clean water will only worsen with climate change. Water captured by such devices could supplement the drinking water supplies of private homes or whole communities.

“Water supply is a critically important issue, especially for people of the most arid parts of the world,” Bhushan said in a Science Daily report. “By using bio-inspired technologies, we can help address the challenge of providing clean water to people around the globe, in as efficient a way as possible.”

Drinking water symposium scheduled for September


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Jenna Ladd| August 23, 2017

A symposium examining issues related to drinking water in Iowa and across the U.S. is set to take place in Des Moines next month. Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest: A Symposium will feature presenters from Iowa as well as nationally-renowned speakers.

The event’s agenda includes panel discussions concerning the human health impacts of nitrate in drinking water, new and emerging drinking water threats, and communicating about water quality with the public, among other topics. The symposium is co-sponsered by the The University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center and the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination along with Drake University.

What: Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest: A Symposium

When: September 21 from 8 am to 5 pm, September 22 from 8 am to 12 pm

Where: Drake University, Des Moines

Those interested in attending the symposium can register here.

Nitrates in drinking water linked to various health problems


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Iowans that use private wells are more likely to have drinking water that exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit. (frankieleon/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 4, 2016

A recent review of dozens of health studies by the Iowa Environmental Council suggests that elevated nitrate levels in drinking water are more dangerous to human health than previously thought.

As a part of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1962, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set the nitrate limit for drinking water at 10 milligrams per liter in order to prevent blue baby syndrome, which was a prevalent at the time. While the last known case of blue baby syndrome in Iowa was in the 1970’s, recent studies suggest that nitrates’ health impacts extend beyond this condition. The council’s report “Nitrate in Drinking Water: A Public Health Concern for All Iowans” provided an overview of several studies that linked high nitrate levels in drinking water with birth defects, cancers and thyroid problems.

The report said, “While most of the associations have been found when nitrate levels are higher than the drinking water standard, some research suggests that nitrate concentrations even lower than the drinking water standard may be harmful.”

Historically, some communities in Iowa have had trouble remaining in compliance with current drinking water nitrate limits. Based on a state drinking water compliance report, eleven public drinking water supplies exceeded the 10 milligrams per liter limit in 2015. Iowans that get their drinking water from private wells are at an increased risk. According to a Des Moines Register report, 15 percent of private wells that were voluntarily tested between 2006 to 2015 had nitrate levels that exceeded federal standards.

Concerns about nitrates from agricultural drainage tiles, rural and urban fertilizers, and water treatment systems seeping into water ways have been on the rise in Iowa. The Environmental Council is among many groups in the state that seek to bolster the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which aims to curb nitrogen and phosphorous that enters into Iowa’s streams and rivers by 45 percent. The group also supports a movement for an additional three-eighths of 1 cent sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Sixty-three percent of Iowans voted to approve this amendment in 2010, but state legislators did not approve funding for the measure.

Peter Weyer is interim director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa and has studied the relationship between long-term exposure to low-level nitrates in water and cancer in women. He said, “Based on our research and elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad, it looks like nitrates are problematic for other health effects.”

Video – “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?”


Joyce Zhu presented at “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?” at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on June 17, 2016. Zhu, a PhD student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University was part of the Flint Water Studies team. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | June 17, 2016

Pete Damiano (Director at the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center), Pete Weyer (Director at the UI’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination), and Joyce Zhu (PhD student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) discuss “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?” which was hosted at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on June 17, 2016.

On The Radio – Des Moines event examines water quality and infrastructure in Iowa


Could Flint Happen Here
(Public Policy Center, University of Iowa)
Nick Fetty | June 13, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers Des Moines symposium, “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?”

Transcript: Des Moines event examines water quality and infrastructure in Iowa

After unsafe lead levels were detected in drinking water in Flint, Michigan, an upcoming event aims to educate Iowans about water issues in the Hawkeye State.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The University of Iowa Public Policy Center and the UI’s Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination have organized a symposium in Des Moines scheduled for this weekend entitled “Iowa’s Drinking Water: Could Flint Happen Here?” The all-day event will include panels of water experts from various agencies and institutions including the University of Iowa, Drake University, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

David Cwiertny, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, helped to organize the event.

David Cwiertny: “With Flint being in the news we wanted to organize a symposium that would address, “Could such a crises happen here in Iowa?” We also wanted to make sure we thought about issues beyond just lead contamination that might also be relevant in Iowa so we’ll be talking about agriculture and its impact on drinking water as well as challenges beyond nitrate and what’s going on in Des Moines.”

The event is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday June 17 at the Community Choice Credit Union in downtown Des Moines.

For more information and to register, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Iowa American Water announces Environmental Grant Program


Photo by Hagheim; Flickr

Iowa American Water announced today that the application process is now open for its 2014 Environmental Grant Program to support innovative, community-based environmental projects that improve, restore or protect watersheds and community drinking water supplies.

To learn more, head over to the Iowa American Water website.

“Hog Wild: Factory Farms are Poisoning Iowa’s Drinking Water”


Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary; Flickr

Ted Genoways goes into an in-depth analysis concerning the issues of farm runoff polluting Iowa’s drinking water.

“Millions of pigs are crammed into overcrowded barns all across the state, being fattened for slaughter while breeding superbugs—all to feed China’s growing appetite for Spam”

Follow this link to read the full story via On Earth.