MIT study finds medical was is impacting the environment


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 22, 2021

After 16 months in the COVID-19 pandemic, disposable masks are taking their toll on the environment.

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 7,200 tons of medical waste has been generated every day during the pandemic. A significant amount of the waste is from disposable masks that are used by health care professionals to help mitigate the spread of novel coronavirus.

If reusable masks were adopted by more people—including health care workers—the waste could be decreased by 75 percent. An MIT Assistant Professor, Giovanni Traverso, developed a reusable N95 mask that can be sterilized and reused. If these masks were used by health care workers in the United States, it would cut down 84 million kilograms of waste alongside decreasing the financial cost to medical centers and hospitals across the country.

In May, Swansea University found harmful chemicals and pollutants that can be released if disposable masks are submerged in water. The researchers called the rise of single-use masks in today’s society a “new cause of pollution.” Mainly, the masks pose a plastic pollution problem.

In a March study from the University of Southern Denmark, researchers found that disposable masks are now on a similar production mass as plastic bottles. Since nonreusable masks cannot be recycled, their use is adding to a significant accumulation of waste across the globe. Some of these masks have plastic microfibers as well. No data on mask degradation in nature exists yet, so the long-term effects of theses fibers is unknown.

Severe Storm Hit Central Iowa Friday


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | July 12, 2021

Friday afternoon through Friday evening, The National Weather service warned central Iowa that “all modes of severe weather may be possible including damaging winds, very large hail, and even tornadoes.” 

The severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Polk County, southwestern Story County, northeastern Madison County, southeastern Boone County and eastern Dallas County Friday afternoon. 

Luckily, this severe storm ended up being quite elevated, so it was not close to the ground. This meant that tornadoes were not touching down in central Iowa on Friday. Hail, however, did occur and was the size of a half-dollar. 

The hail occurred inside of a severe thunderstorm which produced heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and strong winds. 

The National Weather Service called Friday’s storm “dangerous” and told central Iowans to prepare for “large destructive hail capable of producing significant damage.” Officials also warned that residents should shelter inside a strong building and stay away from windows. 

This storm was a drastic change for central Iowa. The counties affected by the storm were all in moderate to severe drought just days before. In fact, Des Moines, which is in Polk County, was just asked to conserve water last week because of the severe lack of rain.

Iowans, utility companies conserving less energy after 2018 law


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 9, 2021

Iowans are conserving less energy following the passing of a 2018 law that changed the state’s efficiency requirements.

Senate File 2311 capped spending on utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs in Iowa. The law was passed in the last few days of the 2018 Iowa legislative session with the support of most Republicans in the state House and Senate. The caps were below the amount utilities were already spending on programs. In 2018, the Iowa Environmental Council lobbied against the legislation, saying utility companies were the only winners, as businesses and citizens would “pay the price of this action.” 22 states have energy efficiency resource standards that serve as a target for citizens to meet.

In 2020, two years after the law’s passing, Iowa’s total kilowatt hour savings were more than 300 million lower than in 2018 according to the Energy News Network. The drop is more than 50 percent of the energy savings in Iowa’s recent history. A yearly state energy efficiency scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy dropped Iowa to 36 out of the 50 states. Iowa is beat by some of its midwestern counterparts—like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois—but still placed higher than the Dakotas, and Nebraska. Iowa held 24th place in 2018. 

EPA increases funding for air quality, environmental justice initiatives


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | July 8, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency is increasing its funding to monitor air pollution and improve air quality in low-income communities and communities of color.

On June 25, the agency announced an additional $50 million will be set aside for the department’s environmental justice initiatives. The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed by President Joe Biden in March. The funding will be split between several projects, including environmental justice grants, expanding civil and criminal enforcement through monitoring, community assistance programs, and advancing environmental data analytics work.

Environmental justice—the promise of the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment—is a major focus for the Biden administration. People of color are more likely to die of environmental causes due to a variety of factors, including an increased likelihood of living in proximity to hazardous waste. According to a 2020 Princeton University study, low-income and African American communities are more likely to be affected by air pollution in the United States. The governmental response to air quality concerns is also disproportionate based on race, said the study, with white citizens’ complaints receiving more action and attention than people of color’s.

The funding will go to monitoring air in low-income communities, specifically looking for particles that have been linked to harmful illnesses. The agency hopes to ensure it is “adequately protecting all communities” regardless of who lives there, according to CNN.

Water Conservation is Being Requested Despite Rain


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | July 5, 2021

Recently the Des Moines area has received rain, causing a lower demand for water. Despite this good news, next week there will likely be more heat and less rain, which could cause more strain on Des Moines Water Works. Des Moines Water Works had a high demand this summer because of the dryness Iowa is experiencing.

Des Moines Water Works pumped 89 million gallons on June 9. Two days later it was closer to 90 million gallons but luckily rain came. The rain brought demand down to 86 million, which is still high. The record is 96 million gallons, which occurred in 2012. 

On June 14 Des Moines citizens were asked to conserve their water when possible. This brought demand down by about 5 million gallons a day. 

Demand for water got down to 50 million gallons a day in late June after multiple rain showers. This did not last long, and by Thursday, July 1 it was up to 73 million gallons a day.

Ted Corrigan, Des Moines Water Works CEO, told Iowa Capital Dispatch that Water Works will continue to ask their customers to try to avoid watering their lawn, and to follow a watering schedule. Their goal is to cut down lawn watering by 25 percent.

Utility workers also installed flashboards on the Raccoon River in hopes to raise the water level because the river has been running low recently. The Raccoon River is a large source of water in the Des Moines area.

Iowa Experiences Intense Weather Patterns


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 30, 2021

Iowa crops are experiencing an intense weather pattern this summer. Despite rain over the past week, some parts of Iowa are still in need of more moisture in order to benefit crops. Some storms were so severe it ended up causing damage to crops. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said that the moisture is very needed, however there were flash floods in southeastern Iowa. 

This past week the average precipitation state-wide was 2.13 inches, when the weekly average is 1.09 inches. Prior to this week, over 90 percent of Iowa was experiencing abnormal dryness, and 44 percent of Iowa was experiencing severe drought. This is a drastic change. 

Northwest Iowa has reported to have inadequate soil moisture in over two-thirds of topsoil. In the opposite part of Iowa, the southeast, 60 percent of topsoil is adequate to surplus. 

Despite the intense changes, crop conditions have been stabilized, and 60 percent of Iowa corn is in good to excellent condition. Soybeans are also blooming earlier than past years. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has given approval for state resources to be used in order to recover from the effects of this severe weather. This can apply to qualifying individual residents who are damaged by the weather.

U.S. House panel moves to clean up PFAs


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 24, 2021

The United States House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that aims to reduce Americans’ exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

PFAS are a hazardous, forever chemical that can be found all over the United States. The toxic chemicals is in drinking water, soil, and air because they are commonly used in nonstick cookware and waterproof clothing. The PFAS Action Act of 2021 aims to reclassify PFAS as hazardous substances and would begin federal cleanup standards. The legislation was approved 33-20.

The bill also specifically mentions the use of PFAS in firefighting foam and other related equipment. If the bill passes in the general assembly, the Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the investigation of and the preventions of contamination by these chemicals.

The two most well studied PFAs are perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluoro octane sulfonate, or PFOS. In April, a team of scientists found the forever chemicals in private wells near the Cedar Rapids airport in Iowa. Des Moines, Davenport, and Bettendorf also have high levels of these two chemicals.

If the bill is passed, the EPA would be able to designate all PFAS or only some as hazardous within five years of the bill being enacted.

Reynolds’ carbon panel omits environmental groups, activists


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 24, 2021

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds appointed a task force for carbon sequestration on Tuesday; the group is void of representatives and activists from environmental groups who study the removal of the greenhouse gas.

The task force will identify and examine different strategies for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that will be beneficial for Iowa’s economy and long-term sustainability efforts. Current members include representatives from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, agricultural companies, state agencies, and biofuel interests. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig is the vice chairman of the group. The task force was created by an executive order.

In a statement, Reynolds said she hopes the task force will have policy recommendations prepared for next year’s legislative session. She said Iowa is in a strong position to take part in the growing nationwide goal for a more carbon-free economy, specifically pointing out the state’s existing supply chain.

When asked by Iowa Capital Dispatch why there were no environmental groups on the task force, Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said any person or group is able to apply for a spot on the working group. The group is currently made up of 20 members.

UI Professor Talks About Drought on Iowa Press


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2021

On Friday, University of Iowa professor Larry Webber, along with Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan were interviewed on Iowa Press. They both answered questions about water quality in Iowa, and more specifically how the drought is affecting water.

Corrigan and Webber were both calm during the interview, and did not act scared about Iowa’s future. They were disappointed at times, but held out hope. 

The interview was started by asking Corrigan and Webber about the recent news that the Supreme Court would not move forward with a lawsuit that was brought forward by a couple of groups dealing with agriculture pollution on the Raccoon River. They both expressed disappointment. Professor Webber said “we’ve had a lot of talk and the talk has been going on now for a decade”, and now we need progress. 

Both interviewees were asked if they believed there would be a Flint, MI type of situation in the near future. Both men shut that thought down quickly. They said that Iowa is not experiencing anything like Flint, meaning Iowa does not have drinking water contaminated with lead, and they reassured that Iowans are taking this seriously. 

Corrigan shared that Des Moines was asked to cut down on their water use, and that the citizens of Des Moines did that. He said that they have seen a 5 million gallon reduction in water from day to day. He holds out hope that Des Moines will not get to the place of needing to ration water completely. 

Webber ended the interview by sharing that he believes federal leadership is needed in times like this. He wants more leadership in USDA in order to help farmers handle a drought effectively. 

University of Iowa Researchers Host First Annual BioBlitz


Via

Elizabeth Miglin | June 8, 2021

Researchers at the University of Iowa are hosting the 1st Annual BioBlitz at the newly restored Ashton Prairie on July 10th. The study gives participants the opportunity to contribute the first data points to a multi-year study by examining insect diversity changes over time at the site. 

Throughout the event, participants will be shown how to examine insects under a professional microscope and learn how to identify different species with the naked eye and the iNaturalist app. Guests will also hear from the leaders of the prairie restoration project on the vision for the prairie as well as how the collections and observations will contribute to greater research on ecological health. Event staffers noted “As this is the 1st Annual event, we hope to see some young scientists who can grow along with the biodiversity at the prairie over the years.”

Facilitators of the event include the University of Iowa Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Office of Sustainability and the Environment, The Iowa Raptor Project, UI Museum of Natural History, the Iowa City Science Booster Club, and 10 visiting Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Sciences research students with additional support from the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

The event will be hosted at the Prairie Reconstruction Project Site at the UI Ashton Cross Country Course and will go from nine am to noon. Free registration is open for the event on the University of Iowa events calendar website.