After 3 years, the Flint water crises is still happening

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Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 9, 2017

It has seemed like a while since the Flint water crises has hit news circuits. The small city in Michigan has reached an almost celebrity status as a beacon of misfortune, plagued by lead poisoning, poverty, and, famously, unemployment, as examined in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me.

There are layers to the water crises that are slowly being revealed as time goes on. The public knows this: The water issues started when Flint changed water sources to the Flint River in 2014. The switch was meant to be a temporary one, a sort of placeholder while Flint officials waited to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, a move estimated to save the region millions of dollars.

What followed in the next few years was improper water treatment, corroded pipes, and government inaction, all of it cumulating into what has eventually become a massive nationwide discussion on ethics, the environment, and how the two intertwine.

On October 16th, 2015, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit River, but the level of corrosion in the pipes was still a major concern for Flint citizens, resulting in several declarations of urgency: a state of emergency order from Obama in January of 2016, and an emergency order from the EPA.

Recently, criminal charges have been filed against three Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees, all of them found guilty of withholding a report on the unsafe levels of lead found in Flint children.

A paper detailing the possible effects of the water crises on fertility is currently being worked on by Daniel Grossman from West Virginia University and David Slusky from the University of Kansas. Both have released their comparisons of birth and miscarriage rates from before and after the water crises, and have found that birth rates in Flint have decreased by 12% while fetal death rates have increased by a staggering 58%.

Flint is a black-majority city with a poverty rate of around 40%, and while this doesn’t at first seem to have an effect on the crises at hand, studies have found that communities of color are hugely more disproportionately affected by lead poisoning and environmental health risks than white communities.

On The Radio – New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum

Eric Holthaus (second from right) leading a waste audit with students in 2013 at the University of Iowa, where he served as Recycling Coordinator from 2012 to 2015. (Lev Cantoral/University of Iowa)
Jenna Ladd | August 8, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment takes a closer look at Cedar Rapid’s first-ever sustainability coordinator and University of Iowa graduate, Eric Holthaus. 

Transcript: New Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator provides multifaceted momentum

Cedar Rapids has hired its first-ever sustainability coordinator.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Eric Holthaus, a University of Iowa graduate, was hired on to provide focus and strategy to existing city-wide sustainability initiatives and to spearhead new efforts. Since beginning his work with the city in November, he helped implement a 90 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the Northwest Cedar Rapids Transit Garage and establish a policy that prohibits city vehicles from idling for longer than one minute.

Upon his hire, Holthaus created a 21-point sustainability assessment of the city. In addition to other findings, he notes that Cedar Rapids has clean drinking water, but difficulty with “food deserts,” or areas of town where populations have restricted access to food.

At the end of June, Holthaus and his team released a document titled, “State of Affairs: Cedar Rapids’ Pursuit of Sustainability.” The document lays a foundational definition for sustainability and why it matters to people in Cedar Rapids.

To Holthaus, sustainability reaches beyond environmental issues,

HOLTHAUS: “And so sustainability to me is be able to have a high quality of life, and it also means to me to connect the social and economic aspects. A lot of people don’t meet their daily needs, you know, if there’s an opportunity for us to eat better, to have cleaner water, to have more access to those resources, how can prioritize people that have the least and build stronger communities when we do that intentionally?”

Cedar Rapids is only the third city in the Hawkeye state to create a sustainability coordinator position, following Iowa City and Dubuque.

To learn more about Eric’s position, or to read more about Cedar Rapids’ sustainability goals, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.

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



ISU professor establishes professional network for environmental justice

Iowa State University landscape architecture students work on an andoor classroom project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. (Bob Elbert/Iowa State University News Service)

Nick Fetty | June 24, 2015

A landscape architecture professor at Iowa State University has established a professional network that she hopes will provide the public with more access to outdoor spaces.

Julie Stevens, an assistant professor in ISU’s College of Design, co-chairs the American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Environmental Justice Professional Practice Network (PPN). The concept for establishing such a network came up during the ASLA’s annual meeting last fall.

“For me, environmental justice just means everybody has access to healthy outdoor spaces,” Stevens said in an interview with the Ames Tribune. “And the spaces where we live and work and play, no matter who you are or what your socioeconomic status is or where you live, everybody has a healthy place.”

In 2013, Stevens and a group of landscape architecture students began work on an outdoor classroom project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, utilizing feedback from inmates on what to include in the design.

“You wouldn’t find another internship that includes working with the demographic of offenders. It’s an experience hardly anyone else will have,” said Lauren Iversen, a senior who worked on the project last summer.

Stevens said she hopes the PPN will expand to include outreach programs at area schools. For more information about the Environmental Justice PPN, check out the group’s LinkedIn page.

A bird’s eye view of the plans for an outdoor space at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville. (Tim Buescher/Iowa State University News Service)

UI students report on Canadian tar sands for final projects

Students in the UI's Environmental Justice course created a blog for their final project which focused on the Canadian tar sands (Iowa Tar Sands Project)
The header for the Iowa Tar Sands Project blog (Iowa Tar Sands Project)

Nick Fetty | December 19, 2014

Students in the University of Iowa’s Environmental Justice course have created a blog so they can publicly share their final papers about the Canadian tar sands.

The blog – Iowa Tar Sands Project – features nearly two dozen reports on various aspects of the tar sands industry ranging from environmental impacts to social issues. One student (yours truly) produced a video documentary focusing on energy alternatives including efforts being taken in Iowa and specifically on the University of Iowa campus.

Kyle Vint – a PhD student in Communication Studies – examined how donations to public universities affect research, with specific focus on the tar sands. He highlighted a $6 million donation that the University of Louisville is expected to receive from the the Charles Koch Foundation and Papa John’s CEO,  John Schnatter. Charles Koch and his brother David have also made massive donations to George Mason University ($23 million) and Florida State University ($2.8 million) which some have criticized, citing that it jeopardizes the integrity of objective research and unfairly impacts administrative decisions. Vint points out that the Koch brothers are “are the largest foreign lease holder of lands slated for tar sands development in Canada” and that “[they] are financially invested in the outcomes of major policy decisions concerning tar sands development.”

The Environmental Justice course is taught by visiting professor Dr. Nicholas A. Brown and is offered by the UI’s Department of Geographical and Sustainable Sciences.