Iowa Seeks Funding for Coal Mine Mitigation


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | August 5, 2022

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa will apply for up to $6 million of new federal funding to handle the pollution and other safety hazards posed by leftover coal mines in the southeastern part of the state.

The Interior Department invited states this week to apply for a portion of the $725 million set aside this year for abandoned mine cleanup from the 2021 infrastructure bill. States with more-substantial past mining are eligible for more than $100 million. Iowa’s eligibility was capped by the department at $6 million.

The funding would benefit Iowa’s Abandoned Mined Land Reclamation program, which began in 1983. It has mitigated about a third of the state’s roughly 300 sites so far, according to IDALS. The program is primarily funded through federal taxes on current coal mining, and the state gets about $2.9 million each year.

The extra funding is boost for abandoned mine cleanup efforts by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The extra funding in the infrastructure law was meant to both eliminate pollution from mining sites and to provide job opportunities in communities that have historically relied on coal mining.

Congress to discuss banning mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 30, 2022

Members of Congress are divided over a recent proposal that could ban mining near the most popular wilderness area in the United States.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, reintroduced a bill to permanently protect nearly 250,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The forest is near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million acre watershed located in Duluth, Minnesota. The bill aims to ensure the water in the area remains clean. Mining can cause pollution from nickel, cobalt, copper, and other minerals.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden blocked the federal approval of a new mine on the property. The decision overturned approval from former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s decision had reversed an Obama administration decision. As McCollum’s proposal is being discussed in Congress, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell said the bill provides needed certainty to protect the waters. Tidwell served under the Obama administration. He said the bill would ensure acid mine drainage did not degrade the value of the Boundary Waters area.

The waters is visited frequently, with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, saying it is the most-visited wilderness area in the country. The location drives the local economy, he said, providing thousands of jobs that could be at risk if mining is allowed in the area.

Researchers find microplastics in human blood


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 30, 2022

News research found microplastic pollution in human blood for the first time. Of the people scientists tested, 80 percent showed trace particles of microplastics.

While the impact on one’s health if they have microplastics in their bloodstream is currently unknown, the research shows that particles of pollution can travel around the body. Through this travel, particles can lodge themselves in a person’s organs. The researchers have found that babies and young children are the most vulnerable when it comes to chemical and particle exposure like this.

The new research was published in the journal Environmental International and examined 22 participant’s blood samples. Some of the samples showed more than one type of plastic at a time. Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands who worked on the research, told The Guardian that the study’s results are a breakthrough as it is the first indication of any particles from plastics in a person’s blood.

“It is certainly reasonable to be concerned,” Vethaak said. “The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” 

The team plans to increase its sample size to better inform their data and deepen their understanding of these particles. Vethaak also plans to increase the number of polymers assessed alongside the number of participants, diversifying the results significantly. As plastic production continues to grow, some researchers and environmental advocates are concerned about the increased likelihood for people to have microplastics in their bodies.

Unknown amount of manure leaked from Iowa dairy farm into


Cows in barn
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | March 22, 2022

According to the Iowa DNR, workers at Black Soil Dairy, located near Granville, observed manure water flowing from a barn and into a sewer drain. Unaware that the contamination would flow into a nearby creek, they did nothing to stop the leak. The dairy owner noticed the overflow and stopped it a few days after it had begun. The amount of escaped manure is unknown. 

The farm, which houses 4,500 dairy cows, has a flush flume system that helps clear manure from its three barns. The system utilizes fast flowing liquid to transfer waste across the width of a barn. A clog in the system caused the overflow due to sand. 

The DNR investigated the overflow and noticed that manure traveled five miles down from the dairy farm. This creek is home to little fish like minnows and chubs, which were harmed due to the pollution. Jennifer Christian, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, said that the leak was significant enough to cause a fish kill. The overflow’s overall impact on the environment is unknown as ice was covering some of the creek. 

Survey discovers that Kammerer Mobile Home Park’s drinking water contains the state’s highest amount of toxic chemicals


A glass of water, please
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | March 8, 2022

Just south of Muscatine, the Kammerer Mobile Home Park near the Mississippi River contains the highest amount of toxic chemicals that have been discovered by the new state survey. The mobile home park houses around 100 people. 

According to the Iowa DNR, the water is contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, also known as “forever chemicals” or PFAS. Out of the dozens of communities tested for the chemicals, ten have reported findings or PFAS. Kammerer Mobile Home Park has been found to contain the highest amount of chemicals and surpasses other states’ safety levels. At this time, it is unknown if mobile park residents are aware of the presence of “forever chemicals” in their water.  

Roger Bruner, the supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau that is conducting the statewide survey, said, “They didn’t exceed anything with the (federal) health advisory — that’s the point at which we would require a public water supply to notify their customers.”

The well that contains drinking water for the park is very susceptible to surface contamination due to porous sediment in the area. The prime source of contamination likely came from one of the many industrial sites nearby; however, the exact origin is unknown. 

Parts of the U.S. are seeing a rise in hazardous air quality


Wildfire
Via Flickr.

Elyse Gabor | January 24, 2021

Climate change is causing the rise of two air pollutants in the Western U.S. Air quality in the environment had improved due to the Clean Air Act of 1970, but within the last 20 years, we have seen the air become polluted again due to hot weather.

People in the Western U.S. face health risks due to the hot weather. The heat is causing the number of wildfires to grow and increasing dangerous amounts of ground-level ozone and pollution called PM 2.5. This pollution enters your lungs, causing severe and potentially fatal health issues such as lung and respiratory problems.

These wildfires can also cause harm to people who live thousands of miles away from the affected areas. The smoke produced by the fires can travel quickly to other states and regions, making the air quality unsafe.

Climate scientist at UCLA Daniel Swain said even if regulations and extreme measures are taken, air quality conditions are still likely to worsen in the upcoming years. However, cities and towns can take steps to reduce the number of emissions during times of dangerous air quality.

Revisiting Iowa Climate Statements: Impacts on the Health of Iowans


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Josie Taylor | October 11, 2021

In 2014, Iowans were seeing the real effects that come with climate change. Heavy rainfall, floods and a longer growing season were some of the impacts. The biggest impact, however, was the health effects of climate change. 

Repeated heavy rain events caused increased exposures to toxic chemicals and raw sewage because of flood waters. Along with that came degraded water quality, which hurt many in Iowa. In farming states like Iowa, higher water temperatures and decreased mixing have combined with high nutrient levels to create harmful algal blooms that make the water unsuitable for human and animal consumption.

An even more common health effect of climate change was its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health. With warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels in the air, plants produce not only more pollen, but also pollen with a higher allergen content. A longer growing season extends the period of exposure to allergens, and new allergenic plants moving northward into Iowa are magnifying the range of exposures. Respiratory problems such as childhood asthma have increased dramatically in prevalence since the 1980s. 

Seven years ago, scientists were concerned about new diseases arriving as a result of climate change. They saw new species of mosquitoes and ticks in Iowa capable of transmitting diseases such as Dengue Fever and Ehrlichiosis. With increasing temperatures, more rainfall, and longer summers, these mosquitos and ticks can live longer and expand their range. 

Overall, health concerns resulting from climate change were common and important. These issues were one of the biggest concern for Iowans in 2014, but they are still here today.

Biden Administration Proposes New Environmental Law


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Josie Taylor | October 7, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday, October 6,  announced that it would restore climate change protections to the nation’s bedrock environmental law. The proposed changes would require the federal government to evaluate the climate change impacts of major new projects as part of the permitting process. 

Under the Biden administration’s proposed changes, agencies will have to consider the direct and indirect impacts that their projects may have on the climate, specifically how it pollutes American neighborhoods.

The goal of this proposed goal is to protect Americans from the harmful effects of pollution. Air polliution is the biggest environmental risk for early death. World wide, 9 in every 10 people breathe unclean air. 

If an agency’s project was not approved, they could work with local communities to figure out how to make it safer. The federal agenencies and local communities would work together to find a solution that would result in less pollution. 

The Biden administration is expected to publish its proposed rule in the Federal Register on Thursday and will take public comments on its plans for 45 days before issuing a final policy.

Unhealthy Levels of Pollution Spread Across Western U.S. as California Wildfires Burn On


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Nicole Welle | August 24, 2020

More than 600 individual fires and some of the largest wildfire complexes in California’s history are still burning after thousands of lightning strikes triggered them last week.

Unhealthy levels of pollution have been reported across the state in the last few days. The large number of individual fires and the size of the fire complexes has caused an unusually high amount of of smoke to enter the atmosphere, and the smoke has spread across parts of the western United States and the Pacific Ocean. Atmospheric testing showed that Northern California had the worst air quality in the world on August 19.

Extremely hot and dry conditions in California could cause the smoke to stay in the air longer. The black carbon particulates in the air will cause health problems for humans and animals as they enter the lungs and bloodstream, and they play a role in global warming, according to an article published by NASA. The National Weather Service issued a poor air quality alert for California’s Central Valley until the fires are extinguished.

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Compliance Reporting During COVID-19 Pandemic


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Nicole Welle | April 16th, 2020

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an order on March 26 announcing the suspension of the enforcement of environmental compliance reporting in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before this change, businesses were required to report and limit all air emissions and water discharges, meet requirement for hazardous waste management and maintain standards for safe drinking water. Businesses that failed to meet these EPA-issued standards could face fines.

The recent order states that factories, power plants, and other facilities are encouraged to keep records of any instances of non-compliance with EPA instituted regulations. However, they will not face any fines for violations as long as the EPA agrees that the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than intentional disregard for the law, is the cause.

In its order, the EPA did not designate an end date for the suspension or address the potential ramifications this decision could have for public health and safety. Allowing industry to police itself could cause air and water pollution to go unchecked and put the safety of drinking water at risk, according to the Iowa Environmental Council.

Compromising access to clean water could make it more difficult for the U.S. healthcare system to provide the sanitary conditions necessary for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic according to the IEC. The Washington Post also reported that the wording of the EPA’s order is broad enough that companies could get away with practices that put public health at risk well into the future.