Neonicotinoids found in University of Iowa drinking water


activate charcoal
Activated carbon filters were shown to effectively remove neonic insecticides from drinking water. (Minnesota Department of Health)
Jenna Ladd | April 7, 2017

Neonicotinoids, a specific class of pesticides, have been detected for the first time ever in tap water according to a recently published study by University of Iowa scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Neonics became widely used by farmers in the early 1990s, mostly because they are harmful to insects but to not other species. The pesticides are still very popular, despite mounting research that suggests they are lethal to bees and other helpful insect species.

A team of researchers compared tap water samples from the University of Iowa drinking water supply to samples of Iowa City municipal tap water. Tap water from each source was tested for three primary neonicotinoid types: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. The University of Iowa filtration system removed only a minute amount of each insecticide. In contrast, the City of Iowa City successfully removed 100 percent, 94 percent and 85 percent, respectively, of each primary neonicotinoid.

Researchers say this can be explained by the different filtration systems used in each facility. Neonicotinoids readily dissolve in water, they say, and therefore easily slip through the University’s sand filters. The city employs an activated carbon filter that successfully removes the chemicals. Dr. Gregory LeFevre, University of Iowa environmental engineer and one of the study’s authors, said that activated carbon filters can be a cost-effective way to tackle these insecticides in an interview with the Washington Post. In fact, the University purchased a small activated carbon filtration system shortly after the study wrapped up in July 2016.

Levels of neonicotinoids in University water were relatively small, ranging from 0.24 to 57.3 nanograms per liter. LeFevre said, “Parts per trillion is a really, really small concentration.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not set a limit for neonicotinoid levels in drinking water. The study’s authors argue that more research is called for to assess neonicotinoid exposure on a larger scale. LeFevre explained, “Without really good toxicity data it is hard to ascertain the scale of this, but whenever we have pesticides in the drinking water that is something that raises a flag no matter what type of concentration it is.”

EPA to maintain fuel economy standards


16036822687_ae6bfae8e3_o
The fuel economy standards require all new fleets of light trucks and cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon. (Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 1, 2016

Despite objection from automakers, the Obama administration decided on Wednesday to maintain fuel economy requirements for light trucks and cars.

Following a technical analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was concluded that vehicle manufacturers are able to continue meeting emissions standards and fuel economy requirements for model years 2022-2025. The standards require that new fleets of light trucks and cars average 54.5 miles per gallon, with a reduction to 50.8 miles per gallon should buying habits change. In a statement Wednesday, the EPA said that the requirements help to save drivers billions of dollars at the pump, double new-car gas mileage and drastically reduce carbon emissions. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said,

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment.”

Dan Becker is the director of the Safe Climate campaign environmental group. He said, “Numerous studies demonstrate that automakers have ample, affordable technology to achieve the program’s cost-effective goals.” Becker also said that the EPA plans to make the decision final before president-elect Trump is inaugurated in January.

The EPA is accepting public comment on the decision through December 30th, 2016. Comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0827.

Report: STEM scores lower for minority, low-income students in Iowa


Students get hands on experience learning about science at Chicago's Argonne National Laboratory. (Argonne National Laboratory)
Students get hands-on experience learning about science at Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory. (Argonne National Laboratory)

Nick Fetty | August 5, 2015

A report released Monday finds that math and science proficiency rates for Iowa students from low-income and minority families lags below their peers.

The third annual report – which was compiled by researchers from Iowa’s three public universities – points out that while overall student achievement in math and science has improved since Governor Terry Branstad launched his Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council in 2011, there is still room for improvement.

“Amidst plenty of good news, there’s also reminders that our work is not done and there’s more to do,” Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “So while we have made progress, and that’s something that we can celebrate, we know that we still have work to do.”

The report also found that interest in STEM careers was higher for elementary-school students compared to those in middle and high school, that 90 percent of students who participated in a STEM “Scale-Up” program in 2014-2015 had a greater interest in at least one STEM subject or career, and that more than 60 percent of Iowans surveyed said they were familiar with efforts to improve STEM education in the Hawkeye State. Earlier this summer, Iowa State University hosted a workshop for grade school teachers to better implement STEM programs into their classrooms.

Despite the lower rates for minority students at the K-12 level, the report also concluded that completion of community college STEM-related degrees for minorities has improved 69 percent since 2010. Overall, STEM degrees at Iowa’s public universities have increased 12 percent and  11 percent at private colleges since 2010.

On the Radio: Water Quality Research


Photo by BugDNA; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers water quality research being done at the University of Iowa. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Environmental groups say Interstate Power’s energy efficiency plan should be stronger


Photo by John Simonson; Flickr

Environmental groups say the state has failed to push Alliant Energy’s Interstate Power & Light far enough on saving energy over the next five years.

The company says it will invest a total of nearly $400 million from ratepayers to fund energy efficiency efforts, almost the same amount as spent in the previous five years. 

To learn more about the issue, head over to the Des Moines Register. 

Where to Harness Solar and Wind Power?


Photo by USFWS Mountain Prairie; Flickr

A recent study by the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that energy isn’t best harnessed in the first place we think of.   Continue reading