National Drive Electric Week events planned for three Iowa locations


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The engine compartment of an all-electric Toyota Rav 4. (Jeff Youngstrom/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 13, 2016

National Drive Electric Week is hosting its fifth annual celebration and outreach effort this week at locations across the United States.

The week-long celebration is presented by Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association. National Drive Electric Week is hosting 232 events during the week of September 10th through the 18th. At each event, electric vehicles provided by local owners and car dealerships will be available for public observation, test-drives, and rides.

The popularity of electric vehicles in Iowa is on the rise. According to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, approximately 1,000 electric vehicles are already in use in the state, and that number has the potential to reach 100,000 by 2040. David Darrow of Grimes, Iowa will display his Tesla Model S P85D at the Drive Electric DSM Car Show. He said, “For daily driving, it’s just unbeatable. It just makes other cars feel kind of clumsy and rough. When you take out the delay of sucking air and fuel, and you take out the delay of a shifting transmission, it’s amazing the difference driving an electric car.”

Electric vehicles help to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and produce zero tailpipe emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. While electric vehicles can have a much larger price tag initially, the cost can be offset by fuel cost savings, a federal tax credit, and state incentive programs. Also, as production volume goes up, prices are likely to go down.

National Drive Electric Week will host three events in Iowa this week:

Drive Electric DSM Car Show
When: Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 11:30 a.m-1:30 p.m.
Where: Western Gateway area of downtown Des Moines,
between Locust St. and Grand Ave.

Drive Electric Week Event West Des Moines
When: Thursday, Sept. 15 from 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Where: Valley Junction Farmer’s Market
304 5th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265

Drive Electric Week Event Cedar Rapids
When: Saturday, Sept. 17 from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Where: NewBo City Market
1100 3rd Street SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401

Collaborative campaign to offer better understanding of high ozone levels along Lake Michigan shoreline


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Areas that exceed EPA’s ozone compliance level are clustered along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. (Space and Science Engineering Center/University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Jenna Ladd | August 31, 2016

Scientists from the University of Iowa will take part in the Lake Michigan Ozone Study 2017 this summer in order to better understand consistently high ozone levels along the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the ozone standard to 70 parts per billion, communities on all sides of the Lake Michigan shoreline have consistently seen ozone levels that are out of compliance with EPA regulation. Before states can work to lower ozone levels into compliance with federal law, they need to test how accurately current ozone models are measuring conditions in the area. The Lake Michigan Ozone Study will work to provide more detailed data that could be used to develop and test new ozone models. The collaborative field campaign consists of scientists from several universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa, and many more as well as professionals from the agencies like the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium (LADCO).

Dr. Charles Stainer, an associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, explains, “You can make new models, but there’s no data to test them against. I mean there is data, but it’s too limited.” Currently, there are two buoys in the lake that measure ozone levels and about fifteen surface stations near the shoreline that do the same. Stainer says this doesn’t cut it, “What you really need is a full map of ozone and a few vertical profiles where you can fully constrain the wind, the water vapor, the ozone, the nitrogen oxides, and then a few other [chemical] species that would be tell-tale signs that the models are too far in one direction or too far in the other.”

Between May 15th 2017 and June 15th 2017, the campaign will have access to an aircraft from NASA that will be equipped to provide the kind of detailed data they need. The aircraft will likely be based in Madison, Wisconsin. Forecast models for weather, ozone, and other chemical factors will be used daily to determine the aircraft’s flight plan. Stainer said that he expects many of the flights will be between Madison, Wisconsin; Cheboygan, Wisconsin; and Chicago, Illinois in some combination.

Brad Pierce, a NOAA Advanced Satellite Products Branch scientist stationed at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the campaign also hopes to better understand the complex lake breeze system that affects ozone production.“There are these sites along the lake… that are in violation, and they’re not really areas that have a whole lot of industry,” he explained, “The sense is that a lot of this has to do with lake breeze circulations. We want to go out and measure the lake breeze circulation and the transport of ozone precursors – the emissions that end up producing ozone – in the springtime when this lake breeze is most dominant.”

The campaign is still looking for additional funding that would expand ground measurement sites with high-tech, real-time monitors from various atmospheric chemistry groups from around the country.

In short, Stanier said, “The existing data you can test whether the models predict ozone too high or too low, but this advanced data set would enable you to say why.”

Amish home environment linked to asthma prevention


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Amish children are frequently exposed to microbes from farm animals that have been shown to strengthen their innate immune systems. (bluebird87/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 9, 2016

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that a less dusty house is not always a healthier house. 

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from several universities, including CGRER member and professor and head of the University of Iowa Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, Dr. Peter Thorne, found that particular characteristics of the Amish household bolster children’s immune systems and prevent asthma.

Researchers began with comparing two seemingly similar communities, the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites in South Dakota. Even though the two groups share comparable genetic backgrounds, diets, and lifestyles, a compelling difference in the number of asthmatic children was found. About 21% of Hutterite children aged 6-14 have asthma while only 5% of Amish children, about half the national average, have been diagnosed. Scientists posit that one major difference between the communities accounts for this trend: farming practices.

Hutterite communities operate large, industrialized farms that utilize electricity. Dairy barns are often located a distance away from family homes and children do not play in them. In contrast, the Amish keep single-family, electricity-free dairy farms. Horses are used to power the farms and for transportation. Dairy barns are often located near the family home and are an acceptable play area for children.

The scientists began with a modest study, comparing immune cells found in blood samples from 30 Amish and 30 Hutterite children, all aged 7-14. All 30 of the Amish children were found to have high counts of neutrophils, or white blood cells that act as the body’s “innate immune system.” None of the Amish were found to have asthma. In contrast, 6 of the Hutterite children had an asthma diagnosis and all of them had considerably lower levels of neutrophils in the blood.

Researchers also placed Electrostatic Dust Samplers inside the homes the Amish and Hutterite children to measure toxins and airborne particulates. The electricity-free samplers found that Amish house dust was “much richer in microbial products” from farm animals that are carried into the home. The microbial life found inside the Amish children’s homes explains their spiked neutrophil levels that prevent asthma.

The team was able to corroborate the results in animals, Thorne explains, “When we administered extracts of the two types of dust to mice, we were able to reproduce the differences in respiratory allergy that we observed in the Amish and Hutterite children.”

Dr. Talal Chatila a Harvard Medical School immunologist who wrote an editorial published along with the report said, “it is not far-fetched to start thinking of how one could harness those bacteria for a therapeutic intervention.”

The team also included researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona, Dr. von Hauner Children Hospital in Munich, Germany, and Allergy and Asthma Consultants, Indianapolis.

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


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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.

 

 

Technical assessment evaluates compliance with 2012 fuel economy, greenhouse gas standards


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(Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 20, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft of the Technical Assessment Report (TAR) to evaluate the compliance of the automobile industry with the Obama administration’s 2012 fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.

The standards, finalized in 2012, covered all cars and light weight trucks sold in the United States between 2012 and 2025. The regulations were put in place to save Americans money at the fuel pump, reduce dependency on foreign oil, and to protect the environment. Initial goals required that vehicles get 54.5 miles per gallon and cut greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile.

EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) released an in-depth TAR draft earlier this month in order to highlight sustainable automobile advances and to determine reasonable standards for future model year (MY) automobiles. TAR considers fuel-economy advancement cost, technologies, and market-changes in order to provide EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with necessary information to write updated standards for MY 2022-2025 vehicles.

A recent EPA blog post outlined major findings of the industry assessment.

TAR found that many automakers are meeting fuel-economy and emissions standards several years ahead of schedule. There are upwards of 100 cars, SUVs, and trucks currently on the market that meet 2020 or later standards already. There was evidence that manufacturers can comply with standards “at a similar or even lower cost,” corroborating a 2015 study by that National Academy of Sciences. Finally, TAR concluded that automakers are seeing “record sales and fuel economy levels.” For the first time since the 1920’s, auto sales have increased for six consecutive years leading up to 2015.

A 60 day public comment period for all interested stakeholders has been established.

fuel economy standards
Fuel economy standards infographic (The White House)

First growing season for downtown Iowa City rooftop garden


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Seedlings begin in a smaller, raised hydroponic bed. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
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PVC pipes deliver nutrient-rich water that will flow through root systems in lieu of soil. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | July 6, 2016

An Iowa City business owner has begun growing hydroponic vegetables on his downtown rooftop.

Mark Ginsberg, owner of a jewelry design studio and store called M.C. Ginsberg, has around 35 square-feet of hydroponic plants growing atop his business. Hydroponic gardens are systems in which plants can grow without soil, receiving the bulk of their nutrients from natural fertilizers in water like worm or fish waste. This nutrient rich water flows under plants and through root systems to sustain plant growth. Chad Treloar, Ginsberg’s construction lead for the project, built the garden with inexpensive, easy to acquire materials like PVC pipe, wood, and food-grade tubs.

In an interview with the Gazette, Ginsberg said that it would be possible to turn all urban Iowa City rooftops into food growing operations like his. He will harvest cucumbers, peas, and tomatoes first; he plans to give his bounty away to local restaurants and bars. In the coming years, MC Ginsberg’s garden will aim to sell its produce, depending on vegetable quality and yield dependability. Local restaurants seem eager to support the project, Oasis Falafel has already asked for all of the MC Ginsberg cilantro harvest.

In the long-term, Ginsberg is working to make hydroponic garden designs available to other downtown business owners. He aims to create a system that would allow owners to input rooftop dimensions and receive a cheap plan for hydroponic garden construction in return. He expects he could make these plans available for as little as 99 cents.

Green-roofs like these offer advantages to growers like runoff delay and stormwater management, improved air quality, and healthy foods with a small carbon footprint.

Iowa City Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the district is looking to back more projects like Ginsberg’s as a part of their larger sustainability focus for the downtown area.

Iowa DNR report shows improvements in Iowa’s air quality since 1978


Iowa Department of Natural Resources)

Nick Fetty | May 13, 2016

Air quality in Iowa has improved dramatically over the past five decades according to a recent report by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The report – Ambient Air Quality Improvements in Iowa – finds that harmful air pollutants such as sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides have declined, 60 percent and 43 percent respectively, since 1978. Both compounds can lead to respiratory issues and sulfur dioxide can contribute to acid rain. These health effects can be especially harmful to children, the elderly, those with lungs diseases, and those who exercise outdoors.

In 1978, 13 Iowa counties recorded air pollution levels that exceeded National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) compared to just two counties in 2015: Muscatine and Pottawattamie. Council Bluffs, the county seat in Pottawattamie County, exceeded NAAQS standards for lead particles in the air in 2010 and 2012 but those levels were below the NAAQS standards from 2013 to January of 2016. Muscatine, the county seat in Muscatine County, experienced unsafe levels of fine particulate matter in the air in 2009 and 2010 but those levels have since declined. Additionally, data in Muscatine showed excessive levels of sulfur dioxide in 2008 and 2010 but levels have also declined since 2010.

The reductions in harmful air pollutants across the state has in part been attributed to newer, more efficient equipment and technology. Despite the overall improvements in Iowa’s air quality, the state’s productivity, population, and travel miles have increased since 1978, all of which can be potential sources contributing to air pollution.