Federal emergency declaration in Flint to expire soon


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(George Thomas/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | August 11, 2016

The federal state of emergency declared by President Obama for the city of Flint, Michigan will end this Sunday, August 14.

President Obama announced the state of emergency on January 16, 2016 after thousands of Flint residents were exposed to toxic amounts of lead in tap water. The declaration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to spend up to 5 million in federal money to supply the community with clean water, water filters, and other necessary items. Since January, FEMA has covered 75% of costs associated with providing more than 243,000 water filter replacement cartridges, and about 50,000 water and pitcher filters. After the emergency status ends this Sunday, the state government will be responsible for those costs.

Bob Kaplan, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Acting Regional Administrator, said that while water quality is improving, their work is far from finished, he said, “We won’t be at the finish line until testing can confirm that Flint residents are receiving safe, clean drinking water.”

Researchers at Virginia Tech University spent two weeks in the Michigan city at the end of June testing water samples for lead, iron, and Legionella, a bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease and responsible for the deaths of ten Flint citizens. In a press conference today, the research team concluded that Legionella colonization was very low, and while lead levels have decreased, Flint citizens should still use filters or bottled water until further notice from the State or EPA.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said that rebuilding Flint citizens’ trust in the government is going to require more support from government agencies. She said, “We don’t think we’ve gotten everything that the citizens deserve as a result of what has happened…It hasn’t been enough and it hasn’t been fast enough.” Weaver added, “…the only way people will truly feel comfortable is when we have new pipes in place.”

University of Iowa receives funding to study, monitor Zika virus


Infected mosquitoes can transmit the Chikungunya virus to humans (Gustavo Fernando Durán/Flickr)
(Gustavo Fernando Durán/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | August 4, 2016

Iowa is among 39 other states and territories to receive more than $16 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor and study the Zika virus.

Though the amount of funding was not specified, the University of Iowa is the agency within the Hawkeye State that will receive money to study Zika. The UI is the only university to receive funding as state departments of public health were awarded the funds in the other states and territories.

The funding will “establish, enhance, and maintain information-gathering systems to rapidly detect microcephaly – a serious birth defect of the brain – and other adverse outcomes caused by Zika virus infection.” The funding is temporarily being diverted from various public health resources until congress approves of specific moneys for Zika.

Within weeks of the first reported cases of Zika in the United States, officials with the University of Iowa’s State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) and the Iowa Department of Public Health “were preparing for the worst.” As of May 19, the SHL had tested nearly 200 specimens, most of which were determined to be negative. In addition to six specimens that tested positive for Zika, there were two reports of Dengue virus but zero reports of Chikungunya. Chikungunya and Dengue – both of which are vector-borne similar to Zika – and their impact in the Hawkeye State were discussed during the 2014 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum.

The first travel-related case of Zika virus in Iowa was reported on February 19 of this year. Since then, eight other case of Zika have been reported. All reports of Zika in Iowa have occurred in adults who had recently traveled to Central or South America or the Caribbean and none of the women who reported the virus were pregnant at the time. The Iowa Department of Public Health provides weekly updates about Zika on its website.

CGRER’s Schnoor honored by science journal


CGRER co-founder Jerry Schnoor speaks at a World Canvass event celebrating CGRER’s 25th anniversary in 2015. (KC McGinnis/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | August 2, 2016

CGRER co-founder Jerry Schnoor was recognized last month by the journal Environmental Science & Technology for his research contributions as well as his work as the publication’s editor-in-chief.

Schnoor was featured in the July 5th edition of ES&T in a commentary authored by Joel Gerard Burken, a former student of Schnoor’s who now serves on the faculty in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Burken – who holds his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from the University of Iowa – recounted studying under Schnoor in the 1990s. Burken discussed Schnoor’s sincerity and passion when working with students and colleagues as well as his genuine concern for public health and the environment as opposed to just conducting research, gathering data, and publishing papers.

“Sincerity and culture are corner posts to Jerry that are just as important as remarkable acumen and abilities. Though his sincere quality of person, Jerry sets a solid foundation that he stand upon in scientific work and in using this foundation as a position for strong speech on important topics,” Burken wrote. “…Impacts we can have go beyond data generation and being involved in policy issues, and speaking out for what we believe to be important. Jerry certainly spoke out on topics of importance.”

Schnoor served as editor-in-chief of ES&T from 2003 to 2014. During that time he helped to expand the journal’s international reach and established Environmental Science & Technology Letters, “an international forum for brief communications on experimental or theoretical results of exceptional timeliness in all aspects of environmental science (pure and applied), and short reviews on emerging environmental science & technology topics.” Schnoor also covered the COP21 climate summit in Paris for ES&T in December 2015.

Schnoor’s areas of research include global air issues, groundwater pollutant transport, and remediation.

ES&T is a biweekly, peer-reviewed scientific journal that covers research in environmental science, technology, and policy. For Burken’s full article and for links to various editorials Schnoor has published in ES&T, click here.

Iowa’s Rep. Loebsack encourages Hillary Clinton to focus on renewable energy


Rep. Dave Loebsack. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Rep. Dave Loebsack proposed legislation that would establish a national flood center, possibly at the University of Iowa, during an press conference in Iowa City on June 6, 2016. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Nick Fetty | July 29, 2016

Iowa congressman Dave Loebsack encouraged Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to make renewable energy a major part of her platform during an event earlier this week, as reported by the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Rep. Loebsack – who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee – spoke at a forum Wednesday entitled POLITICO Caucus: Energy and the Election, sponsored by Vote4Energy. The forum was part of the events associated with the Democratic National Convention which took place in Philadelphia this week. Joining Loebsack on the panel was Reps. Boyle (D-PA) and Tonko (D-NY) as well as former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

Much of Loebsack’s emphasis was on energy issues important to Iowans such as biofuels, wind, and solar.

“Energy policy is exceedingly important in Iowa. The renewable fuel standard has been important in Iowa, not just for ethanol, not just for corn ethanol, but for cellulosic ethanol, for biofuels of other sorts as well. These are also good for the environment. They can bring together people as far as I’m concerned,” Loebsack said at the forum.

Loebsack – currently the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation – represents Iowa’s 2nd District, the southeast corner of the state that includes Iowa City. The Sioux City native and former Cornell College political science professor has held his seat since 2006.

Full video of the panel discussion is available on politico.com.

Alliant Energy announces $1B investment for Iowa wind farm


Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Wind turbines in northern Iowa. (Brooke Raymond/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 28, 2016

Alliant Energy announced Wednesday that it will invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to expand wind energy projects in Iowa.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based utility company will seek regulatory approval to expand the Whispering Willow Wind Farm in Franklin County in north central Iowa. The project would add 500 megawatts of clean energy over the next five years and Alliant officials do not expect to use eminent domain. The project is expected to provide power for 215,000 homes, generate thousands of dollars in property tax revenue, and create as many as 1,500 jobs during the height of construction.

“Our customers expect low-cost, clean energy, which is exactly what this project will bring to the communities we serve,” said Doug Kopp, president of Alliant Energy’s Iowa utility. “Wind has no fuel costs and zero emissions, making it a win-win for Iowans and the Iowa economy.”

Alliant Energy’s announcement was lauded by local environmental groups, including Nathaniel Baer with the Iowa Environmental Council.

“Alliant Energy’s new wind project will continue Iowa’s strong momentum on clean energy leadership. Across the state, utilities and developers are placing 10,000 MW of wind by 2020 – a major milestone – within reach,” Baer said in a statement.

Alliant Energy also said that it would be receptive to expanding other projects in Iowa outside of Franklin County. The proposed expansion is part of the utility’s vision for a clean energy future which includes a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent between 2005 and 2030.

In May, Alliant’s competitor MidAmerican Energy announced a $3.6 billion investment for its own wind energy project in Iowa.

Bakken oil pipeline gets the final go-ahead in Iowa


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Bakken pipeline construction site (wittepx/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 27, 2016

The Bakken oil pipeline received a final go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday for construction in Iowa. Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas company, Energy Transfer Partners, had already received full permission from all other states along the pipeline’s path including Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The company received notice yesterday from Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois that all construction in Iowa complies with federal environmental laws and is authorized.

The Army Corps of Engineers verification letter permits the construction of parts of the pipeline that cross bodies of water, including major rivers. While the Iowa Utilities Board previously granted development in parts of the state, this is the final regulatory hurdle for the Bakken pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community organization that opposes the pipeline, is concerned about its crossing of 64 Iowa waterways.

Dick Lamb, a landowner in Boone county along the pipeline’s route, echoes their concern, “It isn’t a question of if, but when it will leak, and when it does it will irreparably destroy valuable Iowa farmland and the waterways we depend on.” An going lawsuit filed by 10 affected landowners challenges Dakota Access’ use of eminent domain to gain access to private Iowa land.

Many labor unions in Iowa look forward to the development of the Bakken pipeline. President of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Bill Gehard, said, “Thousands of American workers from labor unions throughout the Midwest are already benefiting from this project, and these final permits will secure their jobs for the entirety of construction.”

The water crossing permits mandate follow-up inspections for compliance to regulation and monitored wetland mitigation. The finished pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing 18 Iowa counties along the way. It will move 570,000 barrels of oil daily into Midwest, East coast, and Gulf Coast markets.

‘Iowa Watch’ article examines concerns with common Iowa herbicides


A tractor applied pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
A tractor applies pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 26, 2016

A recent article by Iowa Watch reporter Lauren Mills examines new research into the environmental and public health concerns of two herbicide chemicals commonly used in the Hawkeye State.

Atrazine and glyphosate – both of which are key ingredients in the herbicide Roundup – have come under scrutiny recently for their potential environmental and health impacts on humans. Earlier this month, California required that labels be placed on all products containing atrazine to warm consumers about the potential human health impacts of the chemical. Specifically, atrazine – the second-most commonly used pesticide in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – has been linked to “birth defects, reduced male fertility and reproductive toxicities in women.”

Glyphosate – the most commonly used pesticide in the U.S. – was determined to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” in a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization.

Last May in Iowa City, the Pesticide Action Network of North America released a report which outlined the impact that pesticide exposure has on children living in rural areas.

To read Lauren’s full piece, visit IowaWatch.orgIowa Watch is produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news service established in Iowa City in 2010.