Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations

onEarth:

JUDY GALLAGHER  VIA FLICKR

JUDY GALLAGHER VIA FLICKR

According to a study published by the Royal Society last fall, common green darners, which are found from Cuba to Canada, make a long, complex journey that takes three generations and spans a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they do it, but temperature seems to play a key role in telling the animals when to move. Unfortunately, this means climate change could well wreck the whole event even before we fully understand it. Worse, it would leave much of eastern North America without an important member of its food web.

The news that dragonflies migrate probably won’t shock people who study insects, says the study’s senior author, Colin Studds, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Maryland. “We’ve had an inkling of how many insects migrate,” he says. “There are moths, there are beetles, and there are probably about 20 species of dragonflies that we have expected of migration. But we don’t know much about it other than that it’s a phenomenon.”

AP: Trumpeter Swans died from Lead Poisoning

A University of Minnesota diagnostic lab report shows that dead trumpeter swans found at Sucker Lake in Vadnais Heights, Minn., earlier this month died of lead poisoning.

The Pioneer Press reported that the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization, which investigated the swan deaths, originally thought the swans had died of malnutrition.

The report said the lead toxicity is likely from fishing sinkers that accumulate in the sediment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that 40 percent of Minnesota trumpeter swan deaths are caused by lead poisoning. Experts say one pellet can kill an adult trumpeter swan.

About 10 dead swans were found at the Vadnais Heights lake.

We keep loosing lead sinkers in our lakes and we think it has no consequences. Crazy.

Alissa Walker: How to ID Lead Paint

Curbed:

Lead paint is extremely prevalent in older, historic houses—especially homes that haven’t been renovated. I figured we might have lead paint in our house, given its age. If the paint is in good condition, there isn’t much risk. However, when lead paint is deteriorating, you can ingest it...

If the paint is in good shape, sometimes all that’s needed is encapsulation, meaning sealing or painting over the older layers of lead paint. If the paint is chipped or flaking, or found in places that are frequently used, like hinges and windows, the more expensive abatement process is the best option. Our county’s public health department provided a list of accredited inspectors and abatement firms, and the EPA also has a resource center.

Daniel McGraw: Lake Erie Bill of Rights

The Guardian:

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The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

Erin Jordan: Iowa Commission Won't Set Lake Pollution Limits

The Gazette:

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The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied a petition asking the state to set pollution limits on Iowa lakes. The vote in Des Moines followed a presentation by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council, which jointly filed a petition for rule making. The groups argued numeric limits for water transparency, chlorophyll-a, total phosphorus and total nitrogen would better help the state protect lakes used for recreation and drinking water.

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommended the commission deny the petition, saying numeric limits would result in costly changes and more federal regulation. The Law and Policy Center also asked for numeric limits in 2013, but the commission denied the petition then as well.

Interesting… aren’t there benefits of setting a pollution standard for a lake or a group of lakes?

Frances Cairncross: A Global Warming Solution is R&D and Phased In Carbon Tax

Anthropocene:

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The world is playing a rigged casino game. “Every year that we inject more CO2 into the atmosphere, we spin the planetary roulette wheel … and the more we continue increasing the emissions that warm the planet, the more the odds are stacked against a favorable outcome.”
So what’s the smartest way to play such a game? Or, more to the point: Is there a way to speed up a massive leap from dirty to clean energy sources that would otherwise take many decades?

A team led by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu has recently argued that the best way to replace carbon-based energy with noncarbon fuels might be to start off with a high level of government subsidies for research and development of clean technologies. (1) Over the course of half a century, these subsidies would be gradually withdrawn and a carbon tax introduced at rates that would build to a crescendo over a century or so before declining. The boost to R&D would speed up the switch to clean energy without cutting economic growth, as a carbon tax alone might do.

Thus the carbon tax would become an effective way to bring about the transition to clean technology only after enough R&D had been done to shift the incentives for innovation.

Kirsti Marohn: 'Forever' Chemicals in Groundwater

MPR:

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“We do know that these chemicals just don’t break down,” said Matt Simcik, a University of Minnesota professor who has done extensive research on PFAS. “So once we’ve made them, they’re around forever.” About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

”There’s strong evidence they have adverse biological effects,” said Bill Arnold, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied methods to remove PFAS from water. “The data isn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to have them in your bloodstream. And we all have them in our bloodstream.”

EPA's Forever Chemicals Plan

AP:

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Under pressure from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it would move toward setting safety limits for a class of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water around the country. Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and state officials countered that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an “action plan” for dealing with the long-lasting substances, which have been linked to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility. The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

Stephanie Hemphill: Farmers Reducing Phosphorus Runoff

ENSIA:

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Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. Around the world, these bacteria are turning water a disgusting shade of green and other colors, and producing poisons that can sicken people and kill animals. And when the algae die off they can rob oxygen from other life in the water, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Around Green Bay, several small streams carry excess nutrients from farm fields into the bay and eventually into Lake Michigan. One of them, Silver Creek, is the focus of a pilot project designed to answer a crucial question: Can farmers reduce their pollution enough to help the bay, while remaining profitable? The project lies within the boundaries of the Oneida reservation, and more than half the land is owned by the tribe, which leases a lot of land to non-tribal growers...

Five years in a pilot program isn’t much time to clean up a stream, but the ultimate goal of adaptive management is to bring Silver Creek up to the state’s water quality standard for phosphorus. NEW Water says the project has cost US$1 million dollars annually over the last four years. That’s a lot cheaper than US$100 million for a new treatment plant. And how well is it all working?

The project promises to provide extensive data about how well various agricultural practices work to reduce polluted farm runoff. The weekly samples from five monitors along Silver Creek provide baseline measurements from the year before the BMPs started. This is not as precise as more expensive continuous monitoring would be, but it offers more experimental rigor than most studies can provide.

Those five monitors continue to track water quality. So far, the results are mixed. In 2016, three of the monitors showed phosphorus reductions, one stayed essentially the same and one showed a slight increase. In 2017 the area was drenched with what felt like endless rainfall, soaking the fields and making them more vulnerable to runoff. The phosphorus numbers went up, but not to levels seen pre-BMPs. “I was very happy to see that even with a very wet year we never even approached the concentrations we saw before we started installing these best management practices,” NEW Water’s Erin Houghton says.

Adam Hinterthuer: Lake Water Level Changes and Mercury in Fish

Center for Limnology:

A study has found an connection between water levels in lakes and toxic mercury levels in fish. When droughts cause water levels to drop, the levels of mercury found in fish also plummet. In extended periods of wetter weather, water levels rise and levels of mercury in fish increase. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as they examined long-term data from several lakes in northern Wisconsin. In previous work, the researchers had found that, roughly once a decade, water levels in the northwestern Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin’s inland lakes fluctuate between high and low levels and back again.

The scientists turned to 32 years of data on mercury levels in more than 1,300 walleye, a fish popular with anglers and restaurants throughout the Great Lakes region. And when the researchers plotted out that data, they saw a very familiar pattern — mercury levels in walleye follow the 10-year water level fluctuations.

Nadja Popovich: Lake Ice Future

New York Times:

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In a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists for the first time quantified the effects of rising temperatures on ice cover across 1.4 million lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that, from Wisconsin to Japan, thousands of lakes that used to freeze reliably every winter already see some years without ice, and that “an extensive loss of lake ice will occur within the next generation.”

The vanishing ice will affect cold-water ecosystems and be felt by millions of people who live near northern lakes, the study said.

The study.

Genna Reed: PFAS Task Force Calls for Action

Union of Concerned Scientists:

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Earlier this week, members of Congress announced the creation of a bipartisan task force intended to shine a light on the dangers of nationwide PFAS contamination. The group plans to hold briefings to further educate members of Congress and to write and push for strong legislation and funding through the appropriations process.

This exciting news comes as the public continues to wait for answers from the Trump administration, which has largely been all talk and no action on this issue. The EPA’s anticipated PFAS management plan has been delayed and documents uncovered by Politico revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) had recently been eyeing Michael Dourson to lead a study on the health risks of PFAS. You might remember Dourson as the toxicologist who withdrew his name from consideration as EPA chemicals head last year after his industry conflicts and record of weakened standards were exposed. DoD’s consideration of Dourson for this work is a slap in the face to the communities calling for science-based thresholds that are health-protective.

The establishment of this task force is a great opportunity for Congress to push for urgent, strong action and answer the calls of so many Americans for whom drinking their own water presents a public health risk...

Lindsey Konkel: Potential Ideas for Using Stormwater

Environmental Health News:

Ana Deletic

Ana Deletic

In some water-stressed regions, scientists and engineers are working to optimize the use of plants to remove nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from storm water. High levels of these nutrients in ground and surface water can lead to algal blooms and harm drinking water sources.

Ana Deletic is a water-engineering expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia. She has helped to engineer massive rain gardens in Australia, Israel and China—some up to an acre in size—to help filter these common pollutants out of urban wastewater. “These are simple-looking systems, but they are not. They are living machines that must be tailored for local conditions,” Deletic told EHN.

Many urban environments have a history of contamination with toxic metals including lead and cadmium. Deletic said that zinc from rusting metal roofs has become a public health concern in some cities in Australia and New Zealand. Plants may be able to help remove heavy metals, too. “Plants need small amounts of metals to grow, so over time they will suck up some of these contaminants,” said Deletic.

Megan Geuss: EPA Regulation of Mercury Emissions Summary

Ars Technica:

https://www.gettyimages.com/collections/bloomberg

https://www.gettyimages.com/collections/bloomberg

On Friday, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it did not think that current mercury emissions rules placed on coal-fired power plants were “appropriate and necessary,” based on the agency’s revised look at the costs and benefits of the rule...

Consequently, the Trump administration’s EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that it could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future.

And yet the EPA notes that mercury concentration in fish are increasing. Increases in mercury pollution have human consequences.

Karla Lant: The National Lakes Assessment

Environmental Monitor:

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The EPA (and others, such as this separate analysis from Dr. Dina Leech) are now reporting on observations of conditions and changes from 2007 to 2012. For most indicators, no change occurred, but changes in total phosphorus, two algal toxin indicators, and a physical habitat indicator are exceptions.

“While EPA did not observe changes in the condition categories for the nutrient phosphorus, Leech et al. 2018 found an 18.2 percent decline in the percentage of oligotrophic lakes (very clear lakes with less than 10 μg/L of total phosphorus) and an overall increase in the median concentration of phosphorus across all lakes,” comments Lynn. “The NLA 2012 Assessment Report observed a change within algal toxin measures. An analysis of cyanobacteria cell density, a measure of the density of cells that could produce cyanotoxins, showed a statistically significant increase (+8.3%) in the percentage of lakes in the most disturbed category between 2007 and 2012. The NLA identified a significant increase in the detection of microcystin among lakes in 2012 (+9.5%). However, concentrations of this algal toxin remained low and rarely exceeded WHO recreational levels of concern (<1% of the population) in both assessments.”

The NLA 2012 Assessment Report also found fewer lakes in the least disturbed category and more lakes in the moderately disturbed category for the habitat complexity indicator—which has to do with lakeshore habitat and buffering qualities.

Tim Vernimmen: Our Freshwater is Getting Saltier

Scientific American:

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Salts that de-ice roads, parking lots and sidewalks keep people safe in winter. But new research shows they are contributing to a sharp and widely rising problem across the U.S. At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years. And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50 percent more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well—notably, by affecting drinking water.

Sujay Kaushal, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park, recounts an experience he had when visiting relatives in New Jersey. When getting a drink from the tap, “I saw a white film on the glass.” After trying to scrub it off, he found, “it turned out to be a thin layer of salt crusting the glass.”

Ian Urbina: Poisoned Wildlife & Tainted Meat

New York Times

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Aiming a rifle loaded with a copper bullet rather than the standard type made of lead, Chelsea Cassens fired at an elk from 70 yards away, hitting it squarely behind its shoulder. To avoid spooking the animal if it was only injured, Ms. Cassens waited several minutes before approaching as her father needled her skeptically, suggesting her newfangled ammunition might not have immediately killed it...

“Her bullet did the trick just fine,” Mr. Hughes, 63, conceded, adding later that he also planned to switch from lead to copper bullets, a transition more and more hunters are making amid mounting evidence that lead bullets are poisoning the wildlife that feed on carcasses and polluting the game meat that many people eat.

If you hunt and use lead, then moving to copper and other non-toxic ammo is the conservative thing to do.

Eric Freedman: Mercury Levels in the North

Great Lakes Echo:

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Mercury levels remain high in the lakes, rivers and fish of the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula despite a substantial decline in airborne mercury emissions over the past 30 years, according to scientists from Michigan Technological University and the Environmental Protection Agency...

The study said, “One of the worst landscapes for mining mercury releases is into a wetland environment.” It identified five problem areas in the Lake Superior Basin in particular: the U.P., Northeast Minnesota and Ontario’s Thunder Bay, Nipigon and Wawa regions.

Mark Schapiro: Uphill Battle for Clean Water in Corn Country

Yale E360:

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“Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David Johnson before taking the stage at a raucous rally in Des Moines last winter to support strengthening the state’s water quality. In the marble rotunda of the state capitol, he rose to denounce the nitrogen and phosphates that have been flowing in ever-increasing quantities into Iowa’s public water supplies — and was cheered by the small crowd of family farmers, concerned mothers, and his new political allies, the legislature’s drastically outnumbered Democrats. Johnson had been one of the longest-serving Republicans in Iowa until he left the party to become an independent in 2016 after defying it repeatedly on one of the most divisive issues in Iowa — the integrity of the state’s water.

Iowa’s nitrogen load has been accelerating despite more than $100 million spent by the federal and state governments to rein it in. Starting in 1999, the concentration of nitrogen in the state’s major waterways has increased almost 50 percent, according to a study from the University of Iowa, published last spring in PLOS One. The battle over Iowa’s water had long been posed as one between rural and urban interests, until Johnson, whose district is one of the most thinly populated and heavily farmed in the state, came along...

More than 750, or 58 percent, of the state’s rivers and streams do not meet federal water quality standards and are designated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as too contaminated for swimming or consuming fish caught there — making a state once renowned for its lattice of waterways into a mess of inaccessible creeks, streams and lakes. Another 23 percent fall into a category of being “potentially impaired,” which the state defines as, “waters in need of further investigation.” Ninety-two percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of phosphates in the state’s waterways, says the DNR, come from farms and animal feedlots.

Aaron Bady: Heavy Stuff: Lead is Poison

Popula:

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It’s peculiar that we know that lead is poison, that there is no “safe” amount to put in your body, and yet we still put it in our bodies. It is peculiar because you would think that what we know would inform what we do; you would think, for example, that Flint, Michigan, would not choose to use a river that had been poisoned for nearly a century as its municipal water supply. The fact that it did—the impossible-to-avoid fact that this is the choice that was made in Flint, Michigan—forces us to re-evaluate the basis of that expectation. One of the terms is wrong. Is it “we”? Is it “know”? Is it “safe”? Is it “choose”?

Or maybe it’s the word “peculiar,” which has two primary but opposed meanings: “strange” and “particular.” Describing slavery as America’s “peculiar institution” in the 19th century, for example, was not meant to imply that slavery was strange, but that it was particular to the southern United States (the rest of the world having mostly abolished it). In this sense, it was anything but “estranged” or “alien”; precisely in its particularity, “the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States,” as John Calhoun put it, was what made his home what it was.

If it’s peculiar that we drink poison, as a society, then there are one of two choices: either it’s a strange and inexplicable practice, or it’s what makes us who we are. It might also, like the word peculiar itself, be a strange and particular combination of both.

Here is what we know....