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‘What they put on the fields contaminates our water’: Iowa’s pollution problem | Anna Jones

Decades of adding fertilisers and manure to drive Iowas crop production has loaded the land with nutrients that are ending up in the water supply

Brent Bierbaum climbs into the ditch running alongside one of his corn fields and dips a nitrate testing strip into the water. He checks the strip: the reading is somewhere between 10 and 20 parts per million. It confirms the water running off this field contains nitrates at levels that would be unsafe, and illegal, in drinking water.

Brent, whose family have been farming in this part of south-west Iowa for five generations, never used to worry about the runoff from his fields. On a hot day, cutting thistles in the corn fields, hed go down to the creek and drink straight from the tile line the water coming off the fields. Cold, clean its the best water around, he says.

Things changed when his local town, Griswold, started having problems with their drinking water. Nitrates are a soluble form of nitrogen that is added to fields as synthetic fertiliser and animal manure; nitrates from Brents fields, and other neighbouring farms, were making their way into the towns wells. Nitrate from farmland in Iowa is already a major contributor to the chemicals making their way to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi river, suffocating marine life in the dead zone. Suddenly what had been a distant problem, more than a thousand miles away, was on the doorstep, threatening the health of friends and neighbours.

Oh my gosh, he says. We all have friends who drink the water in town; we drink the water in town, so we all had an interest in it.

Like most small towns in rural Iowa, Griswold is surrounded by vast fields of corn and soya bean. Giant grain silos glinting in the spring sunshine are all that punctuate the landscape for miles around.

Iowas world-famous soils are packed with nitrogen a gift from nature that allowed commercial agriculture to take root here but decades of adding synthetic fertilisers and animal manure to drive production has loaded the land with nutrients it cant hold on to. Crop production in Iowa is still the main source, but animal manure from the states 20 million pigs has contributed to the problem.

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Brent Bierbaum tests the water in a ditch alongside one of his familys fields. Photograph: Anna Jones/The Guardian

The legal limit for nitrates in drinking water in the US is 10 parts per million, equivalent to 10mg per litre. It was introduced in 1962 to guard against blue baby syndrome, a potentially fatal condition affecting newborn babies and infants under one year old. Its caused by nitrates starving the body of oxygen, literally turning babies blue.

Three public wells, fed by an underground aquifer, provide drinking water for Griswolds 1,000 residents. Between 2012 and 2019, according to Griswold City Council, a single well recorded 21 incidents over 9mg/l and four incidents over 10mg/l. Another recorded 18 incidents over 9mg/l.

Studies by the National Cancer Institute found that drinking water with an average level of 5mg/l of nitrate, over a long period of time, may increase the risk of certain cancers. Other studies have linked nitrate intake above 5mg/l with birth defects in babies.

Julie Adams, one of Griswolds busy city councillors, took it upon herself to knock on doors and ring around new mothers and daycare nurseries, warning them of the risks: I tell them, If you have small babies do not use the tap water when youre making formula. Use bottled water. Just to be safe.

The dead zone

The problem is that nitrates are on the move, and in higher volumes than ever before. Iowa is 90% farmland and exports more nitrate and phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico than any other US state, killing marine life there.

Its not an isolated problem. A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that, across the US, 1,700 municipal water utilities most of them rural regularly have nitrates above the 5mg/l safe limit. Worryingly, 120 public waterworks breach the 10mg/l legal limit. On top of that, Iowa has up to 290,000 private wells, many on remote farms like Brents, which are not required by law to be tested.

The state of Griswolds wells set alarm bells ringing at Iowas Department of Natural Resources, which oversees water quality. They called a meeting and delivered a sobering ultimatum either bring nitrate levels down or the council would be ordered to spend $1m on a nitrate removal facility. It would wipe out a third of Griswolds $3m annual budget.

Councillor
Councillor Julie Adams at her home. Photograph: Anna Jones/The Guardian

We cant afford that, says Adams. We need a new fire station, we need to knock down a derelict building, we need a new park for the children to play in. We have many more needs than we have money.

Fellow city council member Ryan Askeland, who owns and runs the towns only restaurant, was also at the meeting: They described the harm it could do to infants under one-year-old and I thought, Holy cow, what theyre putting on the fields is poisoning us.

Checking himself, he looks around his restaurant and softens his language. An uneducated person would say poisoning. What I mean is, it was contaminating the water.

Griswold is a close-knit community. The town folk value their farmer neighbours and are careful not to cause conflict. Over 80% of the people in here are from the farming community at any given time, says Askeland. Everything in this area is pretty much funded by agriculture. We are all on the same team.

Iowa is agriculture. The state produces the most of many things corn, hogs and eggs and jostles with neighbouring Illinois for the top spot in soya bean production. Hefty property taxes paid by farmers keep the lights on in rural towns, many with dwindling populations, right across the midwest. Its no surprise there is inexhaustible goodwill towards them even when some farming practices threaten their drinking water.

In Des Moines, the citys waterworks did blame the farmers, and brought a lawsuit, but it failed. Des Moines Water Works was bitterly disappointed particularly their outspoken CEO, the late Bill Stowe, who died from cancer earlier this year. A controversial figure in Iowa, Stowe waged war on unregulated industrial agriculture and what he called the powerful agro-elite. He likened those who downplay Iowas water quality issues to climate change deniers and held the farming industry responsible for the public health risks associated with high nitrates in drinking water. If a baby died, he said, there would be a clear path between agriculture and the death of that baby.

Speaking to the Guardian shortly before his death, he said: Its disheartening: the image of Iowa as a sacrificed state at the mercy of industrial agriculture. We will continue to be advocates for agricultural producers taking responsibility for the water pollution they are inflicting on the rest of us downstream.

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A water quality notice hangs near the beach at Big Creek state park, in Polk City, Iowa. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

In rural north-west Iowa, Gordon Garrison, a retired corn and soya bean grower, hopes to succeed where Des Moines Water Works failed.

Garrison is allowing his farm to return to wetland. He points down to the creek where he has reintroduced beavers, and beyond to a single-storey white building in the neighbouring field a hog barn, or confined animal feeding operation (Cafo), housing up to 8,800 pigs.

That building has no consideration for environmental impact at all, he says. I have got algal blooms in my downstream water. After they bought the farm, the nitrate level almost doubled.

The pig farm is owned and operated by Minnesota-based company New Fashion Pork. They bought 77 hectares (192 acres) next to Garrisons farm in 2014 and started producing pigs two years later. The building sits over a pit that can hold more than one million gallons of liquified hog manure, and Garrison claims that the manure was spread illegally on snow-covered ground in December 2018.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued New Fashion Pork with a notice of violation and a fine of $4,800 (3,900). Garrison filed a citizens suit, which he believes will be a precedent-setting case in the US. Garrisons hope is that his legal action will set a precedent and pave the way for tougher regulation of pig Cafos in the context of water quality protection.

New Fashion Pork, which runs 53 pig confinements across Iowa, has said it complies with all manure application requirements and obtained permission from Iowa DNR to surface apply manure. Field conditions were not good in most of the state last fall and winter and the DNR routinely granted permission to producers to surface apply manure in December of 2018, said a legal advisor for New Fashion Pork. The company also said that nitrate loss from crop fields is affected by many factors, but that the source of the nitrogen (manure or commercial fertiliser) has little, if any, effect on the amount of nitrate loss.

The only way to solve this problem is if theres peer pressure, says Gordon. We cant let some guys abuse the system and profit from it. If they prevail in this lawsuit thats just a signal to build more and more.

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An aerial view of the Iowan countryside: crop fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Ditching the manure of 20 million pigs

There are already more than 7,000 hog farms in Iowa raising around 20 million pigs at any one time; thats a lot of manure for one state to dispose of. Its long been said Iowa needs a third cash crop to break the dependence on corn and soya bean. As one farmer put it: Weve found one. Its called bacon.

But its not without risk. In Marshall County, 25-year-old Ryan Pickard is a third-generation row crop farmer, growing 1,820 hectares of corn and soya bean who diversified into custom pig production in 2015 to spread the risk from low grain prices.

Ryan and his 29-year-old brother, Brandon, borrowed nearly $1.5m to build two Cafos, with one still under construction. They each house 5,000 newly weaned, 18-day-old pigs. Theyre thinned out as they grow bigger, with half being moved to another site. Ryan fattens the remaining 2,500, which are sent for slaughter direct from the farm.

The brothers do not own the pigs and receive none of the profit. They are paid instead for head space in the building. They do own the manure, which drops through slats into a pit holding up to 800,000 gallons. They also own all the risk associated with it.

Ryan is ruled by the pit. When its full, its full and must be emptied. Its spread once a year on a nearby 80-hectare (200-acre) corn field. He tries to plan ahead, working around the weather, but if theres a spill or run-off, the full responsibility rests on him.

Its something I think about constantly, he says. If not managed properly it could give me a very bad name and I dont want that. If the pit leaks, we need to find the problem and fix it before we can go back into production.

For Ryan the threat of being shut down is all the incentive he needs to manage the pit properly. But across Iowa there are more, and ever louder calls, for real regulation to protect water quality.

At the moment there is nothing in place but a voluntary approach, as laid out in Iowas much-lauded nutrient reduction strategy (NRS) which calls for farmers to plant 5m hectares of cover crops, which are proven to reduce run off and pollution. Iowa-based environmental and citizen groups believe the NRS is a dismal failure, with no deadlines, no rules and no enforcement. The most generous estimate suggests cover crops have been planted on 307,500 hectares, just 2% of Iowas farmland.

Jennifer Terry, executive director of the Iowa Environment Council, says. Its unfair to pretend to Iowans that we can get there in a reasonable timeframe via voluntary means. It will take us thousands of years to get these practices in place at the current rate of implementation.

And do cover crops even work? In Griswold, faced with a $1m bill, the town started working with four local farmers to plant cover crops in the 250-hectare capture zone around the town wells. Brent Bierbaum is one of the farmers involved. We explained to the farmers what was going on and that we were really hoping they would help us, and they were all on board, says councillor Julie Adams.

But despite their efforts, water quality has still not improved. Nitrate levels spiked in 2017 and 2018. At the most recent inspection in February, one well showed an increase of nitrates to 10.5 mg/l.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, nitrates may continue to leach because of legacy nitrogen stored in the soil and continued rates of fertiliser application. One study of a row crop field that had been restored to prairie found that groundwater nitrate concentrations reduced at a snails pace of approximately 0.6 mg/l per year.

Adams is willing to give it more time but admits the trend is going the wrong way. Fellow councillor Askeland has resigned himself to whats coming.

I think cover crops are a band aid, he says. Weve got a wound thats bleeding and eventually were going to need something bigger than a band aid and thats the filtration system.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/26/nitrate-problem-iowa-dont-use-the-tap-water-for-babies

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Breaking the mould: Leo Varadkar is no typical Irish politician

The gay kid of an Indian immigrant has rebalanced his nations relationship with Britain

When Boris Johnson was foreign secretary he apparently asked his personnel about Leo Varadkar : “Why isn’t he called Murphy like all the rest of them?”When the dripped remark reached Dublin, #peeee

It was probably a joke– and not considerably valued. Johnson had actually struck on a fundamental reality about Varadkar. He is not a normal Irish political leader.

The gay child of an Indian immigrant, a qualified medical physician, and socially uncomfortable, the taoiseach does not fit the typical mould.

Instead of gladhanding constituents and going to funeral services, 2 conventional components of Ireland ‘s parish pump politics, Varadkar chooses to check out policy documents and strategise with assistants. He is, to put it simply, that individual buffooned by Johnson: a swot.

Yet when the 2 fulfilled in north-west England on Thursday, in personal, far from reporters and the typical panoply of summitry, Johnson was required to admire Varadkar, both actually and metaphorically.

The taoiseach is 1.93 m (6ft 4in) and bases on the shoulders of the European Union– its commission, council, parliament and all 27 member states.

The Irish federal government’s success in mobilising the EU behind the border backstop has actually rebalanced Ireland’s traditionally subservient relationship with Britain.

Yet Varadkar, like Johnson, is under tremendous pressure. If the UK leaves the EU without any offer it will hammer Ireland’s economy and destabilise Northern Ireland . Accepting a modified variation of Downing Street’s present strategy, or some other strategy that compromises the backstop, might torpedo Varadkar’s hopes of winning Ireland’s looming election.

The taoiseach would have got directly down to service.

“He does not have a great deal of time for, or interest in, little talk,” stated Brendan O’Shea, a physician who trained Varadkar as a medical trainee. “We have somebody who is forensic about what he believes ought to be done. The determining maker will decide about what is the very best choice then the political leader will turn on and find out a method to offer that.”

Growing up as a GP’s child in a middle-class Dublin suburban area, young Leo stated, at the age of 8, an aspiration to end up being health minister.

A bio states that, as a teen on a school journey to Northern Ireland, the future taoiseach smuggled fireworks back into the republic, which some may think about a metaphor for his function in Brexit.

Varadkar studied medication at Trinity College Dublin and signed up with Fine Gael, a centre-right celebration. Outspoken about tax cuts and well-being reform, some called him “Tory young boy”. His heroes consisted of Otto von Bismarck and Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.

As a Teachta Dla (member of the Irish parliament) and minister, Varadkar made a credibility for energy, direct language and social tightness– some public interactions left assistants wincing.

Johnson’s bonhomie, nevertheless, might not be absolutely squandered on Varadkar, who has actually chilled out given that coming out as gay in 2015.

“It’s not something that specifies me,” the then health minister informed RT. “I’m not a half-Indian political leader, or a medical professional political leader or a gay political leader for that matter. It’s simply part of who I am.”

It was a brave admission– Ireland had yet to legalise same-sex marital relationship. The action was extremely favorable and Varadkar went on to be successful Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael and taoiseach in 2017, and at the same time to go from Mars bar binger to physical fitness fanatic.

“Coming out modifications everyone,” stated Tiernan Brady, an LGBT activist who recommended Varadkar. “In accepting who you are to yourself, which you can still go on to lead your celebration and your nation, that’s been actually verifying. That brings you an entire level of self-confidence.”

Some Irish backstop sceptics caution that Varadkar’s federal government might be experiencing over-confidence, that flexing Brussels to Dublin’s program might backfire, which the broad nationwide agreement behind the technique might discourage the taoiseach from jeopardizing.

“Varadkar’s individual political interests have actually diverted from the nationwide interest,” stated Dan O’Brien, the primary economic expert at the Institute of International and European Affairs. “His political profession might be ended by making a concession on the backstop. Fianna Fil and Sinn Fin would come down on him like a tonne of bricks. It’s never ever an excellent concept for a leader to be painted into a corner.”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/10/breaking-the-mould-leo-varadkar-is-no-typical-irish-politician

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Tampa’s Conversion Therapy Ban Is Struck Down By Federal Judge

A federal judge overruled a restriction in Tampa, Florida, on conversion treatment Friday, arguing that the state, instead of city governments, is accountable for managing the clinically discredited practice.

The triumph that U.S. District Judge William Jung handed the Christian evangelical legal advocacy group, which had actually challenged Tampa’ s restriction, boiled down to jurisdiction. The judge kept in mind that the state of Florida currently has detailed healthcare laws in location, while Tampa has never ever substantively attempted to manage medication, psychiatric therapy or psychological health treatment.

“ The State, not regions, inhabits this field, ” Jung composed in a 41-page judgment that avoids Tampa from implementing the restriction.

Tampa’ s 2017 regulation looked for to avoid certified therapists from counseling kids with the objective of altering their gender expression or sexual preference. Experts have stated that the practice, likewise described as reparative treatment or sexual preference modification efforts (SOCE), is possibly hazardous and inefficient for kids.

Under the regulation, Tampa therapists would have been fined $1,000 fine for a very first offense of practicing conversion treatment and $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

Jung argued that Florida’ s legislature hasn ’ t provided towns the authority to control healthcare. He included that there is absolutely nothing distinct about Tampa that supports enabling statewide, consistent medical policies to differ in the city.

“ Substantive policy of psychiatric therapy is a state, not a local issue, ” Jung composed.

But Florida ’ s Republican-controlled legislature doesn ’ t appear thinking about handling the concern. Statewide expenses to prohibit conversion treatment have actually passed away without getting hearings, the Daily Beast reported, so activists are rather attempting to press the restriction in towns, counties and cities.

Getty Images
Participants stroll with a 100-foot rainbow flag throughout the Hillsborough Pride in Exile weekend event Aug. 13, 2005, in Key West, Florida.

Jung was designated by President Donald Trump in 2017. He was likewise tapped by President Barack Obama in 2016, however the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’ t vote on his election.

Conversion treatment has actually been prohibited in a minimum of 20 other Florida neighborhoods, in 18 U.S. states, in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico.

The Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian law practice based in Orlando, challenged the Tampa regulation on behalf of Robert Vazzo, a marital relationship and household therapist who practices SOCE therapy, and New Hearts Outreach, a Christian ministry that refers individuals to SOCE therapists. Vazzo declares that his variation of SOCE is safe due to the fact that it is a voluntary, non-aversive treatment provided through discussions.

Judith Glassgold, director of expert affairs at the New Jersey Psychological Association, stated that non-aversive conversion treatment can likewise be hazardous, because clients report “ suicidality, despondence, boost in anxiety and stress and anxiety, through declining and incorrect stereotypic info and interactions, along with incorrect pledges of modification.”

She likewise explained that Tampa ’ s prohibit used to minors, which suggests it would be difficult for Vazzo’ s kid clients to offer educated authorization.

“ Young kids can not comprehend what is occurring to them, ” Glassgold informed HuffPost. “ The judge did not resolve this extremely essential problem and really decided that disregarded the federal government’ s (at any level) commitment to secure kids from damage, which is the essence of the law. ”

In February, a federal magistrate judge advised that Tampa’ s regulation be partly obstructed due to the fact that it breaks therapists ’ First Amendment rights to complimentary speech. Jung did not discuss this point in his viewpoint, rather hinging the judgment on jurisdiction problems. The case might now head to an appellate court.

Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver stated that the judgment “ dooms ” comparable restrictions in Florida and around the nation.

“ Regulating health care is above the pay grade of regional towns, ” Staver stated in a declaration . “ This judgment likewise proves why the other statewide laws will fulfill the very same fate as Tampa. The First Amendment will clean away each of these speech-restrictive laws. ”

Caroline Mala Corbin, a specialist on the First Amendment’ s speech and faith provisions at the University of Miami School of Law, stated that Jung’ s ruling isn ’ t binding on other district courts. She mentioned that previously this year, the southern district of Florida had actually promoted Palm Beach County’ s conversion treatment restriction.

“ Of course, courts might embrace [Jung’ s] thinking and overrule regional restrictions on preemption premises, ” Corbin stated. “ But they might likewise overlook this choice, specifically since it is based upon one court’ s analysis of Florida law and the Florida Constitution. ”

Edward Linsmier through Getty Images
Speakers promoting equivalent rights for the LGBTQ neighborhood speak at the National Republican Convention on Aug. 27, 2012, near downtown Tampa.

In his viewpoint, Jung invested a long time pointing out reports that there wasn’ t enough research study on SOCE to definitively declare that this sort of treatment has an unfavorable impact on minors. He described a 2009 American Psychological Association Task Force report, which he stated concluded that “ no research study to date has actually shown appropriate clinical rigor to supply a clear photo of the occurrence or frequency of either damaging or helpful SOCE results.”

“ This shows the complex and vibrant subject of human gender and sexual orientation, ” Jung composed.“ Tampa ’ s lay effort at psychotherapy guideline crowds into this extremely complicated, progressing location.”

Glassgold, who functioned as the APA job force’ s chair, argued that Jung overlooked the report’ s crucial findings.

“ The Report conclusively discovered that there is no proof that conversion treatment works, so that it is hazardous and meaningless to provide this treatment to clients, specifically minors, ” Glassgold informed HuffPost.

Glassgold stated that research studies have actually shown that grownups are damaged by conversion treatment of all types. Research study on minors would be dishonest to do since of this danger of damage, she included.

The structure ethical requirement for any health care practice, consisting of psychological healthcare practice, is ‘ Do no damage, ’ ” Glassgold stated. “ There is no requirement to even run the risk of one case of damage.”

“ Why would any therapist use a treatment that is possibly damaging and inefficient? ” she asked.

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