U of I course offers students a chance to get hands-on with pharmaceutical disposal outreach

For University of Illinois students, getting a break from the mundane, lecture-based class is as easy as enrolling in ENG 315: Learning in Community (LINC). The multi-section course offers a chance to team up with local nonprofits to design, plan, and implement new community-based projects. And this fall, they can spend the semester working with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant to reduce pharmaceutical and personal care product (PPCP) pollution in Champaign-Urbana. 

The IISG course will introduce students to the threats PPCPs pose to aquatic habitats and simple steps individuals can take to reduce those risks. Tours of local water quality labs will also provide a behind-the-scenes look at ongoing PPCP research. But the majority of the semester will be dedicated to designing and executing projects that help spread the word about proper disposal of unwanted medicines

“This is a unique opportunity for students to apply what they are learning to help solve problems in sustainable ways,” said Terri Hallesy, IISG education coordinator. “They will gain real-world experiences while helping to boost awareness of a critical environmental issue and protect the health of our aquatic ecosystems.”  

Specific projects are still to be determined, and the class will have a lot of freedom to design outreach efforts that appeal to them. Previous classes mentored local high school students, wrote an article for a campus-based environmental magazine, and created outreach materials to be used at the McKinley Heath Center and at campus events. Other options include modifying K-12 curricula, designing social media campaigns, and even building a mobile app.  

Students will also be in charge of planning and orchestrating a single-day medicine takeback event at the end of the semester. The class will work throughout the semester to design a promotional plan and coordinate with campus housing and other organizations on campus.  

Its community focus and interdisciplinary approach make this course a perfect fit for a wide range of majors—from marketing to education to environmental sciences. Students will leave with new skills and experiences that move them closer to their career goals.  

LINC courses are offered through the College of Engineering and are open to all University of Illinois students. For fall 2014, students can choose between sections that address issues like water conservation, after-school safety, and homelessness. The IISG course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-4:50 p.m.  

Contact Terri Hallesy for questions about the IISG course. To learn more about PPCP pollution and proper disposal, visit www.unwantedmeds.org.


In the news: Illinois Coastal Management Program awards 26 grants to shoreline conservation

The State of Illinois recently awarded grants totaling over $1.6 million to several groups working to protect and preserve the Lake Michigan shoreline and other waterways in the state. 

From CBS Chicago
"The grants ranged in size from $10,500 to $143,000 and were awarded to projects from just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to the Calumet region.

In awarding the grants, with the Oak Street Beach as his backdrop, Gov. Pat Quinn said he sees no better way to observe Earth Day than working to keep Illinois clean and safe for future generations.

He urged people across Illinois to get outside and volunteer for beach and river shoreline clean-up programs. He made the announcement as volunteers from the Alliance for the Great Lakes did a clean-up of Oak Street Beach."
Read more about the Illinois Coastal Management Program here.


Celebrate Earth Day by watching "Living Downstream"

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is hosting a Sustainability Film Festival in celebration of Earth Week, including a showing of Living Downstream tonight from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Spurlock Museum’s Knight Auditorium. After the show, IISG's Laura Kammin will join Jeff Levengood (INHS) and Joy Scrogum (ISTC) to answer questions about the film and the connections between human health and the environment. Admittance is free and open to the public.

Sandra Steingraber is an acclaimed ecologist and cancer survivor, and the documentary follows her for one year as she works to break the silence about cancer and its environmental links. The film follows these invisible toxins, the chemicals against which she is fighting, as they migrate to and through some of the most beautiful places in North America. The themes of endocrine disruption, chemical mixtures, prenatal exposure, and epigenetics are all woven together to tell the story of Sandra’s personal journey in exploring how the rivers, farms, towns, and streets of our childhood affect our heath.

Sandra is passionate about educating people about the impacts that their daily decisions have on the environment, a critical area of outreach and education for IISG. Whether it is teaching people about properly disposing of expired pharmaceuticals or using natural lawn care practices instead of often redundant and unnecessary fertilizers and pesticides, several IISG focus areas tie into the film's topics on Earth Day and the other 364 days of the year.


Summer intern Alice continues on with IISG's aquatic invasives team

We first introduced you to Alice Denny last year when she worked as an IISG summer intern. Well, we liked her too much to let her go. When her internship ended, Alice became the newest member of our aquatic invasive species (AIS) team, located at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.  

As an outreach assistant, Alice works on wide range of projects, including finding new opportunities to connect with recreational water users, aquarium hobbyists, water gardeners, and more. She will spend much of the summer spreading the word about AIS at professional and amateur fishing tournaments. Her message to anglers and boaters will be simple—be sure to remove, drain, and dry after a day on the water.      

Prior to her internship with us, Alice worked as a field technician in the Chicago area and conducted research on invasive species in New York state parks. She holds a Bachelor’s in Biology from Hartwick College and is a member of the Illinois Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.     


In the news: Lake levels look to get back on track

With the big spring thaw underway (mostly) and warmer weather on the way, Lakes Michigan and Huron are on track to get closer to their long-term water levels than they were last summer. 

From Michigan Live
"Water levels on Lake Michigan- Huron typically rise from March through July. Lake Michigan- Huron has risen one inch since early March, but is 13 inches higher than this same time last year. Although the above two lakes are higher, they are still 16 inches below the long term average for this date.

The rise in the lakes in the past month was the result of melting snow. Precipitation didn't help much to the rise in lake levels, as March was fairly dry. The dry pattern in March was good for helping Michigan avoid major flooding. However, heavy rain would have really boosted lake water levels. March precipitation over the Lake Michigan-Huron drainage basin was only 1.49 inches, which was 69 percent of normal."
Read more about the projected lake levels for this summer at the link above.


In the news: Cause of Lake Erie’s algae becoming clearer

Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes that is most affected by toxic algal blooms, and finding the cause for them is the first step in reducing or preventing them. Scientists may be closer to understanding just what causes these harmful blooms. 

"Algal blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie were severe during the 1960s, caused primarily by large releases of phosphorus from sewage and industrial plants. The 1972 federal Clean Water Act and the 1978 bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led to dramatic reductions in phosphorus from these sources and a rapid improvement in water quality.

Lake Erie, however, saw a reemergence of the algal blooms and the growth of the dead zone in the mid-1990s, and the problems are worsening. In 2011, for example, Lake Erie experienced its most severe bloom of toxic algae on record. Last fall a toxic algal bloom in the lake forced officials to shut off a public water supply system in Ohio.

The new studies, part of the Ecological Forecasting (EcoFore) Lake Erie project led by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that the current targets to reduce phosphorus to alleviate algal blooms in Lake Erie may not be low enough to revive the dead zone. That conclusion informed the International Joint Commission’s recommendations in February for improving Lake Erie’s water quality.

The findings, and those of other studies from across the Great Lakes region, are delivering an ever clearer picture of the specific causes of nonpoint phosphorus runoff, algal blooms, and dead zones. The basic drivers of these problems are no longer unknown. The new research fills a critical void in information that has been often cited as a reason that strict regulations on nonpoint pollution sources, including agriculture, were not regulated under the 1972 federal Clean Water Act."
Read the complete article and findings at the link above.


Illinois Water Conference 2014 now accepting paper proposals

The 2014 Illinois Water Conference is coming up later this year, October 14-15 at the University of Illinois, and abstracts are now being accepting for presentations.

From the event website:
"To submit an abstract for an oral presentation or student poster, complete the appropriate online form by Monday, May 5. You will be notified regarding the status of your abstract by June 2.
The majority of accepted abstracts will fit within one of the session topics listed below. However, you may submit under the Open Topic category, from which we will develop one or two additional sessions. Student posters are requested as general submissions.
  • Application of statistical and machine learning methods in hydrology
  • Biomass crops to enhance water quality
  • Critical zone observatory research
  • Effects of climate and land use changes on Illinois water resources
  • Floodplains: recent developments in science, management and restoration
  • Global challenges and opportunities at the boundaries of water and sanitation research
  • Illinois regional water supply planning
  • Monitoring to modeling (TMDLs)
  • Protecting water quality and addressing flooding on multiple fronts in Cook County
  • Resolving chronic problems with landfills and waste fills
  • State of Lake Michigan
  • Stream restoration
  • The energy implications of resource recovery in wastewater treatment
  • Water for energy: power generation, fracking, and more"
Follow the link above for additional information about the conference and the submission process, and contact Lisa Merrifield for questions.