10/1/14

In the news: Appeals court ruling opens door for manufacturer-funded medicine take-back programs

A federal appeals court yesterday unanimously rejected a challenge by the pharmaceutical industry to a local ordinance that would require drug manufacturers to pay for the disposal of unwanted medicine in California’s Alameda County, the first law of its kind in the nation.

Approved by county supervisors in July 2012, the Alameda County Safe Medication Disposal Ordinance requires the makers of prescription drugs sold in the county to fund the collection, transportation, and disposal of unused or expired medications from residential sources. The requirements are similar to those underpinning successful medicine collection programs in Canada, France, and Australia.

Implementation of the law was stalled in Dec. 2012  by a lawsuit filed by industry trade associations. With support from drugmakers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the groups argued that the ordinance illegally shifts local costs to out-of-county producers and interferes with interstate commerce. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco disagreed, saying the ordinance treats local and non-local manufacturers equally and imposes no substantial burden on interstate trade.  

Pharmaceutical manufacturers could still appeal to the Supreme Court. If the decision stands, it could serve as a precedent for a similar measure in Washington. In the wake of the Alameda County ordinance, the King County Board of Health passed a law requiring manufacturers to install medicine drop-off boxes and provide pre-paid, pre-addressed mailers upon request. 

The county was sued in Nov. 2013, with drug manufacturers comparing the ordinance to requiring news publications to conduct paper recycling or food producers to collect spoiled food. That case was put on hold until the Alameda County lawsuit could be resolved. 

9/30/14

September 30 is National Preparathon Day!

America's Preparathon is a campaign to raise awareness about hazards and encourage people to be prepared (obviously!) in the face of these potential events. Depending on where you live the risk of any hazard varies in Illinois and Indiana, we face the threats of floods, tornadoes, winter storms, and especially downstate, earthquakes.

As the climate changes and larger storms happen more frequently, the risk of flooding in the Midwest becomes more urgent. Through efficient infrastructure, smarter land use planning, and better forecasting, the likelihood and impact of high waters can be reduced. But, as individuals, we make smart choices to assess our risk and take preemptive action. For example, a simple, common sense step is to back up and secure important papers. You can also take more preventative measures like installing check valves in your sewer lines to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.

This campaign is organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. To find a multitude of resources, including comprehensive checklists, visit the Preparathon website. Follow IISG on Twitter today to read live tweets from the Climate Resilience Workshop in Chicago.

9/29/14

Caitie's canoe story: a Wolf Lake field trip

Caitie McCoy, our environmental social scientist, writes in today to tell us about a unique education experience: 

Last week, I ventured out of the office and into the field to hit the waters of the recently restored Wolf Lake with about 200 students from Hammond, IN. The weather was perfect for two days of canoeing and environmental education. Compassion for nature starts in childhood, so when asked by some partners at U.S. EPA, I jumped at the chance to help provide youth with such a meaningful outdoor experience.

We began our first day with an energetic greeting from Wilderness Inquiry, a national non-profit that aims to get as many city kids on the water as possible. The majority of the students had never been on any kind of boat before, but a friendly sun and slight breeze helped to calm a lot of nerves.

Students went out on the canoes in waves throughout the day, learning how to paddle and touring many restoration features. There were a lot of beautiful sites to see, including an egret that sat as still as a statue for hours on an island full of colorful native plants. Goldenrod, blue asters, and red maples dotted the landscape. With all the natural beauty surrounding us, we almost forgot that we were located in the middle of one of the country’s top industrial powerhouses .

The EPA team and I stayed busy providing the students with learning experiences as they waited for their turn on the canoes. We brought the Enviroscape, and it was a hit. Students loved the interactive nature of the game and learned a lot about their local watershed and what they can do to protect it from different pollution sources. We also took them on hikes by the lake, picking up litter and identifying different plant species.

We had a lot of fun teaching, but I must admit, the highlight of my two days at Wolf Lake was jumping into a canoe and paddling around on the calm water with the students. It was rewarding to see high school students drop their guard and excitedly point out different shorebirds or hear them discuss the need to clean up the pollution in northwest Indiana, completely unprompted by an adult. 

I’m grateful for our partnership with Wilderness Inquiry, and I hope to join them again next year. The opportunity is just too meaningful to miss!

9/26/14

Friday foto: Fishin' on a Sunday mornin' along Chicago's northside


In the news: EPA unveils second phase of efforts to reverse Great Lakes damage

The U.S. EPA announced a new plan to improve water quality and restore habitats in the Great Lakes earlier this week during a meeting of region's mayors in Chicago. The five-year plan, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II, calls for a dramatic expansion of urban stormwater management projects and a more than 1,400 ton reduction in phosphorus fertilizer runoff. It also roughly doubles the number of acres covered by efforts to control invasive species and requires that new wetlands include plants that can thrive as climate change brings warmer temperatures.   

From The New York Times
It builds on a four-year initiative, begun in President Obama’s first term, that has already spent $1.6 billion on more than 2,100 restoration projects on the lakes’ American side. The added initiative, which extends through 2019, is expected to cost roughly the same. 
The government says the project is the largest conservation program in the nation’s history, involving 15 federal agencies and the eight Great Lakes states. Read more 
In addition to laying out new strategies, the latest phase of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continues efforts to clean up Areas of Concern across the region, where polluted water and contaminated sediment pose a risk to wildlife and public health. Five of these largely industrial rivers and harbors have been restored in the last four years, and 10 more are slated for cleanup by 2019. 

9/25/14

LIVE! from the Lake Guardian: Bringing science to the classroom

Charleston, IL may be hundreds of miles from where the R/V Lake Guardian was collecting samples in Lake Erie earlier this week, but that didn't stop a group of sixth graders from taking a tour of the U.S. EPA vessel. From the comfort of their classroom, more than 60 students and teachers watched as EPA researcher Beth Hinchey Malloy talked about living and working on a boat and showed them around.

The tour started, of course, on the ship's deck and quickly moved inside to the labs, where scientists took a break from processing samples to explain how studying bug populations helps researchers judge the health of aquatic ecosystems. From there it was on to the galley to see what's for lunch and up to the bridge to chat with the captain. 

And the students had more than a few questions, particularly for the captain—Is it easy to drive the boat? How can you tell how deep the water is? Where does the Lake Guardian go?  

Students also got a sneak peak at the type of equipment they will use later this year to collect data on water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and pH. Their teacher, Pamela Evans, is one of several scheduled to use the Hydrolab to make science class more hands-on this year. 

The event ended after a jam-packed 30 minutes because another class was waiting on deck to take the tour. In fact, eight classes across the Great Lakes region got a first-hand look at the Lake Guardian this week. And this is just the beginning. The research vessel will soon dock for the winter, but video chats with EPA scientists will continue throughout the school year. 

The video chats and equipment loan program are all part of efforts by IISG and the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office to boost Great Lakes education. Teachers were introduced to the programs, along with other classroom resources, during the annual Shipboard Science workshop


9/24/14

IISG in the news: Looking at community resilience near polluted waterways

Community resilience is usually a concern in the face of turbulent change. In a recent issue of a University of Illinois publication highlighted an IISG research project that is using vulnerability measures to assess how two communities that have been designated Areas of Concern, due to high levels of contaminants, are coping with the disruption and after effects of sediment removal. Applying the concept from a different angle, Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee are looking at how remediation has impacted the residents around the Lincoln Park-Milwaukee Estuary and portions of the Grand Calumet River in northwest Indiana.

From the Inside Illinois article:
“We’re applying the Vulnerability Index differently,” Greenlee said. “Instead of looking at disasters, we’re approaching it from the perspective of other types of disruptions – in this case the sediment removal itself, because that can have a huge effect on the surrounding people as well.”

“And it can be negative or positive,” Cutts said, “depending on how empowered and included in the process the community is.”
The researchers are also taking an innovative approach in methodology, which is providing real-world learning opportunities for U of I students. This was described in a Lakeside Views post earlier this year: 
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research.
Cutts and Greenlee's study will likely enhance efforts to connect with local residents during the remediation process, which is ongoing in many places in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Legacy Act has been a catalyst for cleaning up waterways and, for many of these projects, IISG has played a key role in informing and engaging local residents, especially in the Grand Cal region. There, IISG's social scientist Caitie McCoy has worked closely with several schools  as well as the larger community. And hot off the presses, she also oversaw a needs assessment of community attitudes regarding the cleanup  in Milwaukee County's Lincoln Park.
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf
Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities.  - See more at: http://lakesideviews.blogspot.com/2014/03/u-of-i-course-combines-social-science.html#sthash.U30ulI1z.dpuf

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