UI-sponsored safe drinking water symposium set for Sept. 21-22

Faucet filling glass of ice with waterAssessing risks and developing strategies to ensure the safety of Iowa’s drinking water will be the focus when leading state and national water quality experts gather at a University of Iowa-sponsored event in Des Moines on September 21-22.

The symposium, “Challenges to Providing Safe Drinking Water in the Midwest,” will be held at Drake University.  The symposium is a collaborative effort, co-sponsored by several Iowa-based institutions and organizations, including a number of centers at the University of Iowa, Drake University, the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa Association of Water Agencies, and the Central Iowa Drinking Water Commission.

The 1 ½-day event is open to the public. Additional information regarding agenda, registration, hotel, and parking is available at ehsrc.org.  Alternatively, call (319) 335-4756 to speak with an organizer.

This symposium will feature Iowa-based and nationally recognized speakers and discussion panels on a variety of drinking water issues facing Iowa, the Midwest, and the nation.  Some of the topics to be addressed include the Health Impacts of Nitrate in Drinking Water, Drinking Water Treatment Concerns, New and Emerging Drinking Water Threats, and Communicating with the Public on Drinking Water Issues.

Water quality in the State of Iowa has been an increasing public health concern in recent years, primarily due to nitrate levels that exceed U.S. EPA standards.  As this and other contaminants continue to pose public health threats via our waterways and resources, drinking water treatment, contaminant surveillance, and regulation continue to be at the forefront of environmental health concerns in the Midwest.

Dr. Peter Weyer, director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) at the University of Iowa, is both a co-organizer and presenter for the symposium, and looks forward to the exchange of information and ideas.

“The symposium will bring together state and national experts on safe drinking water and public health to share with Iowans some of the current and future challenges to our drinking water supplies,” says Weyer. “It will provide an excellent forum for drinking water professionals to share their challenges in managing public drinking water systems.”

University of Iowa sponsors include the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, the Public Policy Center, and the Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Additional symposium co-sponsors include the Iowa Public Health Association; Iowa League of Cities; and the Iowa Environmental Council.


Study examines link between obesity, food container chemical substitutes

A new study from the University of Iowa shows that a pair of common chemicals that manufacturers use to make plastic food containers, water bottles, and other consumer products do not contribute to obesity to the extent of the chemical it’s replacing.

The chemicals — bisphenol F and bisphenol S (known as BPF and BPS) — are being used increasingly by food packaging manufacturers as substitutes for bisphenol A (BPA), which studies have found disrupts endocrine systems and causes numerous health problems. BPA is used in many kinds of packaging for snacks and drinks, canned foods, and water bottles. The chemical is absorbed into the body mainly through the food or water it contacts in the container.

But concern was raised several years ago when numerous studies found BPA increases the risk of various health issues, in particular obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. A consumer backlash erupted after the studies received media attention so manufacturers started reducing the use of BPA in some consumer products or even eliminating it in so-called “BPA-free” products by replacing it with such alternatives as BPF and BPS.

However, little is known on the potential impact of BPF and BPS exposure in humans. The new University of Iowa College of Public Health study is the first to determine the health impacts of BPF and BPS exposure on obesity in humans. Using data from a nationwide population-based study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the researchers confirm that BPA is associated with increased obesity in humans. But the study found no links between obesity and either BPF or BPS at the current exposure levels.

However, the researchers warn that fewer products currently use BPF and BPS–BPA still has more than half the global market share for the chemicals, and the average concentration of BPF and BPS is about one-fourth that of BPA in the US population. Whether BPF and BPS pose an increased risk of obesity at the same population exposure levels as BPA remains unknown. Future studies will be needed to confirm the results, as BPF and BPS are likely to replace BPA in more consumer products.

The study, “Bisphenol A substitutes and obesity in US adults; analysis of a population-based cross-sectional study,” is published in the June 2017 issue of the Lancet Planetary Health.

The research team included lead author Buyun Liu, along with Yangbo Sun, Guifeng Xu, Robert B. Wallace, and Wei Bao (corresponding author) from the Department of Epidemiology and Hans-Joachim Lehmler from the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health through the University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center (NIEHS/NIH P30 ES005605).

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Iowa researchers endorse conservation efforts to combat climate change

More than 180 Iowa science researchers and faculty from 38 Iowa colleges and universities, including more than 15 faculty associated with the University of Iowa College of Public Health, have endorsed the Iowa Climate Statement 2016 and efforts to expand voluntary, incentive‐based programs and initiatives for farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to confront human-caused global warming.

“Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture,” was released on October 5. This year’s statement centers around the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative “Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture.”

The climate statement champions proven conservation techniques such as planting perennial plants on marginal cropland and reduced-till or no till farming that would decrease nation-wide net emissions and increase carbon storage in soil. Statement authors note that the document is part of a larger effort, strengthened by the December 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to offset human-caused climate change.

“Iowa’s leadership through wider adoption of conservation practices will benefit our state, while these practices lessen human contribution to net greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the statement. “Iowa – once replete with soil carbon built by deep‐rooted perennial vegetation – can reduce net greenhouse gas emissions with crop‐perennial systems that pull heat‐trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and rebuild soil carbon. Thus Iowa – already a world leader in agricultural production and products – could now also take pride in “carbon‐storage farms” that also improve soil health, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and water quality.”

To view the full 2016 Iowa Climate Statement, visit the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research web site.

Study finds Amish children’s exposures protect against asthma

Amish children’s exposures protect against asthma through reprogramming innate immunity

Iowa research finds house dust differences between communities affects immune development

A portrait of Peter Thorne, professor and head of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Peter Thorne

By probing the differences between two farming communities—the Amish of Indiana and the Hutterites of South Dakota—an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Peter Thorne, professor and head of the University of Iowa’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, found that specific aspects of the Amish environment are associated with changes to immune cells that protect children from developing asthma.

In the Aug. 4, 2016, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers showed that substances in the house dust from Amish, but not Hutterite, homes were able to engage and shape the innate immune system (the body’s front-line response to most microbes) in young Amish children in ways that may suppress pathologic responses leading to allergic asthma. The study is available online.

While the Amish and Hutterite communities have a similar genetic ancestry and share similar lifestyles, customs, and diets, their farming practices differ. The Amish have retained traditional methods. They live on single-family dairy farms and rely on horses for fieldwork and transportation. In contrast, the Hutterites live on large communal farms and use modern, industrialized farm machinery. This distances young Hutterite children from the constant daily exposure to farm animals.

Another striking difference between the two communities is the large disparity in asthma cases. About 5 percent of Amish schoolchildren aged 6 to 14 have asthma. This is about half of the U.S. average (10.3%) for children aged 5 to 14, and one-fourth of the prevalence (21.3%) among Hutterite children.

To understand this disparity, the researchers studied 30 Amish children 7 to 14 years old, and 30 age-matched Hutterite children. They scrutinized the children’s genetic profiles, which confirmed the remarkable similarities between Amish and Hutterite children. They compared the types of immune cells in the children’s blood, collected airborne dust from Amish and Hutterite homes and measured the microbial load in homes in both communities.

Thorne’s group, which also included Dr. Nervana Metwali from the UI’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, deployed novel air samplers for the study that do not require electricity. These Electrostatic Dust Samplers were placed into Amish and Hutterite homes to measure airborne particles and toxins in order to assess differences in exposures between these populations.

Results of the study showed that dust collected from Amish homes was “much richer in microbial products,” the authors note, than dust from Hutterite homes.

Thorne explained, “When we administered extracts of the two types of dust to mice, we were able to reproduce the differences in respiratory allergy that we observed in the Amish and Hutterite children.”

“The study augments prior work showing the significant role our environmental exposures play in asthma,” Thorne said. “The big advance is how our study beautifully demonstrated the key role of innate immunity in asthma in two rural populations with similar genetics.

“This is a great example of a major discovery arising from a multidisciplinary team of scientists drawn from multiple universities,” Thorne added. “Each member of the team brought unique scientific knowledge to the research.”

The National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the St. Vincent Foundation, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Foundation supported the study.

The study included researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona, Dr. von Hauner Children Hospital in Munich, Germany, and Allergy and Asthma Consultants, Indianapolis.

Media Coverage

Barnyard Dust Offers a Clue to Stopping Asthma in Children (The New York Times)

Amish kids help scientists understand why farm life reduces the risk of asthma (Los Angeles Times)

How a Cow in Your Living Room Could Make the Difference for Asthma and Allergies (Iowa Public Radio)