THEIRS: Funding conservation trust could help clean up this toilet of a state

THEIRS: Funding conservation trust could help clean up this toilet of a state


Leaders can choose to fund conservation, clean up waterways, spare the Gulf of Mexico and reduce nitrates in drinking water linked to cancer

Iowa is full of feces. Literally.

This state leads the nation in the amount of poop generated, according to research from a University of Iowa scientist.

The problem is not our mere 3.2 million human residents. The problem is the more than 100 million chickens, pigs, turkeys and cattle in agricultural operations. They poop. Iowa is left with waste equivalent to 168 million people — about as many as the third-world country Bangladesh.

The consequences of this leaking diaper of a state extend beyond our borders.

Scientists predict this summer's Gulf of Mexico "Dead Zone" will span 8,717 miles, the second-largest area on record. Nitrogen and phosphorus — largely from agricultural runoff in the Midwest — make their way into and down the Mississippi River, where excessive algae blooms deplete underwater oxygen levels.

According to researchers at Louisiana State University, low oxygen levels started to appear 50 years ago, when agricultural practices intensified in the Midwest. There have been no reductions in nitrate loading in recent decades.

Perhaps that's because Iowa has packed more and more animals into confinement operations. The population of hogs has increased 64% since 2002.

The abundance of fertilizers and manure kills marine life. Humans are not safe, either.

Nitrates in drinking water may cause as many as 12,594 cases of cancer a year nationwide, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Scientists also estimate some 4,700 cases of babies born with very low birth weight, very pre-term birth or neural tube defects may be linked to nitrates as well.

Iowa was one of four states singled out in the study as having levels of nitrate contamination that could cause more than 10 cases of cancer per 100,000 people. Researchers pointed to studies finding increases in the risk of ovarian, thyroid, kidney and bladder cancers associated with exposure to nitrate in Iowa women 55-69 years old.

Will this finally prompt our politicians to invest in cleaning up Iowa's waterways?

— Des Moines Register

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