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1 January 2016

Agricultural Runoff and Ohio’s Senate Bill 1

In response to the August 2014 shutdown of Toledo’s water supply due to microcystin contamination, the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which regulates fertilizer and manure application to farm fields. Essentially, the new regulations prohibit spreading manure or fertilizer in the Lake Erie Watershed when soils are frozen, snow-covered or saturated, or if there is a more than 50% chance of at least one-half inch of rain in the …

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16 November 2015

Field Drain Tile and the “Re-Eutrophication” of Lake Erie

Algae Blooms, Microcystin and Phosphorus It’s been over a year since Toledo, Ohio and surrounding communities shut down public water supplies due to an algae bloom and microcystin contamination in western Lake Erie. Was the trouble a “one-off” or can we expect more of these events in the future? While attending a seminar this year hosted by the Michigan Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, my interest was …

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14 June 2015

Art in Science: Kubiena’s Soil Profiles in Watercolors

Photographs of soil profiles are often disappointing. Usually the subject is a hole in the ground where light is dim and the surrounding ground surface is light. Getting a good, representative photo of a soil profile can lead to acres of frustration. W.L. Kubiena worked as a soil morphologist in the last century and from a practical standpoint, probably only had access to black and white photography. He opted for …

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20 November 2014

Update: American Farm Bureau Federation et al. v. EPA Oral Arguments

American Farm Bureau Federation, et al. v. EPA, Case 13-4079 oral arguments were held Tuesday (see previous post) and early indications suggest the Farm Bureau is fighting an uphill battle as it attempts to block the EPA from implementing a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program for Chesepeake Bay. The program calls for a 25% percent cut in nitrogen, 24% cut in phosphorus, and 20% reduction in sediment loads by …

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16 November 2014

American Farm Bureau Federation vs. EPA: Oral Arguments Scheduled for Tuesday

American Farm Bureau Federation, et al. v. EPA, Case 13-4079 oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. The American Farm Bureau Federation (Farm Bureau) is suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its authority to regulate farm runoff. The issue has gained attention following this summer’s “do not drink” advisory affecting over 500,000 residents in the Toledo, Ohio …

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5 October 2014

FDA Fast Tracks Valley Fever Drug

Valley fever, a soil-borne disease Terra Central discussed here, is no longer an orphan disease, which means it is no longer too obscure to receive funding for a treatment or a cure. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted fast track status to Nikkomycin Z as a “qualifying infectious disease product (QIDP) under the GAIN Act. The GAIN Act was “approved by Congress in 2012 to help provide …

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17 August 2014

Soil Connections: Drought, Dust and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

An unfortunate sequence of events involving drought, depleted water resources, wastewater management, antibiotic resistant bacteria (ABR) and dust storms may pose a real health risk in desert states – and, perhaps, beyond. Briefly, here’s the sequence of steps, beginning with drought and ending with a respiratory infection: 1. Arid states can’t grow everything they want with what little rainfall they get – so they irrigate. 2. Limited fresh water used …

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26 May 2014

Remembering the 1966 Riga Confined Space Tragedy

On a Saturday afternoon in May 1966, five men lost their lives, wives lost their husbands, and twenty children lost their fathers. Consider it a cautionary tale about the lethal danger of hydrogen sulfide. The confined space was a cistern fed by a 300-foot deep water well and the gas apparently occurred naturally in the ground. The accident was reported as far away as Sidney, Australia via Associated Press wire …

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17 May 2013

Deja Vu: Remembering the 1947 Texas City (Fertilizer) Explosion

The 1947 Texas City Disaster is known as the worst U.S. industrial accident and the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. The disaster, like the recent West, Texas disaster (video), was preceded by a fire. Nearby firefighters and spectators were among many of those killed or injured. The Texas City incident began with a fire that broke out on the French registered SS Grandcamp, which was loaded with 2,300 tons of …

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28 April 2013

The Gas We Eat

Nearly half of the world’s population owes its existence to food grown with industrial nitrogen fertilizer produced from natural gas. (1) In 2004, journalist Richard Manning published an intriguing, if somewhat controversial, article in Harpers magazine called The Oil We Eat: Tracing the food chain back to Iraq. Manning notes that growing our food under the usual practices requires about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of …

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