All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 21, 2022

The treated drinking water of a northeast Iowa city had nearly 3,000 times the safe amount of PFAS chemicals when it was tested in February, according to new federal advisories announced last Wednesday. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been sampling water in dozens of cities in the past year to help determine the pervasiveness of PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

They have been used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof products, firefighting foams and other items. Recent studies have shown that they can accumulate in people’s bodies over time and can cause numerous ailments, including cancers, liver damage, diminished immune systems and infant and childhood development delays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2009, the EPA set a safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion for the two most-prominent PFAS. On Wednesday, it lowered the health advisory of one of them to .004 parts per trillion and the other to .02 parts per trillion. Current testing technology is unable to detect concentrations that small.

The DNR’s testing can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion. That means that one of the PFAS would have to be 475 times the safety threshold before it is even detected.

Des Moines Water Works Using Nitrate Removal System for the First Time in Five Years


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2022

Des Moines Water Works has had to begin operating its nitrate-removal system for the first time in five years after finding elevated nitrate concentrations in their water. The level of nitrate in the utility’s water supply fluctuates, and is attributable to excess nutrients on upstream farmland running off the land and entering Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Standard for nitrate is 10 milligrams per liter, and the nitrate levels in the rivers and groundwater used by the Des Moines Water Works have recently peaked at more than nine milligrams per liter.

The Water Works’ nitrate removal facility initially began operating in March 1992, but was last used in 2017. Drier conditions the past few years have limited the flow of nutrients into Iowa’s waterways, which has led to lower levels of nitrate in raw source water. 

Use of the nitrate-removal system is significant because of what it means in terms of water quality and because of the expense. It can cost up to $10,000 a day to operate the nitrate-removal system, the Des Moines Water Works says.

The Des Moines Water Works is Iowa’s largest drinking water utility and provides drinking water to one-fifth of the state’s population.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

West Des Moines Successfully Treats Water for Forever Chemicals


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Josie Taylor | May 5, 2022

The treated drinking water of West Des Moines no longer has detectable amounts of PFAS, commonly called “forever chemicals.” West Des Moines Water Works shut down a contaminated well in 2021 after finding troubling levels of PFAS. 

Initial tests of West Des Moines water in November showed it contained the two prominent PFAS in a combined concentration of 5.3 parts per trillion. A subsequent test in March did not detect either. Those tests can detect concentrations as small as 1.9 parts per trillion.

“We were pleased to see that,” said Christina Murphy, general manager of West Des Moines Water Works. “We do everything we can to mitigate the presence of those compounds.”

Two other West Des Moines wells showed contamination in lesser concentrations than the one that was shut down, and the water utility is minimizing its use of them, Murphy said. 

Ames stopped using its most-contaminated well after DNR sampling found a combined concentration of 38 parts per trillion, but its treated drinking water appeared unaffected by the change. Initial tests of the treated water showed it had the two PFAS in a combined concentration of 9.6 parts per trillion in December. In March, it was 10 parts per trillion.

The state is requiring water supplies to test their finished drinking water quarterly if they have detectable amounts of PFAS.

Mason City truck-washing operation fined for back-to-back violations


Oil Slick
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A state environmental officer caught a truck washing operation illegally disposing of diluted corn oil. This incident occurred in Mason City, Iowa, after the officer was sent there by the DNR due to looking investigating the illegal dumping of an agricultural chemical the day before. 

When the officer arrived at Brookstone Specialty Services, he saw that on top of the pollution from the agricultural chemical, the business was also disposing of dilute corn oil illegally. The company was fined $10,000 for both incidents. The company is believed to have saved $11,000 by illegally dumping the pollution instead of proper disposal. 

According to the DNR, the first incident occurred in late 2020 after there had been reports of dead fish and the smell of petroleum coming from a nearby creek. An investigation revealed that Brookstone Specialty Services accidentally allowed brown sludge caused by distilling grain from the trucks and trailers to drain into Chelsea Creek. The drainage was originally believed to have gone to the city’s sewer system. Upon further inspection, it was determined that the creek also contained livestock bedding that had been washed into it. The company hired people to come and scoop the bedding from the creek to dispose of it properly. 

The second incident happened in June of 2021. Jacob Donaghy, an environmental specialist for the DNR said, ​​“We had a complaint that they were dumping this green stuff outback.” He continued on saying, “We went there and sure enough, there was green stuff out back. It was just being dumped on the soil.”

The neon green liquid was a chemical that is normally used to prevent nitrogen from leaking off of farm fields. When the container was being cleaned out, someone rinsed the residue left by the chemical and dumped out the remaining water. When Donaghy arrived to investigate the first incident, he found the neon green liquid.

Farmer in northeastern Iowa fined for creek pollution


Iowa
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A farmer near Ossian, a town in northeastern Iowa, is fined $18,000. According to the DNR, the farmer knew that one of his soil conditioner pits was possibly leaking but continued to fill it with the conditioner regardless. The conditioner leaked into the Dry Branch Creek, which flows into the Turkey River.

A report of dead fish in Dry Branch Creek was reported last July. Upon examination of the creek, the DNR found almost 20,000 dead fish. The foamy water had an unpleasant scent, high ammonia levels, and contained larvae. These abnormalities were traced to Milan Hageman.

Milan Hageman’s small livestock operation contained two storage pits that were leaking into the underground tiling. These pits had soil conditioner that was used as fertilizer.
At the time, Hageman created ridges from gravel and earth to stop the flow and pumped the conditioner out of the storage containers. According to the DNR administrative order, Hageman “thought the creek looked cloudy and wondered if the below building pit was leaking last fall.”

Specialists at the DNR are unsure how long the leak has been occurring. The amount of conditioner that reached the creek is unknown as well.

Hageman has agreed to pay a fine of $18,280 for the investigation and fish kill. He also agreed to hire an engineer to examine the storage pits.

Company in Le Mars fined $17,000 for fish kills


Dead fish
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Elyse Gabor | April 5, 2022

According to the DNR, Nor-Am Cold Storage has been fined $17,000 for causing two fish kills.
Based out of Le Mars, the company has polluted a creek nearby with ammonia-laden water. This has occurred twice in the past four years.

The leaks occurred when the refrigeration units on the company’s rooftop were serviced. While performing the tasks, anhydrous ammonia was used as a refrigerant. The ammonia-laden water leaked from a bucket and made its way to a city storm sewer.

The first contamination was discovered in May 2018 when citizens nearby could small ammonia. The DNR reported that over 20 pounds of ammonia ran into the creek and sewer. The next day, about 50 dead, small fish were reported. Nor-Am spent hours pumping the water out of the creek to prevent the contamination from reaching the Floyd River. The company then agreed to pay a $7,000 fine.

Another fish kill in Le Mars was reported in September 2021. DNR environmental specialist Jacob Simonsen said there were around 20 dead fish near the creek. Soon after, Nor-Am reported that another ammonia leak had occurred just three days before. This time, around four pounds of ammonia had been leaked. The company must report any possible leaks to the DNR but failed to do so due to a reason unknown. However, the company agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 for the leak and is believed to write a plan to the DNR in hopes of stopping future pollution.

A Wastewater Pipe Break Leaked Wastewater into the Des Moines River


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Josie Taylor | March 24, 2022

A wastewater pipe break near Birdland Park in Des Moines caused about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater to leak into the Des Moines River on Tuesday, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This leak did not affect drinking water. 

The station has an overflow pipe that discharges directly into the river. An estimated 3,500 gallons of diluted wastewater flowed through it each minute. Tom Atkinson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, said this likely happened due to cold temperatures, although leaks are most common when there’s heavy rain.

The leak created a murky plume in the river, but the environmental effects were muted because the river is so large. DNR does not believe that any fish were killed due to the leak. 

Des Moines, along with other cities in Iowa, combine sewer systems, meaning they transport wastewater and stormwater runoff in the same pipes. Such systems are prone to leaking untreated wastewater into waterways. 

A project to separate the systems is expected to finish this year, according to the city’s website.

Survey discovers that Kammerer Mobile Home Park’s drinking water contains the state’s highest amount of toxic chemicals


A glass of water, please
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Elyse Gabor | March 8, 2022

Just south of Muscatine, the Kammerer Mobile Home Park near the Mississippi River contains the highest amount of toxic chemicals that have been discovered by the new state survey. The mobile home park houses around 100 people. 

According to the Iowa DNR, the water is contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, also known as “forever chemicals” or PFAS. Out of the dozens of communities tested for the chemicals, ten have reported findings or PFAS. Kammerer Mobile Home Park has been found to contain the highest amount of chemicals and surpasses other states’ safety levels. At this time, it is unknown if mobile park residents are aware of the presence of “forever chemicals” in their water.  

Roger Bruner, the supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau that is conducting the statewide survey, said, “They didn’t exceed anything with the (federal) health advisory — that’s the point at which we would require a public water supply to notify their customers.”

The well that contains drinking water for the park is very susceptible to surface contamination due to porous sediment in the area. The prime source of contamination likely came from one of the many industrial sites nearby; however, the exact origin is unknown. 

Contaminated water in Iowa continues to grow


Trout Run Creek near Decorah IA 854A3231
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | February 22, 2022

According to the Iowa DNR’s 2022 draft inventory, Iowa has more contaminated water now than in 2020. The reasons for the water bodies making the DNR’s list were due to large numbers of bacteria and fish killings.

As shown in the state’s 2020 list of Category 5 impairment, the DNR reported that the state recorded 585 sources of water with a total of 778 contaminates. In 2022, the DNR’s findings have gone up to 594 sources of water with a total of 783 containments.

Over half of Iowa’s rivers and streams have impairments, or at least one reason they do not meet the standard for safe drinking water, water activities, or the support marine life. Just under 70 percent of lakes and reservoirs in the state do not meet these standards as well. There are still over 150 other water sources that contain contaminated water; however, the state has not been required to set a limit on pollution for these sites.

According to an executive team member for the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter Wally Taylor, the bacteria found in Iowa’s water was due to animal waste and large-scale animal production.