U.S. House panel moves to clean up PFAs


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 24, 2021

The United States House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that aims to reduce Americans’ exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

PFAS are a hazardous, forever chemical that can be found all over the United States. The toxic chemicals is in drinking water, soil, and air because they are commonly used in nonstick cookware and waterproof clothing. The PFAS Action Act of 2021 aims to reclassify PFAS as hazardous substances and would begin federal cleanup standards. The legislation was approved 33-20.

The bill also specifically mentions the use of PFAS in firefighting foam and other related equipment. If the bill passes in the general assembly, the Environmental Protection Agency will oversee the investigation of and the preventions of contamination by these chemicals.

The two most well studied PFAs are perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluoro octane sulfonate, or PFOS. In April, a team of scientists found the forever chemicals in private wells near the Cedar Rapids airport in Iowa. Des Moines, Davenport, and Bettendorf also have high levels of these two chemicals.

If the bill is passed, the EPA would be able to designate all PFAS or only some as hazardous within five years of the bill being enacted.

PFAS contamination poses risk to drinking water


River in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo by Philip Hall, flickr

Tyler Chalfant | August 6th, 2019

The U.S. military found high levels of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contaminating water at Air National Guard bases in Des Moines and Sioux City earlier this year. 

The Des Moines Water Works, along with representatives from the local, state, and federal governments, formed a working group to better understand this contamination and the effects it may have on drinking water.

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a health advisory for PFAS contamination in drinking water at 70 parts per trillion. At some sites, the levels were nearly 200 times that number. So far no PFAS have been found in the drinking water near these cities, though more testing is being conducted to determine if the contamination has spread to area wells. 

PFAS were once found in several consumer products, from carpets to clothing to paper packaging, but they were phased out of production between 2000 and 2006. However, they are still used in a variety of industrial processes, as well as in firefighting foams used at airfields, including these Iowa bases.

Studies have shown these chemicals can adversely affect immunity, cholesterol, liver tissue, certain hormones, and the development of fetuses and infants, as well as increase the risk of some cancers. 

Though a few communities have been exposed to PFAS through contaminated water, most people are exposed to them through consumer products and food. Because of this, virtually everyone contains some level of PFAS in their blood, but scientists have found these levels to be decreasing over time.

On the Radio: The USDA’s attention to new seeds


Photo by United Soybean Board; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the USDA’s exploration into stronger, herbicide-resistant seeds. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Iowa fertilizer plant responsible for chemical spill


A stream in Iowa. Photo by Pearlbear, Flickr.

A fertilizer plant in Washington, Iowa is cleaning up after releasing at least 400 gallons of herbicides and farm chemicals into a nearby creek.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said a Liqui-Grow employee was rinsing totes containing the chemicals in a designated containment area to control runoff. When the containment area filled, however, the employee pumped the rinse water into the ground.

The incident was reported by a Washington resident who noticed a strong chemical odor and milky white color in his neighbourhood stream on Tuesday.

For more information, read the full Iowa DNR press release.