‘Forever chemicals’ have made rainwater undrinkable around the world


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Grace Smith | August 29, 2022

Rainwater is no longer safe to drink anywhere in the world because of the large number of “forever chemicals,” or per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water, according to a study published on August 2. 

The rain’s “forever chemicals,” which gets its name because of the duration the chemicals exist without breaking down, are all human-made chemicals that are released into the air from repellents, non-stick sprays, packaging, and the manufacturing of the materials for about 120 years.

The study looked at four types of PFAS — PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS, and PFNA — in areas like rainwater, streams, lakes, oceans, and soils. The researchers found that two PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) significantly surpass safe levels of drinking water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines

“Based on the latest U.S. guidelines for PFOA in drinking water, rainwater everywhere would be judged unsafe to drink. Although in the industrial world we don’t often drink rainwater, many people around the world expect it to be safe to drink and it supplies many of our drinking water sources,” Ian Cousins, lead author of the study and professor at the Department of Environmental Science at Stockholm University said in a press release

PFAS are known to be associated with harming human health, including the presence of cancer, learning and behavioral problems in children, infertility and pregnancy difficulties, increased cholesterol, and other issues.

All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


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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.

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.

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. 

‘Forever chemicals’ from Mississippi River found in Iowa drinking water


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 2, 2022

Three Iowa cities that draw drinking water from the Mississippi River were found to have toxic chemical in the water.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found trace amounts of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, in water that reaches 183,000 residents in Burlington, Davenport, and Keokuk. Previous test have shown the chemicals are also present in Ames, Sioux City, Rock Valley, and West Des Moines drinking water.

While the trace amounts are well below current federal safety standards, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported it is the first time the DNR tests found notable concentrations of the forever chemicals in a major river that serves as many states’ source of drinking water. Usually, the vastness of major rivers hide contaminations. The precise sources of contamination in the Mississippi River is unclear. The river has too large of an upstream area before reaching Iowa to pinpoint if the contamination is coming from Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa David Cwiertny said he was troubled by the results and the consistency of the contamination of a large river, especially since the three cities are so far apart.

““This suggests that the Mississippi River, at least along the 100-mile plus stretch between Davenport down to Keokuk, contains a mixture of PFAS chemicals, and any other community in that area using the Mississippi as a water supply could be vulnerable to PFAS exposure,” he said.

PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Found in Treated Water in West Des Moines


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Josie Taylor | December 30, 2021

Chemicals known as PFAS, commonly called “forever chemicals”, were found in treated drinking water that goes to homes, businesses and schools in parts of West Des Moines. The contamination was discovered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

The DNR is testing water in at least 59 cities at their sources and after treatment for human consumption. West Des Moines, the sixth-largest city in the state, was the only city to have detectable levels of two prominent PFAS in its treated drinking water, according to early results obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch. 

Based on the recent DNR test results, at least three of West Des Moines Water Works’ groundwater wells have the two most-studied PFAS,  perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). It’s unclear why the wells have the chemicals.

The chemicals have been commonly used in nonstick cookware and stain-resistant clothes and furniture. Groundwater contaminations in Iowa have been previously identified near airports, which have used firefighting foams that have the chemicals. To learn more about PFAS more generally, click here. 

Concerns about the chemicals have grown in recent years because researchers have shown they can cause cancers and are widely distributed in the environment. The vast majority of people in the United States are believed to have detectable amounts of PFAS chemicals in their bodies. 

U.S. House Will Vote on PFAS Regulation


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Josie Taylor | July 19, 2021

PFAS chemicals, often referred to as forever chemicals, which have been found in many places in Iowa, are not currently regulated federally. Members of Congress, along with Biden administration officials at a conference on Wednesday explained that they are trying to start regulation for toxic chemicals found in water, like PFAS, starting with a vote in the U.S. House this week. 

Two representatives from Michigan, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, said that House Democratic leaders will introduce the PFAS Action Act of 2021. This has the goal of reducing Americans’ exposure to the toxic chemicals in air, water and consumer products.

Rep. Dingell’s bill would define PFOA and PFOS chemicals as hazardous substances, which would make it so federal cleanup would have to occur. This clean up would likely start on military bases. 

There are currently no EPA regulations that restrict manufacturers and companies from releasing PFAS chemicals into the environment.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency is currently in the process of regulating PFOS and PFOA.

“We recognize PFAS is an urgent health challenge,” Regan said. “We’re committed to working with all stakeholders to protect the health and safety of all of our communities.”

The bill introduced this week would also identify nine industries for which EPA must set standards. These industries are: organic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers; pulp, paper, and paperboard; textile mills; electroplating; metal finishing; leather tanning and finishing; paint formulating; electrical and electrical components; and plastics molding and forming.