‘Forever chemicals’ found in Ames drinking water


Graphic via the Iowa DNR.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 14, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found PFAS in Ames drinking water.

The city is Iowa’s ninth-biggest city had concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) in its water, detected at 3.1 and 6.5 parts per trillion. The Iowa DNR wants Ames to test the drinking water quarterly because the concentrations were found in water already cleaned by the city’s water utility service.

The chemicals were also found in wells within city limits. One well that tested positive is the site of firefighter trainings. Firefighter foam is one of the most common materials with PFAS in it.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Rock Valley, an Iowa town of 4,000 people, also tested positive for PFAS. Wells in the city also tested positive. All of the PFAS levels in the two towns are below federal standards, but the Iowa DNR is planning on having the cities continue testing the water. West Des Moines water also previously tested positive for the chemicals.

The Iowa DNR has released less than half its water quality tests for the state. Supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner previously said testing is underway for cities in Iowa. He said results will be posted as the department receives them.

Iowa City passes Iowa DNR drinking water analysis


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 29, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources found negligible amounts of per- and polyfluoroalkyl, commonly known as PFAS, in Iowa City’s drinking water.

The department released their findings on Wednesday. The tests were conducted following the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory regarding two PFAS: Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid. If the two chemicals combined to have a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, it would exceed the EPA’s health advisory. According to a City of Iowa City release, the Iowa DNR did not detect either chemical in Iowa City’s samples.

While looking for other PFAS, Perfluorobutanoic acid was detected in Iowa City’s drinking water at 3 parts per trillion. In the release, Water Superintendent for Iowa City Jonathan Durst said the results were low and expected.

“The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR to monitor PFAS and conduct additional on-site testing,” he said. “We are committed to providing the highest quality drinking water to our community.”

This water analysis came a month after Iowa City was found to have high levels of zinc in its water. The city reduced its daily zinc intake in early November.

Iowa cattle farmer to pay fine for contaminating creek for second time


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By Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 10, 2021

An Iowa cattle farmer was fined this week for letting manure-laden water pollute a creek repeatedly.

Lou Pick from Remsen, Iowa, will pay $9,000 after the most recent pollution killed thousands of fish in the creek near his farm. Pick allowed the water to escape a detention basin on his land near cattle feedlots multiple times in 2021.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tested Whiskey Creek and found heightened levels of bacteria and ammonia contaminants, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The water at the creek was bronze and smelled, according to a passerby’s report earlier this year. Whiskey Creek, however, does not flow into a major waterway.

According to DNR records, the water from Pick’s farm pumps into a basin, but the pump failed allowing the water to continue to contaminate the creek. This is the second fine for the farmer. In 2018 he paid $7,000 for contaminated water going to the same basin and flowing into water near Whiskey Creek.  

Downed derecho trees turn into urban lumber


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 29, 2021

Thousands of downed trees from the 2020 derecho were originally turned into mulch, but now, some can be found in furniture, art, and housing materials.

The decision was made to get rid of the massive amount of trees across Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest hit areas in Iowa, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Still, clean up of downed trees lasted months. Now, some trees have become urban lumber. Urban lumber is wood cut from trees that were grown within city limits that are not turned into mulch.

Urban lumber is now available in Des Moines and Iowa City at Habitat for Humanity stores. It’s available to anyone according to Aron Flickinger, a forestry program specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keeping the trees in their initial form and not making it into mulch keeps carbon locked instead of the chemical goes back into the atmosphere. 50 percent of the weight of wood is carbon.

Urban lumber has a multitude of uses. including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.

Northeast Iowa farm co-op fined thousands for chemical discharge


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 20, 2021

A northeastern Iowa farmers’ cooperative agreed to pay a $6,000 fine for a discharge of ammonia.

Last year, the illegal discharge drained into a creek that feeds into the Turkey River, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The river is more than 150 miles long and flows into the Mississippi River. The pollution killed fish and other species present in the river. The dead fish tipped off a local fisherman who notified authorities in July 2020.

A state investigation followed that traced the pollution back to a drainage ditch in the region. The anhydrous ammonia drained into a water storage area at the Three Rivers FS Company. The company agreed to pay the fee without denying or admitting they were at fault.

The quantity of the fertilizer contamination is unknown at this time. The fertilizer was highly attracted to water and the Turkey River. According to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources order in September, Three Rivers consistently pumped snow melt and rainwater into the water storage area. Following the pumping, the water flowed into the creek.

Since the original ammonia leakage, Iowa DNR Environmental Specialist Jessica Ragsdale told the Dispatch the company has altered their practices .

Iowa to see PFAS water testing


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 19, 2021

Iowans could will soon see testing for “forever chemicals” in their water supply.

State officials are preparing to begin testing specific water sources for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to at PFAS. The chemicals can lead to cancer and other health problems. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources intends to start testing in the next few weeks, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The water monitoring will begin in central Iowa.

PFAS regulation has increased in recent months. In mid-June, the Environmental Protection Agency established a council on the chemicals. The council is specifically tasked with reducing the potential risks caused by these chemicals. Before the creation of the council, U.S. Representatives and Senators were pushing to reclassify PFAS.

The risk of PFAS is low, Supervisor of the Department’s Water Quality Program Roger Bruner said. He said a team from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources will go to municipal water sources to sample the drinking water.

Iowa previously tested drinking water for PFAS during a federal monitoring system from 2013 until 2015. The original tests did not show any significant levels of contamination. There is no definitive date for when the results of the 2021 tests will be released to the public.

Wildfire season sets record for days on high alert


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 5, 2021

In 2021, the United States Forest Service saw more days on the highest level of wildfire preparedness consecutively than ever before.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore spoke to the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on Sept. 29 regarding the increasing intensity and of wildfires. Moore said the fires are getting harder to control, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Wildfires started in January across the western United States and they continue to burn into October. Millions of acres have burned as fewer firefighters fight the flames, according to Moore.

In June 2021, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. Iowa saw poor air quality on various days throughout the summer because of the wildfires throughout the west. Wildfires are also worsening by scaling mountains and reaching higher elevations than in previous years. According to The New York Times, 50 percent of these fires in 2021 were started by lightning. The other half were traced back to a variety of human-made causes, including power lines and cars.

Moore said these wildfires are milder than in past years based on a couple of metrics, but with fewer firefighters they become tougher to fight. The 2021 season did, however, start earlier than normal.

Sierra Club sues Iowa DNR over proposed cattle feedlot


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 24, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is being sued by the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The lawsuit regards the 11,600-head cattle feedlot that was approved by the department. The building is set to be built in Clayton County. Prior to its approval, the feedlot received harsh criticism from various environmental groups. According to The Des Moines Register, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is arguing that the feedlot used a skewed nutrient management plan to receive approval from the Iowa DNR. The plan, they allege, uses incorrect information.

Supreme Beef LCC, the group behind the project, received approval on the 11,600 cattle-lot feedlot in April 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the company underestimated how much nitrogen and phosphorus that is needed by the facility would need annually.

The Sierra Club alongside other environmental groups opposed the project since its initial proposal in 2020 due to the land being an environmentally sensitive area. The project also initially included plans to hire developers to generate a plan to capture the methane from the plant. Those plans were scrapped.

Air quality, climate bulletin highlights quality patterns, shifts


Screenshot from YouTube.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 7, 2021

The World Meteorological Organization published its first Air Quality and Climate Bulletin on Sept. 3, discussing where air patterns are improving and deteriorating across the globe.

The report discusses the strong connection air quality and climate change have because of the chemical species that impact both. One of the similarities is the affect the combustion of fossil fuels has on air’s breathability and on global warming. A large problem when it comes to air quality is wildfires, according to the bulletin. The report said the fire seasons expose people to “varying levels of pollutants” alongside putting millions of people at high or very high health risks as a result of being downwind from wildfires.

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research co-director Greg Carmichael assisted in the creation of the organization’s bulletin. He serves on the editorial board for the bulletin and chairs the Environmental Pollution and Atmospheric Chemistry Scientific Steering Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, the group that inspired the report.

Iowa saw poor air quality this summer because of the wildfires in Western states. In late June, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued air quality alerts due to winds from the West Coast changing the air quality in some Midwestern states. The alert specifically focused on warning sensitive groups to limit their outdoor exertion within the state. According to the Des Moines Register, these alerts also signaled several towns in the state having “unhealthy” air based on the Air Quality Index. Poor air quality returned later in the summer to Iowa, as residents saw more alerts in August.

The bulletin by the World Meteorological Organization included a section on how COVID-19 and air quality have impacted one another — something that has worried some health officials in Iowa. During various lockdowns of differing degrees, international emissions of air pollutants fell drastically, improving air quality across the world. The report showed nitrogen dioxide emissions dropped nearly 70 percent as a result of COVID-19.

The World Meteorological Organization intends to continue putting out bulletins with more air quality information in the future.

Iowa beaches under advisories due to pollution


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 17, 2021

More than a dozen state and federal beaches in Iowa are currently under “swimming not recommended” advisories due to bacterial pollution.

The beaches under new advisories are spread out across the state, with four in the southwest corner of the state and the other eight on the eastern half. 10 of the beaches were already under these advisories, but three were added on Friday. The advisories stem from high fecal bacteria levels in the water. The bacterial levels mean its likely that individuals who enter the water can catch pathogens. The bacteria can also harm animals.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ website said children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems have an increased risk of illness if they swim in contaminated waters. No beaches have been closed for the levels of fecal bacteria. Beaches also have not been put under advisories for toxic algae.

The risks of the water at these 13 beaches include intestinal illness and infection. The change in advisories comes a few weeks after the Iowa DNR issued a dozen toxic beach warnings. These warnings came from microcystin, a toxin produced by blue-green algae blooms in a body of water.

The Iowa DNR regularly tests beach water from Memorial Day to Labor Day to diagnose water contaminants.