‘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.

A Carbon Pipeline was Proposed in Iowa


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | January 13, 2022

Another out-of-state company has announced a plan to build hundreds of miles of pipeline in Iowa to transport carbon dioxide from ethanol plants and pump it into the ground. 

Wolf Carbon Solutions said it has an agreement with Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM) to take carbon dioxide from its facilities in Cedar Rapids and Clinton and transport it to an existing carbon sequestration site in Decatur, Illinois. The pipeline would run about 350 miles and would have additional capacity to accommodate captured carbon from other facilities.

The Iowa Utilities Board, which oversees the permit process for hazardous liquid pipelines, has not received formal word from Wolf that they would start the process, said Don Tormey, a spokesperson for the board.

It would be the third carbon pipeline proposed in recent months that would connect to ethanol and fertilizer plants in the state. Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures filed requests to hold public informational meetings for their proposed pipelines in August and October, which is generally the first step in the permit process. 

To help limit greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government gives tax credits to companies that capture and sequester the carbon they would otherwise expel. The Navigator pipeline alone could net hundreds of millions of dollars in credits each year for the owners of ethanol and fertilizer plants connected to it.

New DNR Online Map Shows Where Contaminated Drinking Water is in Iowa


Flying Over the Fox
Via Flikr

Elyse Gabor | January 11, 2022

Last week, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources created an online map that allows Iowans to see if their drinking water is safe. The online map shows if cancer-causing chemicals have polluted water. 

PFAS, also known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, are synthetic chemicals contaminating the state’s water. These chemicals are found in everyday household items like stain-resistant furniture and clothes, non-stick pots and pans, and more. 

The DNR had tested around 59 cities for traces of PFAS. West Des Moines had the highest concentration of PFAS. Due to the findings, one of the three wells was shut down.

The map doesn’t show PFAS that were found in drinking water. This was the case for Iowa City. The map marks the city with a green dot, indicating that no PFAS were detected. However, residents did their research and found one of the two PFAS. The chemicals were found in the Iowa City Sand Pit Pond, a source of drinking water for 10% of the city’s water supply. 

The supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau Roger Bruner said the DNR map shows the contamination of PFAS in finished drinking water that goes out to customers. To be transparent, test results of water sources can be found online. 

The State of Iowa is Suing Sioux City Over Missouri River Pollution


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | January 10, 2022

According to a state lawsuit that was filed against Sioux City Friday, the city has not been properly treating its wastewater. This has ensured that excessive amounts of bacteria and treatment chemicals were expelled into the Missouri River. Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, says that they potentially endangered human lives and wildlife and were fraudulent about it. Miller’s office is litigating the issue on behalf of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which oversees treatment plants in the state. 

Problems at Sioux City’s wastewater treatment plant have persisted for about a decade after a new disinfectant process began in 2011, the lawsuit claims. In 2012, an engineering firm found that large amounts of wastewater from industrial sites were interfering with chlorine, the plant used to eliminate biological contaminants such as E. coli bacteria. The firm concluded the treatment plant could not adequately disinfect the wastewater

For the following two years, workers at the plant tinkered tests of the wastewater to conceal the problem from the DNR. This led to the federal prosecution of the plant’s former superintendent and a shift supervisor for Clean Water Act violations.

On typical days, the plant was using liquid chlorine at a rate of about 2.5 gallons per hour to kill bacteria, but on testing days it used between 70 and 120 gallons per hour to pass the test, U.S. Attorney Sean Berry said. Staff then reduced the flow of chlorine before testing the treated wastewater for the chemical, which is also regulated by the state. 

The plant has continued to use excess amounts of chlorine and ammonia that reaches the river, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks fines of up to $5,000 per day for the violations and a court order for the city to comply with DNR regulations.

Iowa could see pipeline construction across state in May


Via Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 7, 2022

Navigator CO2 Ventures plans to formally petition Iowa in May for permission to build a liquid carbon dioxide pipeline across the state.

The pipeline would cross 36 of Iowa’s 99 counties and venture into a handful of other Midwestern state. The Texas-based company’s plans will cost upwards of $3 billion and would lay 900 miles of steel pipe in Iowa, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. Navigator will need to receive permission from the Iowa Utilities Board prior to breaking ground. Navigator’s plan looks to provide Midwest customers with carbon capture and storage.

The company is close to ending its informational public meetings series. The meetings have been held in various counties to garner support from Iowans and to explain to communities what they can expect from the pipeline. Once the meetings end, Navigator can petition the state for permission to build. The three-member Iowa Utilities Board would have to decided that the pipeline serves “a public convenience and necessity” based on Iowa law prior to giving the company permission.

Iowans at various meetings have voiced concerns, including at a recent Ames meeting where the Dispatch reported residents were concerned about eminent domain and the potential hazard of pipeline leaks. Residents of Linn County were unhappy with the proposal in early December 2021, according to Iowa Public Radio.

There are a few more informational meetings before the company can petition. Meeting information can be found on the Iowa Utilities Board website.

Road salt as a deicer continues to harm the environment


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | January 3, 2022

As snow returns to Iowa, road salt is being used to deice roads and walkways while it is bad for a variety of environments.

After the state’s first major snowstorm of 2022 hit on New Years weekend, the Iowa Department of Transportation continues to primarily use rock salt to deice roads across the state. Based on Iowa DOT estimates, the department uses nearly 200,000 tons of rock salts on highways and other roadways to clear ice and snow annually. The salt, however has various negative affects on the environment.

A 2018 study found that 37 percent of the drainage in the U.S. has seen an increase in salinity in the past half-century. The dominant source of the salinity increase was found to be road salt across the country. Drainage can also see increased levels of chloride because of deicing salt. If these chemicals get into waterways and streams, it can increase levels of salt and chloride that exceed guidelines for aquatic life as well as deplete oxygen from bodies of water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency road salt can also contaminate drinking water, increase soil erosion, and kill wildlife. There are, however, alternatives to road salt as a deicer that cause less damage to the environment. Using more porous pavement on roads removes liquid from the roads faster, limiting its ability to freeze-thaw periods and preventing too much ice from forming on roadways. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride deicers are also less harmful. The two agents also help improve soil structure when the water drains.

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


Via Flickr

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. 

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.

Sustainable tips for the holidays


Via the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | December 24, 2021

As the holidays approach, there are many ways to prevent waste and remain sustainable when it comes to gift giving this season.

According to Stanford University waste increases in the United States by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This totals to nearly 25 million additional tons of garbage a year. Waste can be reduced significantly by reusing gift wrap, like ribbons and twine, as well as using old magazines, newspapers, or maps as wrapping paper. Holiday cards can be sent on recycled paper or via email to reduce waste as well.

Stanford also suggests buying recyclable wrapping paper and actually recycling it. Paper can also be reused for more than one wrap if it isn’t destroyed in the process of opening.

The University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability also came out with a list of local, sustainable gift giving options from Iowa City businesses. From cafes and restaurants to local shops, the list has options for all ages this holiday season and throughout the year. The list also encourages people to buy last minute gifts from sustainable, local businesses instead of large shopping malls.

As the New Year approaches, making Green Resolutions can improve one’s interactions with their environment. Whether it’s focusing on recycling or reducing your carbon footprint by carpooling or taking public transportation more often, Green resolutions can help people live more sustainably.

Disaster Cleanup from Last Weeks Storms will be Expensive and Time Consuming


Josie Taylor | December 23, 2021

Communities across the U.S. Southeast and Midwest will be assessing damage from the tornado outbreak on Dec. 10-11, 2021 for some time. It’s clear that the cleanups will take months, possibly years, and will cost a lot of money. 

Dealing with mass amounts of debris and waste materials is one of the most significant challenges for communities in the wake of natural disasters. Often this task overwhelms local waste managers, leaving waste untouched for weeks, months and even years. 

Climate-related disasters like floods, landslides, storms, wildfires and extreme hot and cold waves afflict millions of people around the world. These events have been increasing over time, particularly over the past several decades. There has also been an increase in loss from natural disasters. 

Disasters, like tornadoes, commonly produce thousands to millions of tons of debris in a single event. For example, waste can include vegetation, such as trees and shrubs; municipal solid waste, such as household garbage; construction and demolition materials; vehicles; and household hazardous materials, including paints, cleaning agents, pesticides and pool chemicals.