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.

‘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.

‘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.

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. 

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.

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.

UI Professor Explains Forever Chemicals


Josie Taylor | June 28, 2021

University of Iowa professor, Dave Cwiertny gave a presentation via Zoom to a CGRER member. He explained PFAS chemicals in drinking water, which are also referred to as forever chemicals. He gave an explanation for what they are, why people should be concerned, and what can be done now.

Professor Cwiertny near the beginning of the presentation tells us why PFAS exists in the first place. PFAS is a man-made chemical that does have some desirable traits. They have oil and water repellence, temperature resistance and friction reduction. They are used in non-stick cookware and fire fighting foams. Areas near fire fighting locations, like airports, landfills or near food processing locations are at a higher risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. Here you can view the PFAS cycle.

PFAS chemicals are something to be concerned about because they can cause problems, specifically for pregnant women. Exposure to PFAS chemicals can cause low birth weight, preterm birth and other problems.

If you have an unregulated private well, you should check if you are near a location that has history of PFAS contamination. Free testing could be available through Iowa Grants to Counties. If you have public water, contact your provider and ask about their plans testing for PFAS chemicals through the Department of Natural Resources.

If you have extra concerns or questions you can contact Professor Cwiertny through his email (david-cwiertny@uiowa.edu) or by phone (319-335-1401).

U.S. House panel moves to clean up PFAs


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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 Found near Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 2, 2021

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been used in industry in the United States since the 1940s, and never break down, according to the EPA. Since they never break down, they accumulate in the body and in the environment.

According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, these chemicals are found in, “airport firefighting foam, food packaging, carpet, dental floss, cookware, paints, cosmetics, cleaning products and waterproof clothing, and other products.”

Scientists from the University of Iowa have found PFAS in 20 rural wells near the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids and 14 wells south and east of the airport, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The health effects of PFAS include infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer, and thyroid hormone disruption.