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.

Iowa school districts receive EPA grant to improve buses


(dhendrix73/Flickr)
(dhendrix73/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 16, 2015

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that two Iowa school districts will receive $60,000 to retrofit or replace school buses with more fuel efficient models.

The IKM-Manning Community School District in Manning, Iowa will receive $40,000 for two buses while the Sioux City Community School District will receive $20,000 for one bus. This funding is part of a $7 million nationwide project to replace and retrofit 400 inefficient dispersal school buses through EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funding.

“Schools and other organizations that install clean diesel technology are doing more than just saving money – they’re creating cleaner, healthier air for children and all community residents,” said Christopher Grundler, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “This program continues to help thousands of children breathe easier and lead safer lives year after year.”

The new and retrofitted buses are expected to reduce nitrous oxide and particulate matter emissions which can contribute to health complications such as asthma and lung damage. DERA has provided funding for more than 650 clean diesel projects across the country which has led to emissions reductions in more than 60,000 engines since 2008.

In 2012, seven Iowa school districts received more than $280,000 to improve fuel efficiency as part of a joint project between EPA and the Department of Natural Resources.

School buses travel approximately four billion miles each year and provide transportation for more than 25 million American school children each day, according to EPA data.

Woodbury County considers LED lighting for all county facilities


The Woodbury County Courthouse is one of 60 county buildings that could be equipped with LED lighting. (Ammodramus/Wikimedia)

Nick Fetty | July 2, 2015

Earlier this week the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors approved a study that will look at equipping all county facilities with LED lighting.

The project is expected to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million  “but about 70% of that cost may be returned in the form of a rebate.” Lighting would need to be installed in 60 county buildings accounting for approximately 450,000 square feet.

Board supervisor Jeremy Taylor proposed the idea last week. Taylor, who also serves as the energy specialist for the Sioux City school district, estimated that the actual cost of the project (after rebates) could be recouped through lower energy costs and other savings within about three years.

“As far as our county buildings with LED lighting, which is highly efficient and is going to be a great use of taxpayer money and ultimately result in rebate potentials that will be good for taxpayers and then for the environment too,” Taylor told KTIV.

Taylor was also behind an LED initiative with the school district which has netted at least $350,000 in savings. If the Woodbury County project moves through it will be the first in Iowa to equip all county buildings with LED lighting.

Data from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that LED lights can last more than 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs while also emitting significantly less heat. LED lights also do not contain mercury which can be damaging to the environment and pose public health risks when not properly disposed of.

High rainfall may lead to record flooding in Northwest Iowa by Saturday


Iowa Environmental Mesonet graphic of rainfall totals from 6 a.m. June 15 to 6 a.m. June 18.
Iowa Environmental Mesonet graphic of rainfall totals from 6 a.m. June 15 to 6 a.m. June 18.

With sections of Iowa seeing as much as ten inches of rain over the last 72 hours and more rain in the forecast, Iowans are bracing for record flooding and water damage across the state.

The National Weather Service predicts the Big Sioux River at Sioux City to reach dangerously high levels by Saturday, topping out at 109 feet, 0.7 feet higher than the record of 108.3 feet set in April of 1969. Once the river level reaches 108 feet, sandbagging will be required to protect Interstate 29 from flooding.

Big Sioux River level predictions for this week (National Weather Service)
Big Sioux River level predictions for this week (National Weather Service)

The predictions come at a time when Northwest Iowa is already overwhelmed by rainfall, with a levee break in Rock Valley Tuesday causing the city to lose power to three of its four wells and inundation of drinking water treatment plants putting the area under a boil warning. The city is currently under a state of emergency.

The Iowa Flood Center’s Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) currently lists areas along the Big Sioux River under a Major Flood Stage, with Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas also at risk. Continued rainfall this week will continue to raise water levels across the state. To see current levels and real-time information on Iowa’s rivers, visit the IFIS website.

Sioux City increases recycling efforts


Photo by Voxphoto, Flickr

Sioux City made great strides in their recycling this past year thanks to their new recycling containers.

Switching to closed lid recycling bins that do not require any sorting by the user led to twice as many Sioux City residents utilizing curbside recycling.

KMEG reports that the containers’ ease of use made the difference for must residents:

“It’s not that difficult. You can throw, just what you said, you can put everything in one bin and close the lid and why not? It’s not that big of a deal to separate your trash,” said Martha Fagg.

“It’s very simple and you’d be surprised you at how little trash you actually throw out when you’re actually recycling everything that you can recycle. It’s really pretty amazing. It doesn’t cost you anymore to have that recycling cart,” said Terry Glade, the Sioux City Environmental Advisory Board’s president.

Federal panel looks into nuclear power safety precautions


Missouri River encroaches on homes in Sioux City. Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr

As the power plant just off the shores of the Missouri River continues to be surrounded by water, many Iowans are wondering just how safe they are.

Well in fact, a federal government panel has decided that American nuclear power plants all need to be better protected for catestrophic events such as flooding.

The Associated Press reports:

Calling the Japan nuclear disaster “unacceptable,” an expert task force convened by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded that nuclear power plants in the U.S. need better protections for rare, catastrophic events.

The series of recommendations, included in portions of a 90-page report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, will reset the level of protection at the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl by making them better prepared for incidents that they were not initially designed to handle. Continue reading

UI sends flood aid to Sioux City


The University of Iowa began to send flood barriers to Sioux City at 9 a.m. today.  The UI hopes to assist flood-threatened Western Iowa by providing the devices that were in storage since 2008.

TheGazette.com reports:

The University of Iowa began to load dozens of HESCO flood barriers on flat bed trucks to send to flood-threatened Sioux City at 9:00 a.m. this morning.

In storage at various buildings on the University of Iowa Campus since the flood of 2008, the University of Iowa is sending all available units to the places in western Iowa that desperately need them.

“The initial call [for barriers] came in last Thursday,” Communications Manager of University of Iowa Facilities Management Wendy Moorehead said. “We’re able to send out around 32,000 linear feet.”

Around 33 flood barriers can fit on a single flatbed truck. The University of Iowa expects to need two trucks to carry all of the units to Sioux City today.

Once all units have been sent out, the University of Iowa will receive replacement HESCO barriers, to replace the ones currently being shipped out of the area next week, at no cost to the University.

“Our risk for flooding here is very minimalized,” Facilities Management employee Allan Culbert said. “They really need them right now.”