All Detectable PFAS Chemicals in Iowa Exceed Heath Advisory


Via Flickr

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.

Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora


The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

West Des Moines Successfully Treats Water for Forever Chemicals


Via Flickr

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.

Large spending increase for tribal, climate programs expected from U.S. Interior secretary


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | April 29, 2022

The U.S. Interior Department is planning to ask the House of Representative to increase funding to a tribal programs and climate resiliency efforts this week.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will ask the spending panel to increase the fiscal 2023 budget for the department to set ambitious but achievable goals, according to written testimony for the budget request.

““Working together, we have the opportunity to invest now to strengthen our Nation for all Americans, protect our environment, and ensure our future generations continue to not only enjoy, but improve our way of life,” Haaland wrote in the testimony.

The current proposed request would increase spending on Indian Affairs programs by almost 25 percent. The sum would become $4.5 billion and would focus on sovereignty and equity opportunities for tribes across the country. The funding would also spend billions on delivering safe, clean water to tribe. The request will come in tandem with an increase in funds for the transition to renewable energy usage in the U.S. The department wants $1.4 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water projects to help with worsening droughts and $1.2 billion for wildfire management, among other spending. The administration asked for a total $61 million for tribal climate resilience programs.

Farmer in northeastern Iowa fined for creek pollution


Iowa
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | April 19, 2022

A farmer near Ossian, a town in northeastern Iowa, is fined $18,000. According to the DNR, the farmer knew that one of his soil conditioner pits was possibly leaking but continued to fill it with the conditioner regardless. The conditioner leaked into the Dry Branch Creek, which flows into the Turkey River.

A report of dead fish in Dry Branch Creek was reported last July. Upon examination of the creek, the DNR found almost 20,000 dead fish. The foamy water had an unpleasant scent, high ammonia levels, and contained larvae. These abnormalities were traced to Milan Hageman.

Milan Hageman’s small livestock operation contained two storage pits that were leaking into the underground tiling. These pits had soil conditioner that was used as fertilizer.
At the time, Hageman created ridges from gravel and earth to stop the flow and pumped the conditioner out of the storage containers. According to the DNR administrative order, Hageman “thought the creek looked cloudy and wondered if the below building pit was leaking last fall.”

Specialists at the DNR are unsure how long the leak has been occurring. The amount of conditioner that reached the creek is unknown as well.

Hageman has agreed to pay a fine of $18,280 for the investigation and fish kill. He also agreed to hire an engineer to examine the storage pits.

Company in Le Mars fined $17,000 for fish kills


Dead fish
Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | April 5, 2022

According to the DNR, Nor-Am Cold Storage has been fined $17,000 for causing two fish kills.
Based out of Le Mars, the company has polluted a creek nearby with ammonia-laden water. This has occurred twice in the past four years.

The leaks occurred when the refrigeration units on the company’s rooftop were serviced. While performing the tasks, anhydrous ammonia was used as a refrigerant. The ammonia-laden water leaked from a bucket and made its way to a city storm sewer.

The first contamination was discovered in May 2018 when citizens nearby could small ammonia. The DNR reported that over 20 pounds of ammonia ran into the creek and sewer. The next day, about 50 dead, small fish were reported. Nor-Am spent hours pumping the water out of the creek to prevent the contamination from reaching the Floyd River. The company then agreed to pay a $7,000 fine.

Another fish kill in Le Mars was reported in September 2021. DNR environmental specialist Jacob Simonsen said there were around 20 dead fish near the creek. Soon after, Nor-Am reported that another ammonia leak had occurred just three days before. This time, around four pounds of ammonia had been leaked. The company must report any possible leaks to the DNR but failed to do so due to a reason unknown. However, the company agreed to pay a fine of $10,000 for the leak and is believed to write a plan to the DNR in hopes of stopping future pollution.

A Wastewater Pipe Break Leaked Wastewater into the Des Moines River


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | March 24, 2022

A wastewater pipe break near Birdland Park in Des Moines caused about 2 million gallons of untreated wastewater to leak into the Des Moines River on Tuesday, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This leak did not affect drinking water. 

The station has an overflow pipe that discharges directly into the river. An estimated 3,500 gallons of diluted wastewater flowed through it each minute. Tom Atkinson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR, said this likely happened due to cold temperatures, although leaks are most common when there’s heavy rain.

The leak created a murky plume in the river, but the environmental effects were muted because the river is so large. DNR does not believe that any fish were killed due to the leak. 

Des Moines, along with other cities in Iowa, combine sewer systems, meaning they transport wastewater and stormwater runoff in the same pipes. Such systems are prone to leaking untreated wastewater into waterways. 

A project to separate the systems is expected to finish this year, according to the city’s website.

Tree planting is blooming: Here’s tips about how to help, and not harm, the planet


Via Flickr.

Simone Garza | March 21, 2022

With the climate crisis worsening, businesses and consumers are joining nonprofit groups and local governments for a global tree planting boom. 

The benefits of tree planting including providing oxygen, reducing flooding, and minimizing water runoff, therefore reducing pollution in waterways across the country. 

But when planting is done unsuccessfully, it can magnify the issues the planting intended to solve. Planting trees incorrectly can minimize biodiversity, accelerate extinctions, and make ecosystems inflexible. 

The extinction rates of wildlife animals are surging, as the World Wide Fund for Nature reported in 2021 that extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. The essence of an ecosystem impacts more than plants and animals. Humans also rely on food and water supplies. 

As the climate crisis worsens, tree planting is being invested by companies and countries majorly in commercial land. Although the trees do block off carbon, the trees provide insufficient support to the webs of life that previously bloomed in these areas. 

Debates have been made by policy experts, scientists, and forestry companies through interviews on what exactly is a proper way to plant trees. One idea for some, is big tree farms for timber and carbon storage. The other idea is having fruit trees for small scale farmers. Lastly, the idea is still allowing native species to reproduce. 

Although there’s not enough land on earth to fight off climate change with trees alone, if it can be joined with huge cuts in fossil fuels trees could be an essentially natural solution. 

Peruvian oil spill catches researchers, citizens off guard


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | March 9, 2022

Two months after Peru’s worst ever environmental coastline disaster, scientists are calling for Peru to end its reliance on oil.

Scientists and authorities are assessing the damage’s extents, according to the scientific journal Nature. Reports have found the oil spread to more than 25 beaches, reaching more than 41 kilometers of coastline. Deyvis Huamán, a conservation biologist with Peru’s National Service of Natural Areas Protected by the State (SERNANP) in Lima, said the destruction was astonishing and a tragedy. Such spread of oil is unprecedented in the country and in recent history.

No one in Peru was prepared for the oil spill, Peruvian environmental lawyer Carmen Heck said. Peru is a large fishing country and has one of the most productive seas on the planet, so the oil will drastically impact the environment and the livelihoods of residents. Many fish and other aquatic animals are expected to perish as a result of the oil spreading. It is unclear to authorities, researchers, and locals as to how the oil moved so far so quickly.

Most recent reports found beaches have been tarred, pollution has reached three protected marine reserves, and more than 1,000 seabirds were coated with oil. The issue has raised the question of who pays for environmental crimes during the climate crisis and what can be done to prevent similar ones. Environmentalists are calling for a decreased reliance on oil within the South American country, but no laws have been put in place to achieve that yet. Under Peru’s strict liability law, the Spanish energy company Repsol that manages the oil refinery where the spill came from is ultimately responsible for the spill. It is unclear how payment will occur, when the oil spill will be cleaned up, and if the wildlife will ever return to normal.