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.

Revisiting Iowa Climate Statements: Impacts on the Health of Iowans


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Josie Taylor | October 11, 2021

In 2014, Iowans were seeing the real effects that come with climate change. Heavy rainfall, floods and a longer growing season were some of the impacts. The biggest impact, however, was the health effects of climate change. 

Repeated heavy rain events caused increased exposures to toxic chemicals and raw sewage because of flood waters. Along with that came degraded water quality, which hurt many in Iowa. In farming states like Iowa, higher water temperatures and decreased mixing have combined with high nutrient levels to create harmful algal blooms that make the water unsuitable for human and animal consumption.

An even more common health effect of climate change was its impact on respiratory and cardiovascular health. With warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels in the air, plants produce not only more pollen, but also pollen with a higher allergen content. A longer growing season extends the period of exposure to allergens, and new allergenic plants moving northward into Iowa are magnifying the range of exposures. Respiratory problems such as childhood asthma have increased dramatically in prevalence since the 1980s. 

Seven years ago, scientists were concerned about new diseases arriving as a result of climate change. They saw new species of mosquitoes and ticks in Iowa capable of transmitting diseases such as Dengue Fever and Ehrlichiosis. With increasing temperatures, more rainfall, and longer summers, these mosquitos and ticks can live longer and expand their range. 

Overall, health concerns resulting from climate change were common and important. These issues were one of the biggest concern for Iowans in 2014, but they are still here today.

ISU professor becomes MacArthur Fellow for sustainable farming work


Via Iowa State University.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 6, 2021

Iowa State University Professor of Natural Resource Ecology and Management Lisa Schulte Moore became the first MacArthur Fellow at the university following because of her sustainable farming research.

Schulte Moore will receive $625,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue her work focusing on sustainable farming, climate change, and water quality. According to The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Schulte Moore has a long history of receiving grants for her research, including a $10 million federal grant she won to research turning biomass and manure into fuel.

Alongside researching sustainable farming and climate change, Schulte Moore focuses on the fields of agriculture, ecology, forestry, and human-landscape interactions. She’s been at ISU for 18 years. With more than 100 scientific and educational articles to her name, Schulte Moore co-founded the Prairies STRIPS project which used science-based trials of rowcrops integrated with prairie strips to further the development in prairie conservation. In a statement released by the university, Schulte Moore said her job is putting together a puzzle that requires her to look “for the missing puzzle piece.”

“I’ve found that sometimes you have to build and paint the puzzle piece yourself, and that’s part of the fun of science,” she said.

Iowa Group Turns the Water Pollution Issue into a Clickable Map


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Josie Taylor | September 2, 2021

The Environmental Working Group has developed a clickable map that describes some of Iowa’s most pressing pollution problems in fine detail. 

This map, called “water atlas” shows that Iowa is being polluted by manure and commercial fertilizers. This is something that affects every Iowan. These pollute Iowa’s waters, which makes tap water more expensive for residents. 

The Environmental Working Group map details fertilization statewide and the nitrate and phosphorus pollution associated with the practices in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As many already know, these states are agriculture hot spots. 

Soren Rundquist, the organization’s director of spatial analysis, said the idea for this interactive map was to make data points easily accessible for Iowans, so they could understand what is going on. 

Des Moines Water Works CEO, Ted Corrigan has declared the Des Moines River “essentially unusable” for tap water at times due to algae toxins from farm runoff. 

Water Works drew national attention when it sued upstream drainage districts to force them to address pollution, but a federal judge threw the case out. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in 2015 found that almost two-thirds of Iowans supported the lawsuit. 

Iowans clearly want safe drinking, and the Iowa Environmental Working Group has made it easier to understand what is going on.

Congress eyes legislation to improve environmental justice


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 24, 2021

Communities that have been devastated by environmental degradation might see some environmental justice soon if Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration get their way.

Democrats in Washington are eyeing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that will help these communities like never before. The plan is in early stages, but there are plans for the government to recognize the suffering of these communities — something activists have been fighting for years to receive.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, a co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance said the bill does not go far enough. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, she said the bill needs to be malleable because of the different circumstances across all 50 states. She also wants legislators to “be bold” in resetting the “legacy of environmental racism.”

Some of the plans for this legislation are to make investments in environmental justice by improving the affordability of water and access to clean drinking water, as well as climate equity.

There has been a recent push for environmental justice and equity to be a focus in Washington. CBS News reported that environmental justice allows congress to examine two important arenas of policy at the same time: combatting the climate crisis and fighting racial inequalities.

The bill has yet to be finalized and shared with the public.

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.

Drake Professor calls Iowa’s approach to water quality “magical thinking”


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Elizabeth Miglin | August 3, 2021

Iowa’s voluntary program to improve water quality and reduce farm runoff is called “magical thinking” designed to prevent farmers “from having to do something” by a Drake University law professor, on Thursday. 

Drake law professor and former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, Neil Hamilton recently spoke on the failures of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to the Iowa Farmers Union, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Hamilton highlighted how the lack of hard targets and requirements for state officials makes the strategy designed to “deny and defer any potential action.”

The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a series of environmental goals adopted in 2013 aimed at reducing the number of nutrients found in Iowa’s waters. The document provides ideas for actions farmers may voluntarily take as well as add a few requirements for sewage treatment plants. Regarding farm conservation and fertilizer regulations, however, “it doesn’t ask for or expect anyone to do anything” as they are suggestions, said Hamilton. 

Among the issues with the strategy, consistent funding has become a major point of contention for environmental groups and farmers. The original goals recommended $89.3 million to $1.4 billion a year when adjusted for inflation be directed towards sustainability costs. However, the Iowa Environmental Council reported findings that of $500 million spent in Iowa on federal conservation programs in years past, only $17 million was focused directly on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

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.

Des Moines Water Works plans to drill wells in search for clean water


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 7, 2021

The Des Moines Water Works is now considering drilling wells to find clean water. After years of lawsuits and legislative lobbying, the utility has been unable to keep farmers upstream in order to reduce runoff. These efforts have cost Water Works $18 million to treat the polluted river water over the last two decades. Resulting in the utility now planning to spend $30 million in order to drill wells which will mix in pure water when the nitrate levels rise seasonally. 

Major cities are often discouraged from taking such a dramatic measure, as reliance on wells for large populations would quickly deplete the groundwater. Comparatively, small communities may often use wells but surface sources such as rivers and lakes, supply 70% of the freshwater used in the U.S. 

Nitrate levels in central Iowa have become so bad that Des Moines Water Works’ CEO Ted Corrigan said to Iowa Public Radio “for 110 days last year [Water Works] could not use the Des Moines River as a water source…That is shocking.” 

Since many Iowa farmers are unable to privately invest in ways to filter out chemicals and public funding through the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is limited, the utility has few alternative options. 

Water Works has paid the U.S. Geological Service $770,000 to analyze drilling sites north of the city, according to The Gazette. Thereafter, the utility will have to work with state and federal agencies to get the permits to build the wells. 

Lake Darling Faces Continuing Bacteria Problems Despite $12 Million Restoration


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Elizabeth Miglin | July 6, 2021

Once the pinnacle of Iowa perennial lake improvement, Lake Darling now reports one of the highest amounts of swimming advisories in Iowa. 

Despite a $12 million restoration concluded in 2014, Lake Darling has had problems maintaining its renewed water quality. A study by the Iowa Environmental Council found Darling had 30 beach advisories for fecal bacteria and nine for algae toxins between 2014 and 2020. In a rare discovery for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Darling was found to have violated three state swimming standards in a single round of tests last week. Only seven other lakes received “swimming not recommended” warnings.

The restoration of Lake Darling began in the early 2000’s after Iowa DNR tests for bacteria found high levels of animal waste due to the local area’s high concentration of hog confinements. Animal bacteria and algae toxins can result in intestinal and other illnesses in humans, especially those with weakened immune systems. However, many of these concerns seemed to be put to rest due to the restoration. In 2007, the Iowa DNR even published an article titled “Lake Darling: A snapshot of success.

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Alicia Vasto, the associate water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said the increase in algae toxin microcystin has been a major concern. Vasto noted the beginning of July is very early in the season for microcystin advisories, however the precipitation patterns and drought increases the difficulty to draw conclusions.