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.

Des Moines Water Works Using Nitrate Removal System for the First Time in Five Years


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Josie Taylor | June 14, 2022

Des Moines Water Works has had to begin operating its nitrate-removal system for the first time in five years after finding elevated nitrate concentrations in their water. The level of nitrate in the utility’s water supply fluctuates, and is attributable to excess nutrients on upstream farmland running off the land and entering Iowa’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Standard for nitrate is 10 milligrams per liter, and the nitrate levels in the rivers and groundwater used by the Des Moines Water Works have recently peaked at more than nine milligrams per liter.

The Water Works’ nitrate removal facility initially began operating in March 1992, but was last used in 2017. Drier conditions the past few years have limited the flow of nutrients into Iowa’s waterways, which has led to lower levels of nitrate in raw source water. 

Use of the nitrate-removal system is significant because of what it means in terms of water quality and because of the expense. It can cost up to $10,000 a day to operate the nitrate-removal system, the Des Moines Water Works says.

The Des Moines Water Works is Iowa’s largest drinking water utility and provides drinking water to one-fifth of the state’s population.

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.

Wastewater Leaks into Creek in Creston


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Josie Taylor | April 14, 2022

The bank of a creek in Creston, IA collapsed and severed a sewer line on Tuesday, which spilled untreated wastewater into the creek for about four hours until city workers were able to repair it, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

According to State Records, Hurley Creek goes through much of the north and west sides of town, and there have been restoration efforts to stabilize the banks. A shift of the soil likely caused the cast-iron pipe to come apart, said Dan Olson, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR. 

The wastewater leak in the creek happened Tuesday about a mile upstream of the McKinley Lake, which was created about 150 years ago by damming the creek, the DNR reported. The lake is a public attraction for a zoo with bears, elk, wolves and exotic birds, among other creatures.

Originally, the pipe was constructed under the creek bed, but it had been exposed by erosion over the years, he said. About five gallons of sewage was flowing into the creek each minute.

An estimated 1,275 gallons of sewage leaked into the creek, which Olson doubted would have much of an impact on the McKinley Lake. 

Survey discovers that Kammerer Mobile Home Park’s drinking water contains the state’s highest amount of toxic chemicals


A glass of water, please
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Elyse Gabor | March 8, 2022

Just south of Muscatine, the Kammerer Mobile Home Park near the Mississippi River contains the highest amount of toxic chemicals that have been discovered by the new state survey. The mobile home park houses around 100 people. 

According to the Iowa DNR, the water is contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, also known as “forever chemicals” or PFAS. Out of the dozens of communities tested for the chemicals, ten have reported findings or PFAS. Kammerer Mobile Home Park has been found to contain the highest amount of chemicals and surpasses other states’ safety levels. At this time, it is unknown if mobile park residents are aware of the presence of “forever chemicals” in their water.  

Roger Bruner, the supervisor of the DNR’s water quality bureau that is conducting the statewide survey, said, “They didn’t exceed anything with the (federal) health advisory — that’s the point at which we would require a public water supply to notify their customers.”

The well that contains drinking water for the park is very susceptible to surface contamination due to porous sediment in the area. The prime source of contamination likely came from one of the many industrial sites nearby; however, the exact origin is unknown. 

The US Will See Sea Levels Rise at an Unprecedented Rate


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Josie Taylor | February 21, 2022

According to a new government report, the US coastline will see sea levels rise in the next 30 years by as much as they did in the entire 20th century. The projected increase is especially alarming given that in the 20th century, seas along the Atlantic coast rose at the fastest clip in 2,000 years.

By 2050, seas lapping against the U.S. shore will be 10 to 12 inches (0.25 to 0.3 meters) higher, with parts of Louisiana and Texas projected to see waters a foot and a half (0.45 meters) higher, according to a 111-page report issued Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and six other federal agencies.

The report did have some good news, like the worst of the long-term sea level rise from the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland probably won’t kick in until after 2100. 

The report “is the equivalent of NOAA sending a red flag up” about accelerating the rise in sea levels, said University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscientist Andrea Dutton, a specialist in sea level rise who wasn’t part of the federal report. The coastal flooding the U.S. is seeing now “will get taken to a whole new level in just a couple of decades.”

The reason why sea level rises more in some places than others is because of sinking land, currents and water from ice melt. The U.S. will get slightly more sea level rise than the global average. 

While higher seas cause much more damage when storms such as hurricanes hit the coast, they are also becoming a problem on sunny days.

Cities such as Miami Beach, Florida; Annapolis, Maryland; and Norfolk, Virginia, already get a few minor floods a year during high tides, but those will be replaced by several “moderate” floods a year by mid-century.

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 is Receiving $110 Million for Water


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Josie Taylor | December 6, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynold’s administration has a plan to spend the $110 million of federal funds allocated for water and wastewater that was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. Reynold’s said they plan to use it strategically and want to use it correctly. 

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said it is waiting for further guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on how the funding can be used. The DNR estimates that $46.4 million will be used to remove lead from drinking water.

National studies have found that nearly two percent of U.S. children and 3.6 percent of Iowa children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure to lead in children can cause: behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. 

The DNR anticipates more than half the federal dollars going into the state revolving loans funds that provide low-interest loans to cities, counties and utilities for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure.

The DNR estimates $29.4 million will be used for improvements to drinking water infrastructure and $24.9 million for clean water. 

Review says Iowa drinking water has several contaminants, still meets federal regulations


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | November 12, 2021

The Environmental Working Group reviewed Iowa’s tap water this month and found dozens of contaminants across the state. However, most of Iowa’s water systems are compliant with federal regulations.

The organization, which is based in Washington, D.C., released its review last week. The review looked at several utilities that produce water in Iowa and found that most have unsafe levels of multiple contaminants. According to Iowa Capital Dispatch, the group is also calling for stricter standards for water quality across the country.

Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa David Cwiernty told the Dispatch it is impossible to treat water so it will have no contaminants and the current regulatory framework runs on the basis of “an acceptable level of risk.”

Some of the contaminants in the review were found above the legal limit in a few systems, including radium and arsenic. The group also has an online database where people can check their water by zip code for potential contaminants. According to its website, the Iowa City Water Department has 19 total contaminants. Some of the contaminants included nitrates, trichloroacetic acid, and strontium. It was not one of the systems where excessive amounts of radium or arsenic were found.

Polk County is Meeting to Discuss Future Outdoor Public Spaces


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Josie Taylor | October 21, 2021

Today there will be a town hall style meeting for Polk County’s upcoming $65 million bond referendum to fund water, parks and trails projects.

The Polk County Water & Land Legacy Bond needs support from at least 60% of voters in the Nov. 2 referendum to pass. A similar measure in 2012 got 72% approval among voters, and a survey this spring of likely voters suggested similar support this year, said Rich Leopold, the county’s conservation director.

The average Polk County property owner will pay an estimated $11 per year if the referendum succeeds.

This referendum is focused completely on public outdoor spaces. 

It’s anticipated that up to $15 million of the new referendum money would help pay for projects prioritized by the Iowa Confluence Water Trails group, which is led by local elected officials, business leaders and others. The group wants to improve several creeks and rivers to better accommodate canoeing, kayaking and tubing to encourage recreational tourism.

Some of the money will also fund a new campground and other improvements to Sleepy Hollow Sports Park, which the county bought this year.