Drinking water for 59+ cities to be tested for ‘forever chemicals’

By: - October 21, 2021 1:55 pm

The Raccoon River is a major source of Greater Des Moines tap water. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Water Works)

The state’s drinking water tests for toxic, human-made chemicals that persist indefinitely in the environment began this week and will include at least 59 cities in Iowa, according to a list of test sites obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources seeks to identify the pervasiveness of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals” — in drinking water supplies across the state. Concerns about the presence of those chemicals have grown in recent years as manufacturers DuPont and 3M have agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits for environmental contaminations.

The chemicals have primarily been identified near airports in Iowa, where they are used to de-ice planes and extinguish fires. The chemicals also appear in widely used products such as nonstick cooking pans and stain-resistant clothes and furniture.

Research has linked the chemicals to cancers, birth defects and other maladies. Most everyone has detectable amounts of the chemicals in their bodies, research has shown.

The new round of testing in Iowa began this week for Des Moines Water Works, which supplies water to about a half million people. The department planned to sample intake water at the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, along with Maffitt Reservoir and Crystal Lake. Tests of Water Works wells are set for next month.

The department will also be sampling finished water that is ready for distribution to residents, said Roger Bruner, the supervisor of the department’s water quality program.

Sampling is planned at two businesses — Big River United Energy in Dyersville and HWH Corp. in Moscow — and three rural water systems: Rathbun Regional Water Association, based in Centerville; Mahaska Rural Water System, based in Oskaloosa; and Rural Water System #1, based in Hospers.

A handful of mobile home parks and other residential areas complete the list.

The DNR plans to publish the results of the testing early next year with an interactive map on its PFAS web page.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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