DNR finds ‘forever chemicals’ in 12 water supplies

A second round of tests is slated to start later this spring

By: - March 31, 2022 5:53 pm

The Mississippi River, a source of drinking water for thousands of eastern Iowans, has PFAS, according to recent Iowa DNR tests. (Photo by Mark D. Tomer/Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

A sampling of about 70 community water supplies in Iowa found detectable levels of toxic chemicals that persist indefinitely in the environment in a dozen of them, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR began its sampling late last year and published the last of its results this week on its website. The testing is meant to determine the prevalence of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals” — in the state’s drinking water.

There are thousands of PFAS. The two most-studied of the group have been linked to cancers and other ailments and were a focus of the sampling, along with 23 other PFAS.

Drinking water with detectable amounts of PFAS are marked with red squares on the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s tracking map. (Screenshot of DNR website)

The water sources selected for the first round of testing were believed to be the most at-risk for contamination, using federal and state data that tracks the companies that have used or stored PFAS, areas where firefighting foam that contains PFAS was used, and others, said Corey McCoid, supervisor of the DNR’s Water Supply Operations.

None of the detections exceeded a non-mandatory federal guideline for the two most prominent PFAS, although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to revise that health advisory to be more strict and is considering mandatory regulations.

“Overall, we’re glad that it’s currently not above the health advisory,” McCoid said, “but as the EPA is looking to change that health advisory, I suspect we’ll have some facilities at that point in time that will be affected.”

Chief among them is Central City, where the DNR found PFAS subject to the advisory in combined concentrations of 61 parts per trillion, which approaches the guideline of 70 parts per trillion. The city has stopped using water from a contaminated well — except in cases of emergency need — and a DNR investigation is underway to determine the source of the contamination.

Kammerer Mobile Home Park, near Muscatine, might also be affected. The DNR found concentrations of 29 parts per trillion in its water.

The other cities with detections of the two PFAS in finished drinking water include:

Ames Water Treatment Plant: 9.6 parts per trillion
Burlington Municipal Waterworks: 7.2 parts per trillion
Camanche Water Supply: 12 parts per trillion
Iowa-American Water Company, in Davenport: 6 parts per trillion
Keokuk Municipal Water Works: 4.3 parts per trillion
Muscatine Power & Water: 7.6 parts per trillion
Rock Valley Water Supply: 2.1 parts per trillion
Sioux City Water Supply: 9.2 parts per trillion
Tama Water Supply: 5.5 parts per trillion
West Des Moines Water Works: 5.3 parts per trillion

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City treated water did not have detectable amounts, but each city had a well that did. Contaminated water from a well can be diluted in larger cities by uncontaminated water from other wells.

McCoid expects to test roughly 60 more water supplies in the coming months. Some of those will be in areas near the other detections. The cities with the detections in their finished water are required to test the water quarterly and report the results to the DNR.

The water supplies with no detectable amounts of the main PFAS in their treated drinking water included:

Adair County
Greenfield Municipal Utilities

Adams County
Corning Municipal Water Department

Appanoose County
Rathbun Regional Water Association

Black Hawk County
Waterloo Water Works

Buena Vista County
Sioux Rapids Water Department

Butler County
Greene Municipal Water Supply

Cedar County
HWH Corporation, Tipton

Clarke County
Osceola Water Works

Clay County
Spencer Municipal Water Utility

Decatur County
Lamoni Municipal Utilities
Leon Water Supply

Delaware County
Big River United Energy, Dyersville
Manchester Water Supply

Dickinson County
Central Water System, Okoboji
Milford Municipal Utilities
Spirit Lake Waterworks

Franklin County
Hampton Municipal Water Works

Guthrie County
Panora Water Works

Hardin County
Eldora Water Supply
Iowa Falls Water Department

Harrison County
Missouri Valley Water Supply
Ida County
Ida Grove Water Utility

Iowa County
Amana Society Water System North

Jasper County
Colfax Water Supply
Prairie City Water Works

Johnson County
Iowa City Water Department
Lake Ridge
University Water System, Iowa City

Lee County
Fort Madison Municipal Water Works

Linn County
Cedar Rapids Water Department
Hiawatha Water Department
Lisbon Water Supply

Louisa County
Wapello Municipal Water Works

Madison County
Winterset Municipal Waterworks

Mahaska County
Mahaska Rural Water, New Sharon

Mitchell County
Saint Ansgar Water Supply

Muscatine County
Mark Twain Meadows Homeowners

Page County
Clarinda Water Plant
Shenandoah Water Department

Palo Alto County
Graettinger Municipal Water Supply

Polk County
Des Moines Water Works

Pottawattamie County
Council Bluffs Water Works
Country Estates Mobile Home Park

Poweshiek County
Montezuma Municipal Water Supply

Sac County
Wall Lake Water Supply

Scott County
Petersen Properties

Shelby County
Harlan Municipal Utilities

Sioux County
Hawarden Water Supply
Rural Water System #1

Union County
Creston Water Supply

Wapello County
Eddyville Municipal Water Department
Ottumwa Water Works

Warren County
Carlisle Water Supply

Washington County
Kalona Water Department

Winneshiek County
Freeport Water District, Decorah

Woodbury County
Sergeant Bluff Water Supply

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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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