DNR to test water for ‘forever chemicals’ in more than 30 cities

By: - May 24, 2022 4:50 pm

The state will conduct tests for toxic PFAS chemicals in more than 30 cities and more than a dozen large businesses. (Photo by Mark D. Tomer/Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

The state’s next phase of drinking water tests for toxic chemicals that persist indefinitely in the environment will include more than 30 cities and more than a dozen large businesses that have their own wells, according to a list obtained by Iowa Capital Dispatch.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources plans to sample the water supplies from June to September, said Corey McCoid, supervisor of the DNR’s Water Supply Operations.

The new round of sampling follows the DNR’s recent tests of about 70 community water supplies for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly referred to as PFAS or “forever chemicals” — that have been used to make non-stick and stain-resistant materials and firefighting foams.

The drinking water of a dozen cities had detectable amounts of the two most-prominent PFAS. At least three cities have stopped using contaminated wells as a result of the testing.

Researchers have been unable to calculate how long it takes for the chemicals to break down in the environment. They tend to accumulate in people’s bodies and have been linked to cancers and other ailments.

The cities that will be sampled this summer include: Albert City, Allison, Alta, Britt, Buffalo, Burlington, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Central City, Decorah, Dubuque, Hiawatha, Iowa City, Kanawha, Lake City, Lansing, Marengo, Marion, Marshalltown, McGregor, Monticello, Muscatine, Nashua, Perry, Princeton, Ralston, Sac City, Shell Rock, Sloan, Tama and Tripoli.

Some of those cities were included in previous testing, such as Burlington, Iowa City and Muscatine. The new tests in those cities will examine previously unsampled wells.

Larger cities often have numerous water sources. Burlington, for instance, draws water from the Mississippi River and from wells, according to DNR data. The first DNR tests found detectable amounts of PFAS in the city’s treated drinking water and in the raw water taken from the Mississippi. This summer’s sampling will target the city’s wells.

The DNR also plans to recheck Central City’s two wells, one of which contained PFAS in concentrations that approached a federal safety threshold. The city shut off the contaminated well and plans to uses it only for emergencies. The DNR is investigating the source of the contamination.

The summer sampling will also include:

— Two regional water systems: A portion of Cherokee County Rural Water and the Poweshiek Water Association. The Cherokee County utility provides water to the cities of Meriden and Larrabee, DNR records show, and the Poweshiek utility supplies more than two dozen small communities in eastern Iowa.

— Several mobile home parks, including Mount Joy Mobile Home Park in Davenport, the Modern Manor and Sunrise Village mobile home parks in Iowa City, Montiview Mobile Home Park in Monticello, and Woodland Wapello Mobile Home Park in Wapello.

— Residential areas such as: Dodds’ Valley View Water Association of Bettendorf, the Meadow Knolls Addition of Marion and the Hilltop Road Association of Muscatine.

— More than a dozen large businesses, including two Poet ethanol plants in Coon Rapids and Shell Rock, two MidAmerican Energy coal-fired power plants near Sioux City, and a Bayer Crop Science site near Muscatine, which has previously been contaminated by other chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The DNR’s sampling and publication of results are expected to conclude near the end of this year, McCoid said. The state might do further testing but will wait for the EPA to start its testing for unregulated contaminants, including PFAS, in Iowa next year. The federal testing is anticipated for all communities with a population of at least 3,300, McCoid said. That’s why the DNR’s summer testing will include a broader mix of water supplies.

“We wanted to focus on some of those smaller facilities that might not be part of” the EPA tests, McCoid said.

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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.