Trailer park residents say they didn’t know about toxins in their water

By: - August 10, 2022 4:29 pm

Kammerer Mobile Home Park is just south of Muscatine. (Photo by Greg Boll/Special to Iowa Capital Dispatch)

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Residents of a southeast Iowa mobile home park have not been notified by the park’s owner that their water supply is contaminated by toxic “forever chemicals” that were first detected by state tests early this year, according to several of those residents.

The results of those tests of Kammerer Mobile Home Park water, near Muscatine, were publicly revealed in March as part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing samplings of community water supplies across the state. The state is testing for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.” The park had among the highest levels of PFAS detected by the state surveys.

Those chemicals have been used for decades to make a variety of products that are non-stick and stain resistant. Firefighting foam used to extinguish liquid-fueled fires is a common source of groundwater contamination, but it’s unclear what might have contaminated the Kammerer well.

The chemicals do not readily decompose — the reason they’re informally known as “forever chemicals” — and have been linked to a variety of health ailments, including cancers.

The early tests in January showed that there were concentrations of the most-prominent PFAS of a combined 29 parts per trillion, which at the time was less than half of the federal health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. That meant that the owner of Kammerer, Tim McCleary, wasn’t required by the state to notify residents of the test results, although other municipalities with lower concentrations did.

However, in June the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered the safety threshold to .004 parts per trillion for one of the PFAS and .02 part per trillion for the other. That same month, a sampling of the Kammerer water revealed higher concentrations than the first test, for a combined total of 49 parts per trillion, according to DNR data. One of the chemicals was 8,000 times the safe limit, based on that data.

McCleary hasn’t responded to several requests to comment for this article. An employee of his, who did not identify himself in a brief interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch last week while tending to a building in the mobile home park, said McCleary had sent a letter to residents about the tests.

Upon further inquiry about the contents of the letter and when it was sent, the employee said: “It’s not really any of your business.”

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter was then told to leave the premises.

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But in the days before that, several residents told Iowa Capital Dispatch that they had received no notice of the test results and were otherwise unaware of PFAS in general.

The water at Kammerer Mobile Home Park near Muscatine has high levels of PFAS. (Photo by Greg Boll/Special to Iowa Capital Dispatch)

One resident said the park should install a water-treatment system to ensure the water there is safe to drink. That’s not required by federal regulators right now, but it might be in future years if the EPA adopts enforceable maximum contaminant levels for the chemicals.

“Everybody should have drinkable water in their home,” resident Steve Shilling said.

Another, Angie Weikert, said she knew about the test results because an out-of-state friend sent her an Iowa Capital Dispatch article about them. Weikert said she has lived at the mobile home park for about eight years and that she would continue drinking the water because she hasn’t experienced any adverse health effects so far.

“We’ve been drinking it all this time,” she said.

The chemicals do not pose an acute health risk, research has shown. Rather, the effects are believed to stem from chronic exposure over many years or decades.

In late July, the DNR sent McCleary a notice that he is required to inform his residents about the most-recent test results because they exceed the new federal health advisories. The park’s water well serves about 100 people, according to state data.

Corey McCoid, supervisor of the DNR’s Water Supply Operations, said he is unaware of any previous notifications that McCleary might have provided to his residents but that he is required to give new notice by Aug. 23.

That could be done in a variety of ways, via radio or television stations, posting notice in a readily accessible public area of the park, sending mail or hanging notes on their doors, among other options. McCleary is required to send the DNR a sample of the notices to prove that he delivered them.

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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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