All water tests in Iowa exceed new ‘forever chemical’ advisory

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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The treated drinking water of Central City had nearly 3,000 times the safe amount of a toxic, human-made chemical that persists indefinitely in the environment when it was tested in February, according to new federal advisories announced this week.


The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been sampling water in dozens of cities in the past year to help determine the pervasiveness of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — commonly known as PFAS or “forever chemicals.”


The chemicals have been used for decades to make non-stick and waterproof products, firefighting foams and other items. Recent studies have shown 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.


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In 2009, the EPA set a safety threshold of 70 parts per trillion for the two most prominent PFAS. On Wednesday, it lowered that advisory of one of them to .004 parts per trillion and the other to .02 parts per trillion.


“This is a strong statement from the EPA that these are a dangerous class of chemicals,” said David Cwiertny, director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination at the University of Iowa. “It seems to be consistent with the emerging body of science that there may not be any safe exposure.”


However, current testing technology is unable to detect concentrations that small.


“Many people were very surprised that it was so low,” said Mark Moeller, supervisor of the Iowa DNR’s Water Supply Engineering Section. “When you’re talking .004 parts per trillion, that gets into the quadrillions.”


The state 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 detected.


The most prominent chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, were detected in the treated drinking water of a dozen community supplies, including in Central City, where their combined concentrations were 61 parts per trillion — the highest detected so far in the state.


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Test results for the other water supplies were:


  • 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

  • Kammerer Mobile Home Park, near Muscatine: 29 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 water sources, such as wells or rivers.


More tests planned​


The Iowa DNR is poised to test about 60 more water supplies in the coming months. It has not required cities with detections to notify their residents because they were below the previous safety threshold. However, some of the cities stopped using contaminated wells, and recent tests of the drinking water in West Des Moines, for example, did not have detectable amounts of the chemicals.


Those with detections are required to test their water every three months, and the Iowa DNR might require notifications of residents based on future test results, Moeller said.


The new federal advisories are based on the health threats to people who consume the contaminated water over the course of their lifetimes. They are temporary advisories until the EPA releases its PFAS National Primary Drinking Water Regulation, which is expected later this year.


It’s unclear yet whether that will include enforceable maximum contaminant levels. The advisories are unenforceable guidelines.


Cwiertny said the new advisories indicate federal regulators are poised to treat PFAS like other regulated cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and tetrachloride: Have a goal of zero contamination but an enforceable level that balances the health risks with the feasibility and cost of treatment. Benzene is regulated to 5 parts per billion.


New advisories for two others​


The EPA also included first-ever health advisories Wednesday for two other PFAS — called GenX and PFBS — that were manufactured to be safer variants of the originals. Their safety thresholds are 10 and 2,000 parts per trillion, respectively. PFBS has been detected in a number of Iowa water supplies, but typically at far lower concentrations than the new advisory, according to state tests.


The EPA said it is also distributing $1 billion to states to “address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water, specifically in small or disadvantaged communities.”


Moeller said there are treatment processes that cities could add to their systems, but the costs vary widely. The state also offers low-interest loans for upgrades.


The Iowa DNR initiated an investigation into the contamination in Central City because its PFAS contamination exceeded 40 parts per trillion. It’s unclear whether the state will adjust that threshold based on the new federal advisories.


“We’ll have to look at these changes,” Moeller said, “and think about what our next steps will be as far as investigating those sites.”

 

NorthDSMHawk

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Oct 24, 2016
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As someone who works along with the IDNR on drinking water issues, welcome to the wild west. We've (and every other state/federal agency) know about the issue for years and nobody could (or still really can) figure out what to do about it. Hell, testing in itself is a cluster based off the clothing protocols and detection/advisory levels.

Every non-stick pan and pair of rain boots we've bought only made it worse.
 

Huey Grey

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Jan 15, 2013
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See, instead of wasting time campaining with Trump, going after teachers, and dumping on trans kids, Kim and the rest of the bullshit Rs should have been working on real problems like clean water to drink.
 
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Keehawk

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May 24, 2011
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Manufacturing plants, fire department training facilities, military/commercial airports, etc. Hell, washing out a non-stick pan or walking in the rain in your Gore Tex jacket will slowly leach them into the system.
Thank you. I appreciate a straight answer.

So what is it that the government can do about it?
 

NorthDSMHawk

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Oct 24, 2016
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Thank you. I appreciate a straight answer.

So what is it that the government can do about it?
They're still trying to figure all that out, and have been for years. We don't even have a HAL on it yet. Remediation can be expensive and if the levels to remediate to aren't known, basically infective at this point.
 
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VodkaSam

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Sep 28, 2013
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Manufacturing plants, fire department training facilities, military/commercial airports, etc. Hell, washing out a non-stick pan or walking in the rain in your Gore Tex jacket will slowly leach them into the system.

*Also forgot another big one - waterproof sunscreens
So what in Central City Iowa could have made it the most toxic in Iowa? No major manufacturing base. No more need for sunscreen there vs. anywhere else.
 

VodkaSam

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Sep 28, 2013
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Camp Wapsie YMCA and the Wapsipinican River.
Yeah, that could be, but just doesn’t seem like something that would put Central City, at the top of the list. Seems odd. I hope that isn’t something we will all be seeing in the future if those contaminants can never be removed from the water system.
 

noStemsnoSTICKS

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Feb 16, 2006
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Yeah, that could be, but just doesn’t seem like something that would put Central City, at the top of the list. Seems odd. I hope that isn’t something we will all be seeing in the future if those contaminants can never be removed from the water system.
That was only my best guess. Growing up in Linn county I can't think of anything else specific to Central City.
 
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globalhawk

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Dec 16, 2003
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So what in Central City Iowa could have made it the most toxic in Iowa? No major manufacturing base. No more need for sunscreen there vs. anywhere else.
"The well is within a mile of the site of a massive fire more than five years ago at a recycling business, Iowa Gold Distributing. Trevyn Cunningham, public works director for Central City, said firefighters are believed to have used PFAS-containing foam to extinguish the blaze."
 
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