116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa City’s drinking water does not have detectable levels of two types of industrial chemicals believed to harm human health, according to November sampling by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The college town is the first city in Iowa to publicly release results from Iowa DNR testing for polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a family of human-made chemicals. The state plans to test drinking water in dozens of Iowa cities, including Cedar Rapids, by next year, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported last month.
At a concentration of 70 parts per trillion, two of the chemicals — perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid — can cause fetal developmental effects as well as cancer, liver damage, immune effects and thyroid effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in an advisory earlier this year.
“The results of Iowa City's PFAS samples found no detectable PFOA or PFOS,” Iowa City reported this week.
West Des Moines is the only testing site to have detectable levels of the two PFAS shown to have negative health effects, according to DNR mapping of its first round of tests.
The two chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, were detected in concentrations of 2.9 and 2.4 parts per trillion, respectively, in West Des Moines’ treated drinking water. The concentrations were as high as 29 and 16 part per trillion in the untreated water in West Des Moines wells, but that still is well below the EPA’s 70 parts per trillion standard.
The Iowa DNR analysis tested for 25 other PFAS chemicals. One, perfluorobutanoic acid, was detectable in Iowa City drinking water at 3 parts per trillion — far too low to cause negative health effects.
“To imagine one part-per-trillion, picture enough salt to stick to the tip of your pinkie finger dissolved in an Olympic swimming pool,” an Iowa City news release said.
The results of the first round of tests was supposed to be released this month on the Iowa DNR’s PFAS website, but the agency’s plan was delayed because officials are waiting on a laboratory to provide data for the mapping tool online, Roger Bruner, Water Quality bureau supervisor, said in an email.
What are PFAS?
“PFAS is a general term, used to characterize a group of chemicals,” Iowa City Water Superintendent Jonathan Durst said. “It’s like saying there are cars in the parking lot, but there could be all kinds of cars in the parking lot.
“We know these PFAS chemicals are used in certain manufacturing processes. How they’re used, where they are used and in what quantities isn’t information I have access to, but that’s how they get into the world,” Durst said.
These substances are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and once they enter the human body, they don’t leave, Durst said.
Which cities will be tested?
The Iowa DNR chose 59 cities whose water supplies to test for PFAS based on proximity to potential industrial sties that may use or store the chemicals, Iowa Public Radio reported. The agency is not testing private wells, which provide 10 percent of drinking water to Iowans and are largely unregulated, Iowa Public Radio reported.
Cedar Rapids is on the list, but the state has not yet tested the drinking water there nor have those tests been scheduled, Bruner said. Other Eastern Iowa cities to be tested include Amana, Central City, Hiawatha, Kalona, Manchester, Muscatine, Lisbon and Tama.
The EPA is charged with monitoring potentially harmful chemicals to figure out where they are and at what levels. The agency requires cities and other utilities serving 10,000 or more people to test drinking water for unregulated contaminants, such as PFAS and lithium, an element used to make batteries, Durst said.
The next round of Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule tests comes in the spring, Durst said.
“The EPA has released its health advisory and uses its existing processes to better understand what is out there and then create any regulation that is meaningful and useful for cities, states and private companies that treat drinking water,” he said.
Durst said Iowa City released its PFAS results ahead of the Iowa DNR scheduled rollout because the city wanted residents to know the information as soon as possible.
“For us, drinking water is as much about public trust as it is about creating a great product,” he said. “We’re not trying to alarm anybody. We’re just trying to get the information out there and let people know what it means.”
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