Contaminants in some Iowa drinking water exceed safe levels


A new database showed some Iowa utilities had water contaminants exceeding health guidelines and government-mandated limits.

Katelyn Weisbrod | July 28, 2017

An environmental group warns that federal standards for contaminants in drinking water may be insufficient in preventing cancer, pregnancy complications, and other health issues.

The Environmental Working Group unveiled a nationwide database of water quality data earlier this week. In Iowa, the database shows 89 contaminants detected by 1,091 utilities between 2010 and 2015.

Of these, four contaminants were found in excess of legal limits in at least 10 utilities, and hundreds more utilities had 10 contaminants exceeding recommended health levels.

The legal limits often exceed the recommended health levels for various contaminants. For example, the recommended safe level of trihalomethanes, which can cause cancer, is 0.8 parts per billion, while the legal limit is 80 parts per million. A common contaminant from agricultural runoff, nitrate, can cause blue baby syndrome and can lead to cancer. Nitrates are considered safe below 5 parts per million, but the legal level is 10 parts per million.

Craig Cox, a senior vice president at Environmental Working Group, told The Des Moines Register the legal levels, which are set by the federal government, can take a long time to adjust to levels deemed safe by new research.

“We think the science has advanced, but the legal limits haven’t been re-evaluated the way they should be,” Cox told the Register.

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