University of Iowa drinking water exceeds maximum contaminant levels for disinfectant by-products


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Chlorine treatments react with organic matter in waterways to form Total Thihalomethanes, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | February 14, 2017

University of Iowa facilities management received notice on February 1 that its drinking water system contains levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) that exceed the federal drinking water standard.

In an email sent out to University faculty, staff and students on February 9, it was reported that the drinking water tested on average between 0.081 and 0.110 mg/L over the last year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for TTHM is 0.08 mg/L.

TTHM is a group of four chemicals: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane and bromoform. TTHM form when chlorine reacts with natural organic matter like leaves, algae and river weeds in drinking water. In its statement, the University said that more chlorination was necessary this year because higher than usual temperatures led to more organic waste in waterways.

The notice read, “You do not need to use an alternative (e.g., bottled) water supply. Disease prevention specialists with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics say special precautions are not necessary.”

Chloroform and dibromochloromethane are Class B carcinogens, meaning they have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. TTHM has also been linked to heart, lung, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage, according to a report by the University of West Virginia.

University officials cautioned, “However, some people who drink water-containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

A study by the California Department of Health suggests that even short-term exposure to high TTHM levels in drinking water can have serious consequences for pregnant women. Scientists monitored 5,144 women during their first trimester of pregnancy. Participants who drank five or more glasses of cold home tap water containing 0.075 mg/L or more of TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 15.9 percent. Women that drank less than five glasses per day or who had home tap water with less than 0.075 mg/L TTHM had a miscarriage rate of 9.5 percent.

A reverse osmosis filtration system for the University of Iowa drinking water supply is currently in its design phase. Facilities management expects to have the new system up and running within the next 18 months. Officials say it will help address Iowa’s nitrate problem and filter out naturally occurring organic matter, resulting in fewer TTHM.

Iowa could soon face water situation similar to Toledo


Nick Fetty | August 7, 2014
Blue green algae growing on Lake Eric. ( NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)
Blue green algae growing on Lake Erie. (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory/Flickr)

Algae blooms in Iowa could contaminate the water supply, similar to what recently happened in Toledo, and according to one expert, “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus inundate Iowa waterways and that coupled with high temperatures provides the perfect breeding ground for algae. The state has implemented a voluntary plan which encourages farmers to practice agricultural techniques that will lessen the amount of fertilizer run-off which leads to contaminated waterways in Iowa.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently advised beach-goers to avoid the waters at Lake Red Rock in Marion County due to excessively high levels of blue green algae which is known to contain toxins that are harmful to humans and can be lethal for animals. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources advises swimmers to take extra precaution in Iowa lakes during this time of the year. There are currently about dozen state-operated beaches in Iowa where swimming is not advised.

Attornys general from Iowa and 14 other agricultural and ranching states have spoken out against a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rule for the Clean Water Act, fearing the proposal would place excessive regulations on farmers and ranchers. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has defended the proposal and said it does not intend to place strict federal regulations on farmers.

Approximately 600 households in southwest Iowa were recently issued a boil order before consuming tap water after water quality tests concluded that chlorine levels were not sufficient. Chlorine is used to kill bacteria and other harmful toxins as part of the water filtration process but there was no indication that bacteria or other toxins had actually contaminated the water supply.

DNR looking for Iowans’ input on water quality


Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr
Story County, Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff; Flickr

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a series of public meetings to review the state’s water quality standards. The open discussions, which occur triennially in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, will be held throughout Iowa in early September.

Iowans with ideas and opinions about state water quality goals are encouraged to attend one of the events. After the meetings, the department will review the public’s suggestions and adjust their work plan accordingly.

Rochelle Weiss, DNR water quality standards coordinator, describes the meetings as “the public’s opportunity to tell us what is important to them.”

Visit the DNR’s website to find a meeting near you, and find out more about the review process here.

Agricultural and environmental interests may be at odds


Photo by OakleyOriginals; Flickr
Photo by OakleyOriginals; Flickr

Earlier this week, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and several other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met with U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. The aim of the closed-door meeting was to clarify several intersections between environmental regulations and agricultural practices.

However, the meeting failed to resolve tensions between the two interests. Grassley released a statement noting his discontent with the EPA’s efforts, stating that “the meeting did little to alleviate [his] concerns.”

Issues discussed in the meeting included methane emission regulations, the amount of ethanol in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, and U. S. Supreme Court decisions on the 1972 Clean Water Act. EPA officials maintain that agricultural exemptions are still in place, while Republican senators claim that the Agency is overreaching.

Republican committee members had called for the meeting in a May 23 letter.

On the Radio: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Protest


Photo by Josh Bancroft; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers Iowans’ concern over the DNR handling manure spills in the state. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

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DNR Petitioned to Issue Hog Farm Water Permit


Photo by James Hill; Flickr

ANKENY, Iowa (AP) – An environmental advocacy group says it is delivering a petition with 5,000 names to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission insisting the state crack down on water pollution that comes from large livestock farms.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement says it will demand at Tuesday’s commission meeting that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources issue a Clean Water Act operating permit to the Maschhoff Pork farm near Keosauqua in southeast Iowa.

The farm, with nearly 7,500 pigs, spilled thousands of gallons of manure into a creek on Nov. 4, just weeks after a DNR inspection. It has had several spills in recent years.

The state hasn’t issued a water permit to a hog facility before but environmental groups are increasingly pressuring the state to create rules to do so.

On the Radio: Livestock Farm Oversight Increase


Photo by nooccar; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the new oversight plans of livestock farms in Iowa. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

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