Is Dubuque City Water Safe to Drink?
After a small water scare just over a month ago, residents may be asking themselves: Is Dubuque City water safe? The answer is YES! This release from the City of Dubuque (listed below) has a lot of technical info....but the bottom line is this: Dubuque's tap water continues to meet ALL federal and state standards for drinking water safety and customers may continue to drink tap water.
You can check out the original story on the boil water advisory from September 9, 2022, HERE
Here's the release from the City of Dubuque from October 12, 2022
The City of Dubuque is one of 54 communities participating in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) PFAS Action Plan, a statewide water sampling initiative to determine the prevalence of manmade chemicals known as per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS.” The number of communities around the US detecting the compounds in drinking water is growing quickly and the DNR’s initiative follows new guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June that drastically lowered the minimum reporting levels for the chemicals.
PFAS are long-lasting chemicals that are resistant to heat and repel water and oil. They have been used for nearly 70 years in many industrial applications and consumer products like carpeting, water-resistant clothing, upholstery, food packaging, non-stick cookware, and personal care products. Due their widespread use and their persistence in the environment, PFAS are now found in water, air, fish, wildlife, and soil around the world. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals and their presence in the environment is an international issue.
Because Dubuque’s drinking water sample collected in August 2022 indicated 4.6 parts per trillion (ppt) of one PFAS compound, exceeding the minimum reporting level of 4.0 ppt, the Iowa DNR is requiring the City of Dubuque to notify residents of this test result.
Dubuque tap water continues to meet all federal and state standards for drinking water safety and customers may continue to drink tap water. The only required action of the City of Dubuque in response to the PFAS test results was public notification and to begin a quarterly water testing/monitoring program. The EPA does not recommend that consumers stop using tap water, nor do they recommend the use of bottled water.
The City has chosen to be extra cautious on this issue and has taken two of its nine wells offline while additional testing is conducted and is exploring additional ways to address the issue. The City will continue to work with the Iowa DNR and EPA to continue providing safe drinking water and informing residents of additional test results and actions taken.
Research to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can impact health is ongoing at the national and international levels. The EPA acknowledges that robust information about PFAS is needed to better understand the risks they pose and to be able to take effective actions to protect human health and the environment.
As more and more communities find themselves impacted by new regulations and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of PFAS, the City of Dubuque awaits additional guidance from state and federal agencies on how to best address the issue. While new regulations require communities to report extremely small amounts of PFAS in drinking water, resources and definitive guidance to address the issue are lacking.
The Iowa DNR’s statewide testing program follows EPA’s June 2022 release of new interim drinking water health advisories for four PFAS chemicals. When tested for PFAS in 2014, Dubuque’s water did not show any detectable levels. The minimum levels of detection required to report are now significantly lower.
The new advisories’ exposure levels replace the previous level set in 2016 and were set near zero to provide Americans, including the most sensitive populations, with a margin of protection from a lifetime of exposure. They also consider other potential sources of exposure to these PFAS beyond drinking water, such as food, air, consumer products, etc. The EPA’s lifetime exposure calculations assumed 20% of the exposure is allocated to drinking water and the remaining 80% is attributed to all other potential exposure sources. The advisory is nonregulatory and is intended to be in place during the time between the initial understanding of health effects and the publication of the final health advisory. The EPA anticipates proposing a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation by the end of 2022 and finalizing it by the end of 2023.
For example, the EPA’s new health advisories have lifetime health advisory levels for PFOA (a common PFAS compound) of 4 parts per quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000), a level undetectable by current technology and significantly lower than the EPA’s 2016 health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion (1,000,000,000,000). To illustrate, 4 parts per quadrillion is the same ratio as 4 drops of water within the water it would take to fill 20,000 Olympic size swimming pools.
Dubuque water samples were collected by Iowa DNR staff in early August 2022. The DNR informed the City of the results on Oct. 5, 2022, indicating that the sample of treated/drinking water contained a PFAS compound (PFOA) at 4.6 parts per trillion (ppt), exceeding the minimum reporting level of 4 ppt and the EPA’s health advisory level of 0.004 ppt.
In addition to the drinking water sample, untreated/raw water from two of Dubuque’s five shallow wells was also sampled and tested by the DNR. Both samples also detected PFAS compounds (PFOA, PFOS, and PFBA) at levels exceeding the EPA’s advisories. Both wells were voluntarily taken offline immediately following the notification.
Manufacturers like the 3M Company and DuPont are facing lawsuits around the country for making PFAS chemicals. In 2018, the state of Minnesota settled its lawsuit against the 3M Company in return for a settlement of $850 million. The settlement is being invested in drinking water and natural resource projects in the Twin Cities area. West Des Moines Water Works recently joined more than 70 utility companies in a multi-district class action lawsuit on PFAS.
Other Iowa communities that have had PFAS at various levels in their water include: Ames, Burlington, Camanche, Cedar Rapids, Central City, Davenport, Des Moines, Muscatine, Sioux City, Tama, and West Des Moines.
Details on Dubuque’s Water and Response to Results
Dubuque’s Water Treatment Plant on Hawthorne Street treats an average of seven million gallons of water per day and draws water from nine different wells: four deep wells and five shallow wells. The City immediately stopped drawing water from the two shallow wells that were sampled following notification of the test results.
In consultation with the DNR, the City is testing its remaining active wells for PFAS compounds. Contamination of shallow wells is more likely than deep wells. Depending upon the results, the City can adjust the blending processes of shallow and deep wells to reach the lowest possible levels.
Ways to remove PFAS from drinking water include activated carbon processes, ion exchange resins, and high-pressure membranes like reverse osmosis. City staff are working with a consultant to determine the most appropriate treatment technologies to consider for Dubuque’s treatment system if that level of mitigation is necessary. Customers with special circumstances or those who want to further purify their water could explore home filtration (activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis) as an option to reduce PFAS levels. The EPA offers some guidance on these treatment options at https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/reducing-pfas-drinking-water-treatment-technologies
The City is also conducting research to determine whether the source or sources of PFAS compounds in Dubuque’s raw source water can be identified and will continue to monitor and determine appropriate strategies. The City will continue to test, monitor, and inform its customers of detectable PFAS levels.
Potential Health Effects of Exposure to PFAS
Research is still ongoing to determine how different levels of exposure to different PFAS can impact health, especially effects associated with low levels of exposure to PFAS over long periods of time. The Iowa DNR recommends residents who are concerned about levels of PFAS in their drinking water to contact their doctor or health care professional. Additional information on the potential health effects of exposure to PFAS is available at www.cityofdubuque.org/PFAS
Dubuque tap water continues to meet all federal and state standards for drinking water safety and customers may continue to drink tap water. The EPA interim advisories do not recommend that consumers stop using tap water, nor do they recommend the use of bottled water. The EPA notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not established standards for PFAS in bottled water. For more information, visit the EPA’s Meaningful and Achievable Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk page at https://www.epa.gov/pfas/meaningful-and-achievable-steps-you-can-take-reduce-your-risk.
Additional information from the City of Dubuque, including answers frequently asked questions links to additional sources, is available at www.cityofdubuque.org/PFAS. The City of Dubuque Water Department can be reached at 563-690-6210.
More information about PFAS and the IDNR action plan, as well as the full test results for all Iowa communities participating in the testing program, will be posted by the Iowa DNR at the agency’s PFAS webpage: www.iowadnr.gov/Environmental-Protection/PFAS