Study: Iowa coal ash site not affecting groundwater

This quarry near Waterloo, Iowa, is used by three state universities for disposal of coal ash. (Photo courtesy Plains Justice)

Despite concerns raised by environmental groups, a new study shows that the groundwater near a coal ash disposal site used by three of Iowa’s universities is safe.

Plains Justice identified the former quarry near Waterloo as one of four unlined, unmonitored ash disposal sites in the state that pose a strong potential threat to groundwater. Coal ash contains lead, mercury, arsenic and other elements that are harmful to human health.

The universities that use the site – the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa – contracted a voluntary analysis of groundwater at the site to determine if any of these harmful elements exceeded state or federal standards.

The study (PDF), performed by Barker Lemar Engineering Consultants, measured monthly samples from five wells near the Waterloo site, testing for 23 different pollutants. All of the samples were well within allowable standards for these elements.

The study cautions, however, that there is no information about the water’s safety prior to the opening of the ash dump, so the data can’t tell us either way whether concentrations of these toxins have increased or stayed the same.

The numbers are quite low, however, and the charts in the report don’t show any pattern of change over the course of a year.

According to a news release, the universities plan to use the report as a baseline for continued monitoring of the site.

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