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.

Ken Paulman

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.