In the spring of 1987, environmental scientists at The University of Iowa (UI) presented a proposal to the State Board of Regents which expressed their concerns about the quality of drinking water supplies in Iowa:
"The human health hazard of contaminated drinking water has become a major concern to Iowans. Detectable levels of potentially dangerous substances, including agricultural chemicals, have been found in groundwater sources supplying both municipal residents and users of private wells. While many of these contaminants are known to cause disease in lower animals or acute toxic effects in humans after high levels of exposure, it has not been directly shown that the lower levels in drinking water are responsible for human disease. Until the question of relationship to human health effects can be answered, precise standards cannot be established, and action taken to protect the public may either be inadequate or may result in unnecessarily stringent and costly regulations."
The Regents subsequently directed the document to environment committees of the Iowa Legislature. Buoyed by an Iowa Department of Natural Resources report detailing levels of contaminants in drinking water supplies (1986-87), and by a groundswell of public concern over possible adverse effects on human health, those committees began work on a comprehensive bill aimed at preventing the flow of toxic substances into the state's groundwater and requiring active and passive clean up efforts on already contaminated sources. In May of 1987 the Iowa General Assembly passed House File 631, the Groundwater Protection Act, which was then signed into law by the Governor.
The Act "relates to public health and safety by establishing measures to improve and protect groundwater quality and to manage substances which pose health and safety hazards, by establishing goals, policies, funding mechanisms, including taxes and fees, and administrative provisions for the measures, by establishing programs relating to the management of agricultural activities, solid waste disposal, household hazardous wastes, storage tanks, fertilizers, pesticides, landfills, and watersheds, by providing penalties, establishing effective dates, making appropriations, and by providing for other properly related matters."
Mandated within the Act was the establishment of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) at the University of Iowa. CHEEC's mission, as stated in the Act, is "to determine the levels of environmental contamination which can be specifically associated with human health effects." The Groundwater Protection Act also established the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University to study agricultural imapcts on groundwater quality, and established the Iowa Waste Reduction Center at the University of Northern Iowa to help small businesses properly handle and dispose of solid and hazardous materials.