Iowa statewide small community drinking water survey of lead, copper and arsenic

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Project Period: 
Collaborating Institution(s): 
Iowa Institute for Hydraulic Research-Hydroscience and Engineering
Sustainable Water Development Graduate Program, UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Project Investigator(s): 
Michelle Scherer, Drew Latta, David Cwiertny, UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Susie Dai, State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa

This project will address the issue of lead, copper, and arsenic in small community drinking water systems. Lead, copper, and arsenic are regulated in drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) due to their toxicity to human health. Over the last five years, 41 water systems in Iowa have exceeded the action level for Pb in their drinking water and 22 have exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic (impacted population = 23,393). This project will be a collaboration of CHEEC, the State Hygienic Laboratory, and IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering to collect, analyze and map available Pb, Cu and As data from small community drinking water systems in Iowa, as well as identify twenty small communities to survey and measure Pb, Cu, and As, water quality parameters, and treatment methods. The goal is to make Pb, Cu, and As data easily accessible to communities and to provide recommendations to communities on how to avoid future Pb, Cu, and As releases to their water.

Project Results: 

Since the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, public attention to the health effects of lead (Pb) and copper (Cu) in drinking water has increased. Unlike large water systems, small and medium-sized water systems are not required to provide corrosion control treatment under the U.S. EPA's Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). About 93% of Iowa’s public water systems are either small or very small water systems. Corrosion control treatment is only required in these smaller systems if the action levels for Pb and Cu are exceeded. The lack of continuous corrosion control treatment endangers the public health of consumers in these communities. Several water quality parameters, such as high chloride levels, low pH levels, high nitrate in pipes, household piping materials, type of water source, and treatment methods, are suspected to contribute to elevated concentrations of Pb and Cu. To explore potential causes of elevated concentrations of Pb and Cu, we are analyzing available Pb and Cu data for small community water systems in Iowa. Our goal is to provide a publicly accessible database as well as evaluate potential causes of elevated concentrations of Pb and Cu in Iowa drinking water. We hope the analysis will help inform and educate communities on how to keep their drinking water safe.

The researchers are currenlty implementing the EPA method for measuring Pb/Cu and have collected public data available on Pb/Cu in Iowa drinking water systems. A database on Pb/Cu levels has been developed and can generate maps of Pb/Cu (and arsenic) exceedances in the state of Iowa. During fall 2018, the researchers will be sampling water systems in selected 20 communities.