2 thoughts on “Crisis In Our Wells: Iowa’s Private Well Water Often Goes Untested, Presenting Unknown Health Risks

  1. As a lifelong journalist and one who has also researched and written about private well testing and rural Iowa’s water quality, I must admit I fought back both tears and anger after reading this story. Yes, I know Ms. Shotwell admirably took 10 months to research and gather the data/interviews she presented here, but given this article’s statewide reach, she missed a premiere opportunity to educate our rural populations about how Iowa now tests at the highest levels — of all states — in Nitrogen fertilizer “Source Waters” contamination.

    I kept waiting for the article to cite the number of Iowans drinking Anhydrous Ammonia Nitrogen fertilizer-laden water and how rural residents are “not” warned to test wells for Anhydrous Ammonia and CAFO Nitrogen fertilizers, Atrazine, Cadmium, Lead, or other corrosive ammonias that draw lead into drinking water. Only in 2016 (after a complaint to the Cerro Gordo County Board of Health in 2004) were all Iowans finally warned to test for Arsenic; this came on the heels of a warning to 7,000 Cerro Gordo County residents.

    The article failed to cite a June 2015 incident (raised during a deposition for an ongoing civil rights lawsuit), that prompted the Attorney General’s office to promise that the Iowa DNR would set up a web site (“within 45 days”) giving Iowans access to known contaminants testing positive in wells, along with information about how to test for over 600 known contaminants. That was 20 months ago. Did the web site with those warnings come to fruition?

    It’s understandable, perhaps even reasonably expected, that not all Iowans concern themselves with unsafe drinking water. After all, we neither see up close what happens when aquifer recharge area sinkholes in other parts of the state get used as drains for 50,000 acres of run-off chemicals from nitrogen fertilizer, nor do we personally witness the mighty trickle-down toll on lives it takes from here all the way to the gulf’s Dead Zone, but being unaware doesn’t make a consequential problem any less real.

    Yes, Iowa is an agricultural state. Many of us townsfolk grew up watching herbicide and pesticide commercials on TV. Wasn’t all that just a part of farming? How little we knew.

    All those beautiful landscapes, all filled with dense and healthy green crops. Cows we wanted to stop and pet while our mothers and fathers kept driving down the highway. Who knew what lay beyond some of those horizons? Rotting cattle carcasses. Pigs bogged down, saddled with mammoth tumors. Scared DNR employees scurrying to put empty water test kits back into car trucks lest the test “get a whole lot of people in trouble.”

    When my siblings and I used to visit our grandparents’ acreage and marveled at the “better-than-town” kitchen tap water, (no red water, no iron taste!) we never imagined Iowa had counties where feces spewed forth from kitchen taps and anhydrous ammonia burned one’s skin while showering.

    Must filmmakers, rather than the state, feel tasked with educating Iowans about what happens to people like Brown University graduate Adam Lack, 33, who dared to fight back against ongoing pollution plumes caused by landowners who use county aquifer recharge area sinkholes to illegally drain away Nitrogen fertilizer from tens of thousands of farm-ground acres?

    I sincerely mean no disrespect to Ms. Shotwell and understand the time and effort put into constructing such in-depth pieces. I’m just deeply saddened — shaken, really — thinking about those valuable 10 months allotted for this story and how it may have inspired much-needed action and life-saving change in north-central Iowa. Instead, it felt like watching rescue boats sail past the Titanic to ensure a few fishermen made it safely back to shore.

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