Dyersville addressing elevated radium levels in tap water - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dyersville addressing elevated radium levels in tap water

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Radium, a radioactive substance known to raise cancer risks, is showing up at higher levels in a few Iowa towns' tap water.

One of those cities is Dyersville, where officials say Radium is found in the aquifer from which the community gets its water supply.

This month, Dyersville's 1,700 water customers received a notice in the mail, alerting them to levels of Radium in their water that exceed state and federal standards.

"This is not an immediate risk. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately," the notice says. "However, some people who drink water containing Radium 226 or 228 in excess of the (maximum contaminant level) over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer."

Mark Simon and his wife live in Dyersville and have three daughters.

"They're one, three and five, and I want the best for them," he said Thursday afternoon.

He said the notification he received concerns him.

"It talks about the potential health issues that could happen as a result of the water, and, you know, to me it's a problem that can be fixed," Simon said.

He is buying bottled water now for his family to drink.

"You can choose your food, you can choose whether or not you want to exercise, but you really can't choose your water unless you go buy water," Simon said. "That's what is concerning to me."

The Radium problem lies at -- or, technically, below -- Dyersville's water treatment facility on the northwest side of town. There, Well #4 dips down into the Cambrian-Ordovician (Jordan) aquifer, where the city occasionally sees higher concentrations of Radium.

City administrator Mick Michel said the DNR takes a sample for water quality testing at the source point and not out of the customer's tap. Water tested at Well #4 has occasionally had higher Radium concentrations.

However, the city's other water treatment facility, on the northeast side of town, next to the water tower, has not shown any problems with Radium levels.

Michel said customers' drinking water is safe because it's a blend of water from both wells.

Despite those assurances, Simon said he still wants the Radium issue fixed, as he and others in the Dyersville community have been hearing about it for years.

Michel said it was November of 2006 when the city sent out the first notice of elevated Radium levels. (The DNR requires notices to be sent out after two consecutive tests show elevated levels. The water is tested quarterly.)

He said the Radium levels then dropped back to normal. A few years later, when they rose again, more notices had to go out. City water customers have, indeed, been hearing about this Radium issue for years, although the problem has been intermittent.

The DNR is now requiring Dyersville to find a solution, so the city is taking steps to build a Hydrous Manganese Oxide (HMO) water treatment facility in order to reduce the Radium concentration to below the allowable limits.

Dyersville mayor Alvin Haas said the water, "is safe right now. We just want to make sure going down the road it doesn't get any worse and that we've really got it under control, and I'm very confident that we're going in the right direction."

Michel said the preliminary cost estimate for the treatment facility is between $1 million and $1.2 million, according to IIW engineers, which the city has contracted to help solve this issue.

"Our water superintendent Keith Mensen and IIW, they have looked at the situation, came up with a proposal, recommended to the council," Haas said. "The council has voted that we're going to go forward and we're going to deal with this problem."

Michel said the HMO water treatment facility would be funded half locally, through tax increment financing, and half through the state's revolving loan fund. He said city officials hope to have it built and functioning in less than two years.

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