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EPA seeks to address contamination before it harms Des Moines area drinking water

The Lot 46 Valley Gardens TCE Superfund Site could be added to the EPA's National Priorities List to help it get long-term cleanup and other efforts.
EPA
The Lot 46 Valley Gardens TCE Superfund Site could be added to the EPA's National Priorities List to help it get long-term cleanup and other efforts.

A contaminated groundwater plume in Des Moines could soon receive federal resources to clean it up.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting Tuesday at Weeks Middle School in Des Moines about adding the Lot 46 Valley Gardens TCE Superfund Site in Des Moines to the National Priorities List. The National Priorities List contains sites with hazardous chemicals or substances that are eligible for long-term cleanup and other efforts to prevent contaminants from spreading further.

The contaminants of concern at the Des Moines site, trichloroethylene, and a chemical derived from it called cis-1,2-dichloroethylene, were found in water samples Des Moines Water Works collected from an intake from the Raccoon River. The Raccoon River supplies drinking water for more than half a million people in central Iowa. Lauren Murphy, the EPA’s remedial project manager, said the water is still safe to drink.

“EPA is proposing the site to the National Priorities List now to ensure EPA has the federal resources available to perform cleanup actions at the site,” Murphy said, “so these detections continue to remain well below the respective maximum contaminant level, as well as eliminating the contamination from the groundwater.”

The maximum contaminant level, the highest level of a contaminant allowed in drinking water, is 5 micrograms per liter for TCE. For cis-1,2-dichloroethene, the maximum contaminant level is 70 micrograms per liter.

“We’re getting out there now so it doesn’t become an issue,” Murphy said, adding that listing the site to the National Priorities List “allows us to get our federal resources in place to start the cleanup process.”

Des Moines Water Works’ 2023 consumer confidence report said in 2022 it “received no violations and meets all state and federal requirements for safe drinking water.”

The EPA meeting will take place Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Weeks Middle School. The EPA said it plans to propose the site for cleanup in September and anticipates listing the site to the National Priorities List in early 2024.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.