KGAN-TV: Landmark Study on Harmful Chemicals in Cedar Rapids' Soil

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A landmark study uncovers harmful chemicals in Cedar Rapids' soil. University of Iowa researchers published the study in November edition of the journal Environmental Pollution.

Soil samples contained industrial pollutants call PCBs (polychlorinated biphyenyls) and chlordanes. Other studies have linked the chemicals to health risks, including cancer. Principal investigator Keri Hornbuckle launched the study months after the floods of 2008.

Every vacant flood home in Cedar Rapids has a history- but the ground below does too. UI researchers are discovering that history using clues in the dirt. "We were concerned about it after the flood…we knew that Cedar Lake is contaminated with PCBs and chlordanes. We asked ourselves whether it was possible that Cedar Lake contaminants could've spread over the city," Keri said.

Researchers collected more that 60 soil samples, primarily in the flood zone. They found traces of the chemicals not just in the flooded areas, but all over the city.

"Cedar Rapids is typical in that we had industry growing at that time," Keri said. Keri said that the pollutants were used by industries and homeowners in cities across the country up until the 1970’s.

PCBs were using in a variety of products like paints, building materials, and pesticides. Chlordanes were commonly used to get rid of termites. Both chemicals are now banned from production.

Researchers said the chemicals biodegrade slowly and still can be found in many urban areas like Cedar Rapids. Researcher Andres Martinez said "like in your back yard or your front yard. I think it's important to know at least what is there."

(CBS 2's David Scanlon)
"So these harmful chemicals have been in this ground for decades now. They're not leaving anytime soon. Researchers say there's not much we can do about it."

"Unfortunately we're all exposed to them and we're still trying to understand what harm that might pose to us and our children," Keri said.


Researchers said pollutant concentrations are consistent with those found in other cities and that people shouldn’t be concerned about their gardens or kids getting exposed. Researchers said the lesson learned from the study is that cities and citizens need to be careful with how man-made chemicals are used in the future.