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Last Updated:
Sunday, May 30, 2004

Good News!!!

Superfund Notification Victory for Iowa City Sierrans

By Nick Maybanks, Chair, Iowa City Area Group

The Iowa-Illinois Manor Apartment Building in Iowa City houses hundreds of college students.  Since it was built in 1983, every month, students signed new leases to live in this building not knowing that they were going to reside on top of a Superfund toxic waste site as designated by the U.S. E.P.A. under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).  This designation is reserved only for the most polluted toxic waste sites in America.

The toxic waste underneath the Iowa-Illinois Manor Apartment Building comes from coal tar, a residual by-product of the process of coal-gasification.  For years, this site was utilized by energy companies to produce natural gas from coal.  According to reports from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. E.P.A., toxic chemicals exist in the air and lie in the soil and groundwater at this site as well as the sediment and surface water of nearby Ralston Creek and perhaps the Iowa River.  The U.S. E.P.A. has called this site "highly contaminated" in places.  This site is one of just 172 such sites statewide.  Clean-up projects at similar sites such as one at 716 1st St. SE in Cedar Rapids, revealed highly contaminated soil and groundwater that is still being monitored.

Earlier this year, Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) and Mike Connolly (D-Dubuque) co-sponsored Senate File 2266 that purported to guarantee that any potential future residents of the Iowa-Illinois Manor Apartment Building or any other locations statewide that receive Superfund designation would be provided with full notification of the status of the site before signing a lease.  This legislation was proffered based on the fact that this past year, all of the residents of Iowa-Illinois Manor Apartments found out that they were living on a toxic waste site for the first time, months, even years into their residency. 

The Iowa City Area Group of the Sierra Club teamed-up with Sen. Bolkcom in order to prevent another group of individuals from unwittingly moving into these types of residences without receiving full notification of the environmental status of such sites.  In a letter-writing campaign to the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Vilsack, members of the ICAG stressed that, "No person should be exposed to toxic waste without such notification; it is an issue of environmental justice."

The Iowa Senate and the House passed SF2266 and it was signed into law on April 14, 2004, by Gov. Vilsack.  The law now requires that the property owners of the Iowa-Illinois Manor Apartment Complex notify potential residents in writing that they will be living on top of a Superfund Toxic Waste Site before they sign a lease.  What made the legislative victory most impressive was the fact that it passed unanimously through the Senate and the House, an amazing feat in these partisan political times. 

Passing this bill was a success and accolades are due to all Sierra Club members who actively supported this cause, however, as noted in the Iowa City Area Group newsletter, it is only the beginning of the battle for environmental justice that will surround this and other polluted sites in this state.  

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