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
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.