Quality of water in question, Peer says

by Shara Tibken


Few students at Simpson worry about the quality of the water they’re drinking, but junior Susan Sandford decided to take a closer look. And she used frogs.

Sandford is conducting research on the effects that estrogen and other chemicals in the water have on Xenopus frogs, commonly known as African Clawed Frogs.

“By examining the effect local water sources have on the reproductive tissues in Xenopus we can get a better idea of local water quality and invoke concern in citizens who are not aware of the effect the water could be having on them and their family,” Sanford said.

The quality of water in Indianola and Des Moines is a concern that the Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences has been investigating.

“We have a limited supply of both [water and energy],” said Brian Peer, assistant professor of biology. “There are a number of issues here in the Midwest with pesticides in our water.”

Frogs are used because they are sensitive organisms, and the chemicals can cause obvious damage to them that would not be as obvious in humans.

“Amphibians are sensitive indicators of environmental degradation because of their permeable skin and their life cycle that includes aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems,” Sandford said.

Sandford’s study is looking at how clean and pure the water is based on the condition of the frogs.

“We get feminization of male species because sewage treatment water plants … do not have filters specialized enough to filter out hormones,” Peer said. “Those hormones get dumped into the water. There are potential effects on the animals and also potential effects on the humans. Sperm counts in human males have declined. This may be linked to that increase of estrogen in the water. All these chemicals in our environment and especially in our water supply could be causing feminized males.”

However, according to Lou Elbert, water superintendent of Indianola Municipal Utilities, the supplier of Simpson’s water, the water in Indianola is of good quality, and tests conducted on the water prove it.

“We’ve had high ratings,” Elbert said. “Our water quality is very good. We recently built a new plant for $6 million with a new filtering system and new chemical mixing basin.”

The plant is six years old but Elbert said it is well maintained.

“We had the new innovations put into the plant at the time we built it,” Elbert said. “It’s a fairly new plant that we maintain.”

Concerning the possibility of chemicals contaminating the water, Elbert does not believe that they are causing any problems in the water in Indianola.

“We retrieve our water from deep wells,” Elbert said. “The water’s estimated to be hundreds or thousands of years old. Our water’s not coming from the river like in larger towns. As far as an estrogen byproduct, I don’t know any tests that show that’s a problem here.”

Though the research is in preliminary stages, Elbert said that Indianola Municipal Utilities would be interested in seeing Sandford’s results.

“If there are significant abnormalities, I might take it upon myself to share the results [with the city],” Sandford said.