DNR seeks to monitor air at Keokuk school


KEOKUK — Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) air monitoring staff met with the Keokuk Catholic School Board on Feb. 11 to seek permission to place an air monitor on the school’s roof to measure ambient air levels of manganese. The school board is considering the request and will make a decision at its next meeting in March.

DNR air quality staff will hold a public meeting in Keokuk within the next two weeks to discuss proposed air quality monitoring at Keokuk Catholic School and answer questions. The time and place will be announced later.

Concern for the level of air emissions of manganese in Keokuk was raised in a special report by USA Today in December 2008. Several Iowa schools were identified as potentially exposed to high levels of air toxins from nearby industries. DNR staff has been evaluating the areas and industries flagged by this report for potential health risks. Keokuk Catholic School is the first to be considered for air monitoring by the DNR.

Manganese is an essential nutrient and eating a small amount of it each day is important to stay healthy. However, breathing extremely high levels over long periods of time may negatively affect brain development, resulting in behavior changes and decreases in the ability to learn and remember.


USA Today identified one company within a mile of the school as contributing to possible elevated levels of manganese in the air, although other industries could also be involved. 

“We can only estimate the emissions based on a set of assumptions. That’s why it is important to monitor the ambient air at the school,” said Brian Hutchins, DNR supervisor of compliance and ambient air monitoring. “With monitoring data we can more accurately determine next steps.”

If the Keokuk Catholic School Board decides not to allow air quality monitoring at the school, the DNR will evaluate alternate sites for the monitor.

A number of variables are studied in determining whether an area should be monitored, including the height at which pollutants are released, the topography of the area, and prevailing winds. Most industries are required to use methods, materials and equipment to reduce emissions.

The DNR would monitor manganese levels for one year, sampling the air every sixth day. The University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory would collect the filter samples. Data would be available one to two months after the sampling date.

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