In Your Neighborhood

This section is devoted to sources of pollution in your neighborhoods. Seven out of 100 children have asthma. Other air pollution-sensitive groups include the elderly, those with compromised heart or lungs, athletes and outdoor workers who perform strenuous activities.

Idling your car in the driveway needlessly, burning leaves, using inefficient wood burning stoves or fireplaces, or burning trash in a backyard barrel could send a person living across the street, next door, cattycorner or someone in your household to the doctor or emergency room. Do your part to care for those in your neighborhood. Reduce unnecessary air pollution.

To report an environmental concern you must contact your local Iowa DNR field office.

Why should communities plan for air quality in a state that has experienced relatively few exceedances of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health standards?

Because health standards are being strengthened due to mounting evidence that humans and the environment are impacted by pollution more than previously believed. Every voluntary action to reduce pollution keeps our communities’ air cleaner, which in turn contributes to a healthier place to live, both economically and environmentally.

The objectives are to:

  1. Provide recommendations on situations to avoid when siting new residences, schools, day care centers, playground, medical-related facilities, and industrial parks;
  2. Identify approaches that land use agencies can use to prevent or reduce potential air pollution impacts;
  3. Improve and facilitate access to air quality data and evaluation tools for land use decision-making;
  4. Encourage stronger collaboration between land use agencies and local and state air quality agencies to reduce community exposure to pollution impacts;
  5. Communicate air quality consequences in land use decision-making.

There’s no doubt that community leaders influence citizens. If they model good environment protection planning and practices, residents and businesses will follow their lead.

Corn burners are an alternative safe and reliable heat source, but DNR officials caution against burning chemically treated seed corn, which can release toxic chemicals when burned.

Burning treated seed corn can emit low levels of hydrochloric acids and thiophosgene, also known as mustard gas. The highest emissions can occur at start up and shutdown, when combustion temperatures are lower, or if the unit is damped down.

Many corn burner manufacturers warn consumers against using chemically treated seed corn that is pink or red in color and contains Captan and other pesticides that can emit toxins when burned.

Burning regular corn can be a clean, excellent source of heat using renewable, Iowa grown energy. Just avoid chemically treated seed corn, often provided free by companies trying to get rid of old supplies.

For more information contact Christine Paulson at 515-725-9510.

Fireworks explodingFireworks displays are a spectacular and traditional method of celebrating some national and cultural traditions such as Independence Day on the 4th of July.

On July 4th, 2008 a fine particulate monitor in Davenport measured a 24-hour fine particulate concentration of 62.3 ug/m^3 (micrograms per cubic meter), nearly twice the EPA health threshold of 35.5 ug/m^3. This was the highest value measured at the site since the monitor was installed in January, 1999.

As this event demonstrated, under the right meteorological conditions, the emissions from fireworks displays can be trapped near the ground and build up to unhealthful levels. The DNR recommends that members of the public take reasonable precautions to minimize exposures to emissions from fireworks displays, including avoiding areas of dense smoke near the launch areas of fireworks displays.

Asthmatics and those with respiratory difficulties, as well as the elderly and children, are the groups most likely to experience adverse health effects associated with elevated levels of fine particles. The DNR suggests that people who are susceptible to the impacts of high particulate levels view these displays from a safe distance and from a vantage point upwind of the fireworks. EPA advises that individuals limit prolonged outdoor exertion when particulate levels are elevated.

Concern over chemicals contained in fireworks smoke (including perchlorate and colorant metals) has lead to the development of a new variety of cleaner burning fireworks based on nitrogen-rich compounds. These fireworks do not require the use of perchlorate as an oxidizer, and because they produce less smoke, require smaller amounts of potentially toxic metal colorants. The Disney Corporation has pioneered the use of compressed air (instead of black powder) as a propellant at its fireworks displays. The DNR recommends that communities consider these “low- smoke” alternatives to conventional fireworks when planning their displays.

Idling is wasteful. It costs drivers money, consumes non‐renewable resources, and contributes to local air pollution, while the vehicle does not move an inch.

The air quality impacts of engine idling are considerable. An idling engine burns fuel at a lower temperature than an engine operating at driving speed. Since the vehicle is not moving, it is sitting in its own exhaust, further impeding fuel combustion and releasing more hydrocarbons than a moving vehicle.

While restarting a vehicle does increase use of the battery, alternator, and starter motor, it reduces wear and tear on the engine when compared to idling. A vehicle that is running will sustain wear and tear on the engine, spark plugs, alternator, and exhaust system. The EPA recommends idling for no more than 30 seconds at a time to control maintenance costs, fuel costs, and pollution.

When picking up children from school, turn off the engines in front of schools. Children are especially impacted by air pollution because their lungs are still growing.

When dropping off or picking up dry cleaning, using bank services, and picking up food at a fast food restaurant, park the car and use counter service. You’ll be more easily understood by the person serving you, and you’ll lessen vehicle exhaust for the individuals who live and work in the area.

The fluctuating costs of petroleum-based fuels for home heating has many Iowans looking at wood burning as a source of home heating. EPA’s Strategies for Reducing Residential Woodsmoke website will help you “learn before you burn,” and assists consumers in making informed decisions about wood heating. Here are some facts to consider about residential wood burning.

  • The inhalable particle pollution from one woodstove is equivalent to the particle pollution emitted from 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat per unit, as determined by the California Air Resources Board.
  • Wood smoke from well-seasoned hardwood contains fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and toxic air pollutants, so it is important to release it through a stack well above roof lines. Even in low concentrations, particle pollution in wood smoke can harm the health of children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory and heart diseases.
  • Be sure to choose the cleanest, most efficient models available, preferably an EPA-certified woodstove or an EPA-certified fireplace insert. Certified stoves use about one-third as much wood and circulate more heat into the home instead of out the flue. They emit 70 percent less pollution on average. Operate and maintain the unit according to manufacturers’ instructions; especially keep the chimney clear and remove ashes so the stove’s air intake vent does not clog.
  • A wood pellet stove burns hot and clean—with 80+ percent efficiency ratings.
  • Install an EPA-qualified wood burning fireplace of fireplace insert. Without it, fireplaces typically lose more heat from a home that they provide. Only burn untreated, well-seasoned wood split the right size for the stove or fireplace. Learn more at EPA's Fireplace Program.
  • Never burn garbage, trash, plastics, rubber, petroleum products, paints, solvents, charcoal/coal or treated woods in any home-heating device. These contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and other debilitating effects to humans and animals.

Additional information about residential wood burning is available at EPA’s Burnwise website.

Truck emitting smoke

Vehicles and Air Quality

Vehicle exhaust is a leading contributor to air quality concerns. Vehicles and other mobile sources create over half of Iowa’s air pollution! Much of this pollution comes from a small population of poorly maintained vehicles – the easiest ones to spot have visible smoke emissions. One smoking vehicle creates as much pollution as up to 30 properly functioning cars. 

Health Impacts of Smoking Vehicles

The tiny particles and other pollutants in vehicle exhaust contribute to respiratory problems and to cancer-risk. Everyone can be affected, but sensitive populations including children, the elderly, and those with respiratory illness are especially at risk. Cleaning up smoking vehicles will improve air quality to help Iowans breathe easier.  

Performance Benefits

Excessive exhaust is a clue something is not working properly. Since smoke can be unburned fuel, repairs can yield savings of up to 13% at the gas pumps! Other benefits include enhanced engine performance, higher resale value, reduced emissions, longer engine life, and improved air quality.

Probable Causes and Correction

Visible tailpipe smoke can vary in color to indicate different engine problems. Use the chart below to help diagnose problems. This is a guide, and not a substitute for consulting an auto technician:

Gasoline Engines
Visual Signs
Probable Causes
White Smoke Low engine temperature (usually occurs during engine start-up)
  • No Repair Needed
Coolant or water leaking into combustion chamber
  • Bad Head Gasket
  • Cracked Block or Cylinder Head
Blue Smoke Engine oil being burned
  • Oil Leaking Into Combustion Chamber
  • Worn Piston Rings, Valves, or Cylinders
  • Bad Exhaust Manifold
  • Bad Head Gasket
Black or Grey Smoke Incomplete Fuel Combustion
  • Cold Engine (no repair needed)
  • Clogged Air Filter
  • Carburetor, Choke, Fuel Injection, or Emission System Malfunction
  • Ignition Timing Off
  • Low Compression from Engine Wear
Diesel Engines
Visual Signs
Probable Causes
White Smoke Low engine temperature (usually occurs during engine start-up)
  • No Repair Needed
Improper Air/Fuel Mixture
  • Faulty Fuel Injection/Valve Timing
  • Engine Overheating
  • Faulty Fuel Pump and/or Injection Pump
Blue Smoke Engine oil being burned
  • Excess Engine Oil (level higher than normal)
  • Worn Piston Rings, Valves, or Cylinders
Black or Grey Smoke Incomplete Fuel Combustion
  • Damaged Air Filter
  • Clogged Air Filter
  • Faulty Fuel Injection System
  • Wrong Grade of Fuel
  • Incorrect Fuel Injection Pump Timing
  • Engine Overheating
  • Low Compression Ration