HEARTLAND FLOOD: EPA cleans up hazardous materials in Mills County

MILLS COUNTY, Iowa (WOWT) -- At a closed rest stop in Mills County, Iowa, sits several containers washed away by flood currents months ago. Now, they are being gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency to keep biohazards out of waterways and soil.

Some of the materials EPA officials are cleaning up in flooded areas of Mills County, Iowa. (Lileana Pearson / WOWT)

“If we did nothing with them, they would release to the environment, affect the local area, or could affect somebody that’s out there,” EPA site coordinator Heath Smith said.

The EPA is in Iowa because the state needed help stopping the spread of dangerous materials. Officials are expecting to wrap up their operation in coming weeks after covering dozens of miles in the area.

“We’re out here working under a FEMA mission assignment to recover abandoned and orphaned containers from the flooded area,” Smith said.

Airboats were subcontracted from Louisiana and have spent the last month pulling potentially hazardous materials out of flood water. Smith said in rural areas like this, it’s mostly fertilizer and oils they’re pulling up.

“The chemicals in the containers are concentrated form, and we want to remove them before they do release,” Smith said.

Once crews have fished a boatload of this stuff out, the contents are tested, and the EPA either returns them to the owners, or safely disposes of them.

Things that could be harmful to human health and the environment or are in areas where people can get to them are removed right away.

The containers are taken to a testing point, where the EPA said it tested soil in the area before setting up shop — and will test it again before leaving to make sure the area remains in the safest condition possible.


The EPA is gathering up abandoned containers of hazardous materials and depositing them at a closed rest stop just north of the Glenwood exit on Interstate 29. The containers were picked up out of floodwaters by airboat. (Lileana Pearson / WOWT)
The EPA is gathering up abandoned containers of hazardous materials and depositing them at a closed rest stop just north of the Glenwood exit on Interstate 29. The containers were picked up out of floodwaters by airboat. (Lileana Pearson / WOWT)
The EPA is gathering up abandoned containers of hazardous materials and depositing them at a closed rest stop just north of the Glenwood exit on Interstate 29. The containers were picked up out of floodwaters by airboat. (Lileana Pearson / WOWT)
Some of the materials EPA officials are cleaning up in flooded areas of Mills County, Iowa. (Lileana Pearson / WOWT)