Data Shows Iowa Air Quality Monitoring is Insufficient to Protect Public Health

posted on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Energy News


June 17, 2024 

Iowa Environmental Council Calls on DNR to Increase Monitoring Stations

Des Moines, IA — Too much of Iowa’s asthma-causing pollution is going unmonitored by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), especially in areas with susceptible populations, according to data from U.S. EPA’s Environmental Justice screening and mapping tool. The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) submitted comments to the Iowa DNR urging increases and changes in the DNR’s air monitoring stations, especially for large communities suffering from increased asthma rates.  

IEC’s comments to the DNR highlight how Iowa’s current monitoring system found more than 150 exceedances of ozone and PM2.5 in 2023, even with inadequate air monitoring stations. 

The Clean Air Act requires every state to monitor air quality to ensure that it meets public health standards. These monitors are meant to detect air pollution such as ozone and fine particulate matter, or PM, that contribute to asthma. Currently, Iowa’s Air Monitoring Network, operated by the Iowa DNR, is not designed to capture data from many of the areas with the highest concentrations of pollutants and asthma rates in Iowa, including areas near coal plants.  

A recent health report exploring the relationship between coal plant communities and asthma rates found that Woodbury County has the highest asthma rates in Iowa, and also operates two coal plants. However, Sioux City’s air quality monitors are not placed in a location near the coal plants emitting asthma-causing pollutants. 

“The data shows that ozone and PM 2.5 monitors are clearly not in locations with the most significant rates of asthma, and are not adequately capturing the public health impacts of at-risk populations,” said Steve Guyer, Energy Policy Counsel at the Iowa Environmental Council. “Iowa has a duty, both legally and morally, to monitor its air and protect public health. We urge the DNR to develop adequate monitoring to address at-risk populations—such as populations that experience high levels of environmentally-related disease like asthma.” 

Across the state, 13 communities with at-risk populations (high asthma rates) have insufficient monitoring:

  • Five communities have no monitoring for ozone or PM 2.5 (Ames, Burlington, Dubuque, Fort Dodge and Ottumwa)
  • Five communities have monitoring for either ozone or PM 2.5, but not the other (Council Bluffs, Iowa City, Sioux City, Waterloo, Cedar Falls)
  • Three communities have monitoring for both ozone and PM 2.5 (Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines)
  • Only one community has ozone and PM 2.5 monitors in the area of the at-risk population (Davenport)

“We have known for years that air quality monitoring in Iowa is spotty and insufficient, and this is borne out by what we see in reports on pulmonary and other diseases tied to air pollution, which reflect that air quality in several areas in Iowa is at best poor and at worst life-threatening, and it is children and others in frontline communities who are hurt the most,” said Karin Stein, Iowa Coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force. “We urgently need more complete monitoring from the Iowa DNR in order to better understand the impact of pollution on our communities.” 

Click here to read IEC’s full comment letter. 


The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is the state's largest and most comprehensive environmental alliance, comprised of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa's natural environment. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action, and creates large-scale change. We work on federal, state, and local public policy issues to ensure a just, healthy environment and sustainable future for all Iowans. Learn more at 

Moms Clean Air Force works actively in Iowa to address climate change issues that disproportionately harm communities of color. We are committed to bringing moms together to develop events, policies, and actions to end environmental injustices in Iowa. Learn more at: