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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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AIR QUALITY. Dubuque city officials in 1963 made a request through the Iowa State Department of Health for a study of air pollution in the city. Residents were complaining about "fly ash" collecting on cars, laundry and their homes. The study would be the basis of an air pollution ordinance which would provide legal action against those responsible. (1)

The study resulted in Dubuque being listed as one of the 26 worst cities in the nation in air pollution. Other Iowa cities were listed as having more than 100 micrograms of dirt per cubic meter of air according to the state health board. Dubuque had approximately 150 micrograms. Art Roth, city chemist, said the study did not reflect the overall picture. The sampling station used was located in the center of the industrial area of town on top of the city garage at 14th and Elm. Tests there indicated a fallout of 30.3 tons of dirt per square mile over the period of one month. A sampling at the University Avenue-Atlantic Street fire station showed a fallout of 8.5 tons per square mile. This, he claimed, was closer to the average of all residential districts. Roth and other city officials has been gathering data for nearly three years with the intent writing an anti-pollution ordinance. (2)

Air quality in Dubuque was a concern in 1964 when city employees again collected data to be the basis of a law. Sampling stations were established around the city and a gas detection station was established at 9th and Iowa STREETS. Samples taken from some of the stations were analyzed by a U. S. Public Health Service laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio. (3)

In October 1965 pinpoint studies were begun on those industries believed to be contributing to air pollution. Glass laboratory slides coated with petroleum jelly were placed 100 yards north, south, east and west of the suspected source. Collected twice each week, the slides were analyzed by microscope to determine the types of material collected. (4)

Despite an announcement of an anti-air pollution ordinance being nearly ready in 1968, it was on May 1971 that Art Roth, Jr. announced that the ordinance might be expected in early 1972. This followed seven years of monitoring the condition of the air in Dubuque and encouraging major polluters to act on the problem. The sulfur dioxide levels could only be lowered with full conversion from coal to gas energy and Interstate Power could not obtain enough gas to make this possible. (5)

Large improvement in air pollution was seen in 1974. Expensive pollution-control equipment placed on the power plant of INTERSTATE POWER COMPANY was given most of the credit. Air samples over the first three months of the year showed particulate levels in Dubuque less than half the federal standard to protect public health. The national air quality standard was 75 micrograms of particulates. Samples taken at the University Avenue-Atlantic Street fire station showed 37.3 micrograms while air samples at the EAGLE POINT water works averaged 33.5. Particulate readings at the city garage ranged from 152 micrograms per cubic meter in 1964 to 67 micrograms in 1972. (6)

In 1976 the air quality in Dubuque and Sioux City met all federal standards established by the Clean Air Act of 1970. Five other metropolitan areas did not meet the standards which meant the state had 60 days to begin plans to remedy the situations. Particulate samples fro the University fire station averaged 42 micrograms per cubic meter. The Eagle Point waterworks station averaged averaged 42. By comparison Cedar Rapids level was 123, Council Bluffs and Des Moines was 121 and Waterloo was 76. Levels of concentrations of nitrogen and carbon monoxide were also with the standards of the Clean Air Act. Warnings about the level of ozone usually occurred in late summer when the air was stagnant. (7)

In 1977 the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) revised its air pollution standards and Dubuque became the only city in Iowa failing to meet the new standards for sulfur dioxide. It had also been found in excessive quantities in Dubuque' air when tests were made on five different days in 1977. No violations were recorded since then and the Air Quality Commission for Iowa had not established orders for Dubuque to reduce its levels of the pollutant. E.P.A. officials visiting Iowa believed plans for reducing sulfur dioxide in Dubuque should be part of the state's anti-pollution program. Larry Crane, executive director of Iowa's environmental quality department stated his belief that Dubuque's program was a "weird set" of meteorological conditions. Crane argued that a city like Dubuque without violations for eighteen months should be taken of the list of violators. (8)

The City of Dubuque in 2017 had come a long way in improving the quality of air. Between 2005 and 2009, the community had nearly exceeded federal standards for particulate matter in the air. With the possibility of the E.P.A. beginning regulatory measures, the city agreed to participate in a program of voluntary measures to improve air quality. (9)

In 2010 the air-monitoring station in Potosi, Wisconsin began showing air pollution in Dubuque beginning to drop. That information was sent to the E.P.A. to validate the city's efforts. Particulate matter steadily declined from 2010 to 2016. Particulate matter is composed of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Dust, dirt, and smoke are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Electron microscopes are needed to find small particles which, lodged in the lung, can cause respiratory damage. Total emissions fell 32% from 2008 to 2014. The largest reductions in air pollution comes from industries, electric utilities, and transportation. ALLIANT ENERGY CORPORATION in 2011 and the JOHN DEERE DUBUQUE WORKS in 2013 switched from coal to cleaner burning natural gas. In 2013 the city spent $67.8 million retrofitting its wastewater treatment plant. Vehicle emissions fell more than 20% between 2008 and 2014. (10)



1. "Dubuque Asks for U.S. Health Service Air Pollution Study," The Telegraph-Herald, June 26, 1963, p. 1

2. "City's Air-Pollution Rating Held Unfair," The Telegraph-Herald, November 10, 1966, p. 1

3. "Air Pollution Law Here Next Year," The Telegraph-Herald, September 15, 1966, p. 22

4. Thompson, Dave. "Dubuque Air Pollution Ordinance Year Away," Telegraph Herald, January 25, 1966, p. 1

5. Buckley, John. Anti-Air Pollution Ordinance Seen Next Year," Telegraph Herald, May 30, 1971, p. 5

6. Knee, Bill. "City Air Cleaner Than Ever," Telegraph Herald, October 1, 1974, p. 1

7. "Report Clears City's Air," Telegraph Herald, August 23, 1976, p. 11

8. Kelly, Steve. "Feds Say State Should Get Tough," Telegraph Herald, March 16, 1979, p. 9

9. Barton, Thomas. "City Breathes Easier," Telegraph Herald, November, 14, 2017, p. 1A

10. Ibid.