Environmental Health

Warren County Environmental Health is an agency of the Warren County Board of Health. Its mission is to promote, protect and ensure the health and well being of the citizens of Warren County and to provide equitable, economical service. The department was founded in 1973 and is governed by the Board of Health and the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Our service area encompasses the entire county including rural and non-rural properties. Please feel free to contact our office at 515-690-9190 or email us at envhealth@warrencountyia.org

Warren County Environmental Health investigates complaints regarding:

To file a complaint, please click on the type of issue that you would like to report.

Alternatively, you may fill out a complaint form, and mail or fax it to this department.

To view the Warren County Code of Ordinances click here.

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are small insects without wings. At one time they were almost eliminated from the United States. However, currently are found in all 50 states including Iowa. Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bug bites usually will cause large itchy welts on the skin. These welts may not appear for 24 to 48 hours after the bite.

What are bed bugs?

A bed bug is a small insect without wings. Adult bed bugs look similar to a tick and have flat copper colored bodies that are about 1/4 inch in length. Young bed bugs (nymphs) are nearly colorless and very small. Bed bugs mostly feed on the blood of humans.

Why don’t people see bed bugs?

Bed bugs are most active between midnight and 3 am. They are rarely active during daylight hours, and only come out when they sense the warmth and odors of a body at rest. Because of their small flat bodies, they can hide in the cracks and crevices of mattresses, bedding, furniture, and draperies, and are difficult to spot without careful inspection.

Where are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found most often around areas where people sleep or rest. Adult bed bugs or evidence of their presence can be found with the aid of a flashlight and careful inspection. Small bloodstains from crushed bed bugs or dark brown spots from bed bug droppings may be evident on mattresses. Because bed bug nymphs shed their skin several times, the “empty shells” may also be evident.

What should I do if I find bed bugs?

Integrated pest management, which uses multiple ways to get rid of pests, is one of the best ways to rid your home of bed bugs. Prevention, sanitation, and pesticide/insecticide use are several tactics that can be applied.

Are bed bugs dangerous?

Bed bugs do not transmit disease. However, bed bug bites can cause large itchy welts on the skin. A person’s reaction to insect bites is an immune response and can vary widely from person to person. The bites themselves are usually painless and rarely awaken a sleeping person.

How long do bed bugs live?

The typical life span of a bed bug is between 10 months and a year. In general, bed bugs seek a meal of blood every 4 or 5 days. However, they can survive for weeks to several months without eating.

More Information
CDC Health Advisory concerning misuse of pesticides for bed bug control
More information on bed bugs can be found at EPA or CDC
Click here for a bed bug decision tree.


Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family

  • Do not feed, touch or adopt wild animals and be cautious of stray dogs and cats. Rabid animals do not always appear ill or vicious.
  • Teach children to leave wildlife alone. Be sure your children know that they need to tell you immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by an animal.
  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your animals against rabies. Keep pet vaccinations up to date.
  • Tightly close garbage cans. Open trash attracts wild or stray animals to your home or yard.
  • Feed your pets indoors; never leave pet food outside as it attracts other animals.
  • Call your doctor and your local health department for advice if an animal bites or claws you. Report the incident immediately.
  • Rabies is an infectious viral disease that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. People get rabies from the bite of an animal with rabies. Any wild mammal, like a raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, or bat can have rabies and transmit it to a person.
  • Tens of thousands of people are successfully treated each year after being bitten by an animal that may have rabies. Few people die of rabies each year in the United States, usually because they do not seek the proper treatment.
  • Most of the recent human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by the rabies virus in bats.
  • Rabies can be confirmed only in a laboratory. However, any bat that is active by day, or found in a place where bats are not usually seen, (ex. in a room, in your home or on the lawn) or unable to fly, is far more likely than others to be rabid. Such bats are often most easily approached. Therefore, it is best never to handle any bat.
  • If you are bitten by a bat, or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound; wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice immediately. Whenever possible the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for testing.

Click here for a Rabies Exposure Assessment Tree
Click here for Rabies Information for Bats
For more information on bedbugs vist the IPDH website.

Disposing of Your Old PC

Imagine where you’d be without your PC. Communications and overall work productivity would plummet for both you personally and your employees.

Now imagine a world where countries are overrun by the dangerous waste from all the old, obsolete computers we no longer want. Landfills packed with tons of cathode-ray tube desktop monitors carrying up to 8 pounds of lead; laptops laden with mercury; circuit boards and other components containing chromium and cadmium and the like, left FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.

  • That’s where we are headed, many government leaders believe, if we don’t change our habits now and find safer ways to dispose of the PC hardware and related electronics goods we no longer want. Yes, these are the drawbacks to a world with computers. We don’t know yet how to get rid of them yet without some cost to the environment. Fortunately, some people are working on this problem. In the United States alone, 20 million or more PCs became obsolete each year, meaning more than 315 million computers will have been tossed by 2004.
  • Computers, TVs and other electronic equipment account for 220 million tons of waste each year in the U.S., of which more than 10% goes straight to landfills (a percentage quickly climbing).

As much as 80% of the PCs and other e-waste collected for recycling in the U.S. happens to end up in Asia — where it is unsafely disposed.

So, what should you do about it? A couple of things:

  • For now: Don’t dump your PC in a dump, or stick it in your garbage. By now, many states may have a law against it anyway (several states including Iowa have various different kinds of e-waste legislation in the works). Check out the reuse and recycle options.
  • For the future: Support an effort by representatives of hardware manufacturers and other technology companies, state and local governments, environmental organizations and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, among others, to find a nationwide program for dealing with electronic waste. Paying for it is a key issue; an upfront fee, tagged onto the cost of a PC or other electronic device, is may be one answer.

Recycling your old PC now

If your only PC is at a large business where you work, you probably don’t have to deal with this. Most corporations and larger businesses sign agreements for the manufacturer to haul their old computers away when investing in new equipment. But if you are a consumer or run a small business, the onus is on you to find a safe option. Here are your best options:

  1. Donate your computer for reuse. Offer to family members and friends first, and then, presuming the PC or Mac is usable, to a nonprofit or charitable organization. For the latter, your contribution should be tax-deductible. If you can’t find anyone locally, check out the “Recycling and Donation” link at this site or the “Reuse” link at the Electronics Industry Alliance Web site. Warning: Charitable organizations have no space for trash. If your PC is not usable, find another option.
  2. Sell to a company for reuse. Several companies will buy your old computer if it is in good working condition and is not an ancient model.
  3. Recycle through a manufacturer or organization. IBM, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Gateway and Micron are some of the manufacturers who will take back your old PCs, for a fee.
  4. Dispose through a local household hazardous waste collection program. Municipalities and local governments will collect or haul away computers for a fee, as part of this program. Just like with the manufacturers, you can be certain these folks will safely dispose of the waste. Again, the EIA site offers a good rundown of local offerings, as does the EPA site (see “recycling” pages). But the fee is troubling to those in government — they call it a “disincentive” for people to recycle. They’d rather have the fee upfront. More below.
  5. Pay extra for a manufacturer to take away your old PCs. For small businesses, adding on to the cost of purchasing new equipment may be difficult (such costs vary per manufacturer). But if you can swing it, relieving you of the burden of disposal may be worth the money.

Although some recycling or refuse programs may seem costly, the added benefit from this initiative is well worth it, considering the public and environmental health risks associated with this problem. Please feel free to contact the Warren County Enviromental Health Department, if you have any questions or concerns that you may have concerning this topic.

Common Cleaning Products Can be Dangerous When Mixed

Mixing common household cleaning products can cause serious injuries. Be sure to always read the product labels before using household or institutional cleaning supplies.


Bleach with toilet bowl cleaners
Bleach with vinegar
Bleach with ammonia
Do not use two drain cleaners together
Different brands of one type of product
Certain disinfectants with detergents

What is chlorine bleach?

Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in chlorine bleach. It is found in household bleach and many other disinfectants. Sodium hypochlorite reacts with ammonia, drain cleaners, and other acids. Many household products state that they contain bleach on the label. Pool chemicals frequently contain calcium hypochlorite or sodium hypochiorite and should not be mixed with household cleaners.

What products contain ammonia and acids?

In addition to ammonia purchased as a cleaning product, ammonia may be found in the following:

  • Glass and window cleaners
  • Urine (use caution when cleaning diaper pails or litter boxes
  • Interior and exterior paints

Products that may contain acids include:

  • Vinegar
  • Glass and window cleaners
  • Automatic dishwasher detergents and rinses
  • Toilet bowl cleaners
  • Drain cleaners
  • Lime, calcium and rust removal products
  • Brick and concrete cleaners

If you are unsure what chemicals your cleaning products contain, contact the manufacturer before mixing.

ALWAYS keep cleaning chemicals in their original containers so that labeling remains intact.

What are the dangers of mixing these common cleaning products?

Mixing bleach and ammonia:

When bleach and ammonia are mixed, toxic gases called chloramines are produced. Exposure to chloramines gases can cause:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • nausea
  • watery eyes
  • pneumonia and fluid in the lungs
  • irritation to the throat, nose, and eyes

Mixing bleach and acids:

When chlorine bleach is mixed with an acid, chorine gas is given off.

Chlorine gas exposure, even at low levels, almost always irritates the eyes, throat, and nose. It causes coughing and breathing problems, burning and watery eyes, and runny nose. Higher levels of exposure can cause chest pain, more severe breathing difficulties, vomiting, pneumonia, and fluid in the lungs. Very high levels can cause death.

Mixing bleach and other products:

Bleach also reacts with some oven cleaners, hydrogen peroxide, and some insecticides.

Broken Thermometers? Why Safe Cleanup Matters

Even small mercury spills are reason for caution

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in air, water and soil. Most of us are familiar with pure mercury – a liquid metal, sometimes called ‘quicksilver’ that is traditionally used to make products like thermometers, switches, and some light bulbs. Mercury cannot be destroyed, and because of potential health effects, breaking mercury products, spilling mercury, or improper treatment and disposal of products containing mercury can be a health hazard.

“Most people don’t realize that there are specific ways to clean up even a small amount of mercury, like that from a broken thermometer,” said Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Toxicologist Stuart Schmitz. “When metallic mercury is exposed to the air, especially in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces, it can be breathed in as a vapor where it can be absorbed by the lungs.” Several factors influence how severe the health effects are from mercury exposure, including the amount of mercury, the age of the person exposed, and the duration of exposure. Health effects can range from headaches and muscle weakness to respiratory failure, and in extreme cases, death.

Even a small mercury spill, like that from a broken thermometer, requires health precautions be taken:

  • Have everyone else leave the area; don’t let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out and make sure pets are removed from the area.
  • Do not allow children to help clean up the spill.
  • Put on rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves to clean the spill.
  • Use an eyedropper to collect or draw up the mercury beads. Slowly and carefully squeeze mercury on to a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel in a zip lock plastic bag and secure.
  • Contact your local health department, municipal waste authority, or local fire department for information on proper disposal of the bag in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
  • Residents can dispose of household hazardous materials for no cost at their local Regional Collection Center.
  • Keep the area well-ventilated to the outside for at least 24 hours after the cleanup.

For spills greater than one thermometer in size, contact the Iowa Department of Natural Resources 24-hour Emergency Response Team at (515) 281-8694.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) also contain mercury and there are guidelines for cleaning up broken bulbs, disposing of, or recycling them. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/cfl#whererecycle

For more information on mercury, and additional details on proper safety measures, visit www.epa.gov/mercury#thermometer

West Nile Virus

West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is commonly found in Africa, West Asia, and the Middle East. It is closely related to St. Louis encephalitis virus found in the United States. While the virus mainly infects mosquitoes and birds, mosquitoes can transmit the virus to people and other animals. The virus was first identified in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. It was first reported in the United States in 1999, when 62 cases and 7 deaths in humans from West Nile virus infection were reported in the New York City area.

Should the West Nile virus be a concern for people in Iowa?

Yes. Since 1999, West Nile has spread across the continental United States. The virus was identified in a dead crow in the eastern part of Iowa in September 2001. Human cases in Iowa have been reported every year since 2002.

How is West Nile virus spread?

Mosquitoes can get West Nile virus when feeding on infected birds. Mosquitoes can then spread the virus to people through a bite. West Nile virus cannot be spread by person-to-person contact such as kissing, touching, or caring for an infected person. West Nile virus can also rarely be transmitted to humans who receive infected organs by transplantation or who receive transfusions of infected blood or blood products.

Is a person that is bitten by a mosquito in an area known to have West Nile virus likely to get infected?

No. The chance of getting infected with the virus is low. Even in areas where the virus is circulating, very few mosquitoes are infected with the virus and not all mosquitoes can successfully transmit the virus. Most people who become infected with West Nile virus following a mosquito bite do not develop any symptoms.

What are the symptoms of West Nile virus?

Most people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headache, and body aches before fully recovering. Some persons may develop a skin rash and swollen lymph glands. In <1% of infections, particularly in those persons over age 50, West Nile virus can cause serious disease, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). These conditions may result in permanent brain damage, or on rare occasions, can be fatal. Symptoms of severe disease can include severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness, tremors, muscle weakness, and paralysis.

How is an infection with West Nile virus diagnosed and treated?

A healthcare provider can diagnose West Nile virus through special tests. There is no vaccine or specific treatment, though a physician may prescribe medications to reduce symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required. Persons who have been exposed (i.e. bit by a mosquito), but have not developed symptoms do not need to be tested. Your healthcare provider should be contacted if you develop severe symptoms.

Where can additional information regarding WNV be found?

How can an infection with West Nile virus be prevented?

Protect yourself from mosquito bites and eliminate mosquito breeding sites:

  • Insect repellents containing DEET, permethrin, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be effective against mosquitoes. Permethrin repellants should be applied to clothing only and should not be used on the skin. Products containing up to 30% DEET have been shown to be the most effective and are safe for adults, including pregnant women and children over 2 months of age. DEET should be applied sparingly only to exposed skin and should not be used underneath clothing.
  • Repellent products must state any age restriction. If there is none, EPA has not required a restriction on the use of the product. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommends that repellents with DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old. According to the label, oil of lemon eucalyptus products should NOT be used on children under 3 years.
  • Wear light colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants whenever you are outdoors for long periods of time or when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Make sure doors and windows have tight fitting screens. Repair or replace screens that have holes or tears.
  • Eliminating mosquito-breeding sites (they breed by laying eggs in standing water) by removing sources of standing water in outdoor areas where you work or play. Specific activities include the following:
    • Turning over or removing items where rainwater can collect, such as ceramic pots, toys, buckets, tires, wading pools, and tarps covering firewood and boats;
    • Changing water in birdbaths and pet bowls every 3-4 days;
    • Making sure roof gutters are clean and in good repair;
    • Repairing leaky outdoor faucets, air conditioners, and hoses; and
    • Stocking ornamental ponds with mosquito dunks or fish that eat mosquito larvae.

Is donating blood or getting blood transfusions or organ transplants safe?

Donating blood is safe and individuals are still encouraged to donate. However, those individuals who present with symptoms of West Nile, or who are experiencing any kind of illness, will not be allowed to donate blood. Blood centers are taking precautions to be sure that donors who have been diagnosed with West Nile have fully recovered before being allowed to donate. People who have been diagnosed with West Nile virus should not be allowed to donate blood for 120 days from the start of their symptoms or their laboratory diagnosis, whichever is later. All blood banks are screening for West Nile virus and will dispose of positive blood. Persons who develop symptoms of West Nile virus infection within four weeks of receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplantation or whose symptoms begin in the weeks following the blood or organ donation are advised to contact their healthcare provider.

Can a West Nile infected pregnant woman infect her unborn child?

There have been reports of mother-to-fetus transmission of West Nile virus in humans. Pregnant women should take precautions to reduce their risk for West Nile virus and other arboviral infections by avoiding mosquitoes, wearing protective clothing and using repellents containing DEET. It is not recommended that pregnant women or newborns be screened for West Nile.

What should I do if I find a dead bird?

Finding a dead bird near your home does not necessarily put you at increased risk for West Nile virus. West Nile virus infection is not likely to be transmitted by direct contact with dead birds. Dead birds, however, can carry a variety of diseases, and should never be handled with bare hands. Use gloves to carefully place dead birds in double-plastic bags and then place in the outdoor trash or bury.

Can animals be infected with West Nile virus?

Animals become infected the same way that humans become infected — through the bite of an infected mosquito. Horses can experience severe and fatal disease like humans, and cats and dogs can also become infected, but rarely develop disease. Animals infected with West Nile virus do not spread the disease to humans. Contact your veterinarian to arrange for vaccination of your horses or if you suspect your pet or animal might have been infected with West Nile virus.

Lead Poisoning and Prevention Program

What is childhood lead poisoning?
Childhood lead poisoning is a disease that occurs when children have too much lead in their bodies.

How do children become lead-poisoned?
Children become lead-poisoned if they:

  • Put lead-based paint chips in their mouths.
  • Put dusty or dirty hands, toys, bottles, or pacifiers in their mouths.
  • Chew on surfaces painted with lead-based paint.
  • Breathe in dust from lead-based paint that is being sanded, scraped, or removed with a heat gun.
  • Play in dirt or a sandbox near an old building or where an old building was torn down.

How common is lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning affects 1 in 14 Iowa children. This is four times the national average.
Lead poisoning is usually caused by lead-based paint found in homes built before 1960. About 60% of the homes in Iowa, both in urban and rural areas, were built before 1960.

Could your child be lead-poisoned?
Yes — most children with lead poisoning do not look sick.
Lead-poisoned children may:

  • Be easily excited.
  • Have problems paying attention.
  • Complain of stomachaches and headaches.
  • Be more tired than usual.

How can you tell if your child is lead-poisoned?
The only way to tell if your child is lead-poisoned is to have their blood tested. All Iowa children must be tested for lead poisoning before starting kindergarten.
The Iowa Department of Public Health recommends that children be tested for the first time at the age of 12 months.
Ask your health care provider to do a blood lead test whenever your child has a check-up.
This test is required for children who are covered by Medicaid. Many insurance plans also pay for this test.

How often should your child be tested for lead poisoning?
It’s important to get their blood lead level tested at least once a year until they are six years old.
Many children have normal blood lead levels at 6-12 months of age.
However, these same children may become lead-poisoned when they are older and more active.

What will happen if your child is lead-poisoned?
Someone from a local health or housing agency or the Iowa Department of Public Health will visit you.
They will show you where your child is being exposed to lead. They will also explain how to take care of the problem.

How can I protect my child from lead poisoning?
Keep your child away from areas of peeling and chipping paint. Be sure to check the following areas:

  • Window sills.
  • Window troughs (area between the storm window and the inside window sash).
  • Outdoor play areas.

Be sure to check your home and other homes where your child visits.
Wash your child’s hands before meals and snacks. Also wash your child’s toys or pacifier often.
If you plan to do any painting or remodeling in a pre-1960 home, find out how to do the work safely.

Where can I get more information?
For more information about lead poisoning and how you can protect your children, contact one of the following agencies:

Iowa Department of Public Health
(515) 281-3479
or your local city or county health department or housing agency.