by Don Corrigan
What are the Top Ten Environmental Issues that Missourians have coped with last century, from 1900 to 2000? Rich Thoma of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) recently had a conversation about this. WGNSS members have been involved in a number of environmental battles. What quickly became apparent to me is that naming these Top Ten will depend in large part on what environmental groups you may have affiliation. St. Louis and Missouri have a number of such organizations that have been on the frontlines.
Here is one take on the Top Ten Environmental Issues in Missouri, but it is not definitive. Revisions and commentary on these are welcome. Additions and subtractions may be necessary to put an accurate list together.
1.) Atomic City – radioactive waste issues in Weldon Spring, West Lake Landfill, Coldwater Creek.
2.) Lead Contamination – Lead smelter products poisoned people in urban center and the Leadbelt.
3.) Internal Combustion Engines – think carbon monoxide, ozone depletion, climate change.
4.) Coal Burning – Coal smoke and coal ash from utilities has caused incalculable harm to residents.
5.) Dioxin Disaster – Spread of dioxin harmed residents and required a billion-dollar cleanup of Time Beach.
6.) CAFOs – Factory farms imperil food products, pollute groundwater, damage air quality and kill family farming.
7.) PCB pollution – PCBs are insidious because they are everywhere, in everybody, and are carcinogens.
8.) Dams, Wetlands Destruction – chalk up a victory with state environmentalists stopping a Meramec Dam.
9.) DDT, Insecticide Use – DDT almost wiped out eagles and other wildlife in our Missouri watersheds.
10.) Park Land Issues – Ozark Scenic Waterways was a win, but park lands are constantly under threat.
This Top 10 Ten is an unscientific purview of the many issues affecting Missouri and often the United States of America. Some important issues are missing here: Clear cutting, destruction of forests, chip mills, numerous other chemical pollution problems. Feedback on omitted issues is welcome here.
Rich Thoma of WGNSS mentioned a number of environmental battles his organization has been involved in addressing, among them: An early initiative to clean up trash. Back in the 1920’s, local trash pickup by local municipalities was not available. Instead people burned their trash and whatever was left over was buried. Often tin cans and other water retaining containers were left lying around. The desire was to get rid of open water as a means to control disease carrying mosquitoes.
In the 1970s, WGNSS member Jim Comfort almost single-handedly worked to stop the use of lead shot in shotgun shells. Lead was poisoning waterfowl and other wildlife. In the 2010s, Patch-Burn-Grazing on Missouri Prairies was an issue. Without sufficient evidence, PBG was being applied to some of the best remaining native tallgrass prairie.
Of course, there have also been localized fights over the Page Avenue Extension,the Holcim cement plant on the Jefferson County / St. Genevieve border, battles to save land at Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, Powder Valley, Busch Wildlife Conservation Area and the Tyson Research Center.
Thoma and WGNSS have noted some of these battles in their recently published 100th Anniversary book. Also, in its 100-year history, WGNSS members have published numerous books and papers on these topics. Thoma has accumulated a nice selection of the older books. One of his future projects is to consolidate all WGNSS documents and submit them to some place where they can be valued and accessed.
Timely article, but we missed the top environmental issue and threat to Missouri’s natural environment. That is the Missouri State Legislature. It behaves rather like a toxic invasive species.
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Thank you, Don for an enlightening blog. I believe invasive species especially Japanese honeysuckle is a threat to Missouri’s native plants. I also believe that people’s lack of awareness, environmental education, and concern impacts our relationship with the environment and how we treat all of God’s creation. The more we realize our interconnectedness with creation the more we will cherish and protect it.
Please include lack of natural playgrounds on the top ten list. Unless we teach our little ones to love nature, we’re never, ever going to bend the arc of history back towards life, liberty and the pursuit of the perfect tomato!
Habitat destruction is still a top environmental concern in Missouri. Urban sprawl is rampant in many areas, while city cores are abandoned. Direct habitat destruction is the primary cause of species extinctions and the dramatic decreases in overall biodiversity. Natural areas also provide many human physical/mental health benefits, and use increased during the pandemic. Many natural communities are degraded by (e.g., invasive species, fire suppression) and provide limited ecological benefits. Restoration of existing public lands should be a priority.
In the St. Louis area, the BiomeSTL project will assist the identification, preservation and restoration of the few natural areas left.
Comment from: Kimberly Cella, Executive Director of Citizens for Modern Transit.
Air quality and the reliance on single occupancy vehicles as the predominant form of transportation in the St. Louis region continue to be key priorities for Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT). As the regional transit advocacy group, representing more than 22,000 constituents in the area, CMT continues to build programming centered around creating incentives to increase transit ridership region-wide and across the state, while also advocating for the expansion of current public transit systems to increase access to jobs, healthcare and education. These programs and advocacy work will become even more important under President Biden’s administration, which is calling for a clean energy infrastructure plan that includes a push to make commuter trains, buses and passenger vehicles run on electricity or clean fuel. Missouri has 34 transit providers delivering more than 60 million rides a year. Any increase in transit usage will directly impact the air we breathe in Missouri.