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.