Bridge Demolition Leads To Pollution Of Deer Creek, River Des Peres, And More Downstream

In early March, a contractor demolishing a bridge over Deer Creek released polystyrene (Styrofoam) into the waterway. | photo by Roy Lohmann

Webster Groves resident documents debris being released into creek following the demolition of bridge located in Brentwood

By Colin Suchland (Story courtesy of the Webster-Kirkwood Times)

Demolition of a bridge spanning Deer Creek has incited the ire of watchful Webster Groves residents and resulted in violations from state authorities over foam-plastic pollution in the waterway.

Beginning in early March, a contractor working for the city of Brentwood, KCI Construction, began removing the bridge on Breckenridge Industrial Court, immediately south of Manchester Road and west of South Hanley Road. Deer Creek runs along the borders of Brentwood, Maplewood and Webster Groves where it abuts residential, commercial and recreational areas.

Deer Creek forms a natural corridor that includes parks and pedestrian greenways serving several communities as it flows toward the River Des Peres. The bridge replacement is part of a larger “Brentwood Bound” project that promises both commercial and recreational improvements. Flood mitigation along Deer Creek is also a goal of the project.

The large, scattered mass of polystyrene pollution, commonly known as Styrofoam, released into the waterway by the bridge demolition immediately drew the attention of Webster Groves resident Roy Lohmann.

Lohmann used his aerial drone to document the debris as it was being broken up by heavy equipment. With no effective containment at the site and subsequent rains, the polystyrene quickly made its way downstream into the watershed and surrounding ecosystem.

“It’s a confined area near the bridge, but the extent of the damage is much larger,” said Lohmann, an environmental scientist and current student at Saint Louis University. “It’s no doubt in the Mississippi River by now.”

When contacted by the Times, the city of Brentwood acknowledged that demolition of the old Breckenridge Industrial Court bridge on March 2 released polystyrene from the interior of the bridge.

“The contractor began the cleanup process following the demolition,” Brentwood Communications Manager Janet Levy said in a statement. “As part of the cleanup process, the contractor removed polystyrene debris from Deer Creek and the River Des Peres and installed a skimmer to catch any additional floating debris.”

But for Webster Groves resident Joe Oelke, who participated in a volunteer cleanup effort at Deer Creek just days before the bridge demolition, the construction contractor’s cleanup efforts were too little and too late.

An avid fisherman who frequents the creek and river, Oelke expressed his frustration at discovering the debris floating in pools and on the creek banks. He reported finding that pieces of the bridge foam had reached the River Des Peres just 36 hours after he first observed them in Deer Creek.

“It was a real slap in the face to all these volunteers who try to keep the creek clean,” Oelke said. “This is a unique waterway, and we need to preserve it.”

Missouri Department Of Natural Resources Steps In

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources was informed of the polystyrene released into Deer Creek and investigated the bridge site on March 7.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources documented several violations, including failure to notify the department within 24 hours of the unauthorized discharge of water contaminants, failure to maintain good housekeeping practices for debris and failure to implement best practices for erosion and sediment control — all of which are required by permit.

Spencer Gould, an environmental program manager with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said the city of Brentwood and Brentwood Bound have until April 28 to do the following:

• Submit all “after rainfall” inspections from the period of Feb. 20 to March 15;
• Submit a written response to the incident, including an estimate of how much polystyrene was released and how much was cleaned up;
• Detail how future events such as this could be prevented;
• Submit all “land disturbance oversight” inspections and show evidence that proper actions have been taken;
• Continue the cleanup efforts to the best of their ability.

Gould said that further and/or escalating enforcement actions are possible if the Missouri Department of Natural Resources does not receive a sufficient response from Brentwood and its partners within the designated time frame. Possible penalties for non-compliance could include abatement orders, revoking of permits and monetary fines, but no such actions had been taken as of April 12.

Brentwood spokesperson Levy confirmed that the city is working to ensure it complies with all “expectations and requirements,” outlined by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“We Will Eventually Be Eating It”

According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nature, polystyrene ultimately breaks down into micro-plastics that are ingestible by wildlife that may mistake it for food, and later into nano-plastic particles that can be absorbed directly by contact in both humans and animals alike.

The longterm health effects of polystyrene are not fully known, but plastics pollution is a major environmental concern, especially in waterways and the ocean.

“Plastic like this does not go away. We will eventually be eating it,” Webster resident and environmental scientist Lohmann said.

Lohmann expressed concern that a lack of comprehensive oversight for Deer Creek leaves open the possibility for future problems with pollution, erosion and flooding. He also criticized the lack of more severe repercussions for the negligence that resulted in the polystyrene debris.

“What we need is a governing body with authority for all of Deer Creek,” Lohmann said, adding that he has posted a comprehensive summary of his observations and analysis at

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