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Hazardous Waste in Missouri – A Summary

In 4 previous posts and in a series starting August 24 I reported on several hazardous waste programs in Missouri. These programs concern abandoned mine lands, superfund sites (both the NPL and Missouri Registry sites), brownfield sites, and underground storage tanks sites. This post summarizes the findings of those posts.

It seems that abandoned mine lands may represent more acres of hazardous land than any other type in Missouri, some 22,149 acres in total. The number has grown each time I have looked. The hazards represented by these lands only sometimes involve contamination with toxic chemicals. They can also include dangerous structures or walls, or open shafts into which one can fall.

The sites listed by the Superfund Program are among the most dangerous of Missouri’s hazardous waste sites. The worst and most dangerous of them are listed on the National Priorities List. Missouri has 33 such sites. Other site that don’t rise to the level of danger of those on the National Priorities List are listed in the Missouri Registry Annual Report. Sixty-one sites are included in the Registry, 1 of which is listed Class 1 (immediate threat to public health or the environment, must be remediated immediately), and 12 of which are listed as a significant threat to the environment (action required, but does not have to be immediate). A site is included only if it is contaminated with a substance that meets the federal or state definition of hazardous. Many hazardous substances are not classified as hazardous. Further some sites that are candidates for the Registry are under assessment or under litigation. Thus, there may be contaminated sites that are not included in either the National Priorities List or Registry.

Brownfield sites represent smaller properties. Though the contamination on them may be sufficient to prevent continued use of the property, it is generally not sufficiently large to represent a threat to the general public health. An example would be a site used as a dry cleaning establishment that became contaminated with dry cleaning fluid (trichloroethylene). Sites contaminated with lead paint or asbestos would be other examples. Because they are unusable, they tend to sit abandoned, forming eyesores and economic drains on the communities in which they are located. Owners are not required to register brownfield properties. Rather, there is a voluntary program for owners who want to remediate their property to state standards and receive a letter certifying the cleanup, enabling the properties to be sold and redeveloped. In total, 1,102 properties are participating in this program or have done so. Some 633 of them were assessed as having no reason to suspect environmental contamination, while the remaining 469 underwent further testing/cleanup. The sites are widely scattered across the state, but tend to concentrate in cities.

Underground storage tank sites (UST) may represent the most numerous individual sites across the state. These are (were) almost all used for storage of petroleum products (for example, the storage tanks buried under the pumps at your local gas station). Operators are required to register them with the state, build them to certain standards, and operate equipment designed to detect if a leak occurs. There are currently 3,332 operating UST sites in Missouri, 10,139 that have been closed, and 1,512 other petroleum sites. It is difficult to tell from the database maintained by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources exactly how many of these have leaked in the past, but data on currently operating sites suggest that about 41% of them may have. If that percentage applies to the total number of sites, it would mean that 6,143 of them have leaked. If a UST leaks or is closed, the owner is required to clean the site, and most have received a No Further Action Letter from the Department of Natural Resources. Only those properties closed after 2004, however, could receive a letter with restrictions indicating that some environmental concern remains. Some 9,254 sites received a letter prior to 2004, and what the final status of those site is, I don’t know. Of the total number of sites, only 2,365 are listed either as currently undergoing corrective action or assessment, or as having received a No Further Action Letter with restrictions. If the department had issued letters with restrictions prior to 2004, however, I believe that the number of sites with a No Further Action Letter with restrictions would be higher.

Thus, Missouri is home to tens of thousands of sites that are, or potentially could be, hazardous due to contamination with hazardous materials. Many of these sites are small, representing a hazard on the site itself, but not to the public generally. Whether such small sites exist in sufficient numbers to represent an aggregate threat to general public health is not addressed in any of the sources I have consulted. How might such a threat occur? For example, thousands of underground tanks might each leak a little bit. Individually it would not amount to much, but together it might be enough to get into local groundwater supplies. It’s just a hypothetical, but we see such effects occurring with the runoff of farm chemicals. The databases don’t address it.

It is difficult to gather overall information about all of the hazardous waste sites in Missouri because the sites are administered by different programs and listed in different databases. The criteria for inclusion differ between programs, and I have not yet located a governmental resource that attempts to summarize all sites in one large overview. The database used to generate the E-START mapping utility seems to be the most comprehensive. In addition to mapping the sites, the utility allows users to download the database. I could not find, however, any documentation specifying the content. It may exist, but I couldn’t find it.

Mostly, the databases do not seem oriented toward providing high-level overviews of trends in the numbers over time, which is the focus of this blog. The data seem aimed at providing the public the location of specific sites, descriptions of the contamination at each site, and descriptions of remediation efforts. For these purposes, it is amazing how much information is only a click away, especially for sites in the NPL or Missouri Registry. If you are interested in information regarding specific sites, then I urge you to consult the resources listed at the bottom of each of the previous 4 blog posts, you may be able to find what you are looking for.

Tanks and More Tanks!

Missouri is home to almost 15,000 operating and former petroleum facilities. Only 15% of them are listed as having had no known releases.

Missouri is home to 13,471 currently operating or former underground storage tanks (USTs) and 1,512 “other petroleum facilities” according to a database created by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). Almost all of these facilities were used for petroleum storage or delivery. An underground storage tank is any tank that has more than 10% of its volume below grade. The thing about underground storage tanks is that they are, well, underground: you can’t see what is happening down there. They could be leaking, maybe for a long time, and nobody would know. (MoDNR 2017a) Figure 1 maps the location of currently operating sites and Figure 2 maps the location of former sites. For former sites, only sites for which investigation or corrective action is incomplete, or sites issued No Further Action Letter with restrictions are shown. (MoDNR 2017b)

Figure 1. Source: MoDNR E-START Map, 2017a.

Figure 2. Source: MoDNR E-START Map, 2017a.












In 1985 the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act established a regulatory program for underground storage tanks. The Missouri law addressing USTs was passed in 1989. In 2004, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) created a risk-based program for use by persons responsible for addressing petroleum releases at petroleum storage tank sites. Since passage of the law, all USTs storing petroleum must be built and operated to certain standards, must register with the state, and must and install certain equipment to monitor the integrity of the tank and detect a leak should one occur. Should a leak occur, tank owners are required to notify the state, and they are required to clean up the leak. When they no longer want to use the tank, they are required either to remove it and remediate the site where the tank was located, or they are required to clean the tank on-site, fill it with an inert substance (like concrete), and permanently cap it. (MoDNR 2013, 2017c)

Certain types of USTs are exempt from the program:

  • any tank of 110 gallons or less;
  • farm and residential tanks of 1,100 gallons or less, or which are not used for commercial purposes;
  • tanks storing heating oil used on the premises;
  • tanks above the floor of underground areas, such as basements;
  • septic tanks;
  • flow-through process tanks;
  • emergency spill and overflow tanks. (MoDNR 2017c)

Figure 3. Data source: MoDNR 2017b.

Figure 3 shows the data regarding the USTs. The first column represents USTs that are currently operating. The second column represents USTs that have closed, having been removed or closed on-site. The third column represents sites that are not tanks but are related petroleum storage sites. Combined, there are 14,983 sites spread across the state. The colors of the columns code the status of the sites. Administrative closure means that the file on that site was closed for one of a variety of reasons, including that it was being remediated in a different hazardous waste program (e.g. Brownfield or Superfund). From this database, there is no way to know the status of those sites, but they represent a small fraction of the total.

Currently operating USTs represent about 22% of the sites in the database. Fifty-nine percent of them have experienced no known releases, while 14% received a No Further Action Letter prior to 2004, 14% received one with restrictions after 2004, and 9% of them are currently undergoing assessment and/or correction.

Former USTs represent 68% of all the sites in the database. About 80% of them received a No Further Action Letter prior to 2004, when the Risk-Based Corrective Action Process was established. I don’t know how many represent sites where no release ever occurred, or ones where a release did occur, but it was remediated according to state standards. Only 9 percent of them were issued a letter with restrictions, and only 4% of them are currently undergoing assessment or corrective action.

It seems to me unlikely that, of the sites issued a No Further Action Letter prior to 2004, not one experienced a release. If only 59% of currently operating USTs have had no known release, then it means that 41% have had one. If one applies that number to the former USTs issued a letter prior to 2004, then it would represent some 3,305 sites.

Other facilities represent about 10% of the total. About 47% of them received a No Further Action Letter prior to 2004, and as with former USTs, one cannot know if this means they never leaked, or if they did leak but were remediated to state standards. Seven percent of them were issued letters with restrictions, and another 9% are currently undergoing assessment/remediation.

Underground Storage Tanks represent by far the largest collection of potentially contaminated sites in Missouri, and by far the most widespread. The maps above hardly do justice to the numbers, as the symbols overlap and cover each other up. The conclusion seems to be that, though the majority of USTs currently in operation don’t leak, a significant fraction of them do. How big a fraction? I don’t really know, but based on currently operating USTs, it could be 41% or higher. The database does include information about the nature of the releases and the substances involved, though it can’t be summarized in a brief article such as this.

I will wrap up this series on hazardous waste sites in Missouri in the next post with a summary and some thoughts.


Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2013. Missouri Risk-Based Corrective Action Process for Petroleum Storage Tanks. Downloaded 11/2/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/docs/tanks-final-guidance2013.pdf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017a. Missouri E-START Map (Regulated Petroleum and Hazardous Substance Storage Tank Facilities). Downloaded 10/31/2017 from http://www.dnr.mo.gov/ESTARTMAP/map/init_map.action.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017b. Tank Database. Downloaded 2017-9-27 from https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/downloads/hwpet.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017c. Underground Storage Tank Registration. Downloaded 2017-10-27 from https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/tanks/ustregis.htm.

Brownfield Sites

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) defines a brownfield as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.” (MoDNR 2017e) Almost all cities have them: old gas stations, dry cleaners, old manufacturing buildings, grain silos, and other types of buildings. They may be contaminated with petroleum, dry cleaning fluid (tetrachloroethylene), lead, and/or other chemicals. While the contamination may be limited in scope and scale, presenting little threat to overall public health, it may be sufficient to make the property unusable, leaving cities with abandoned, unusable eyesores that hinder the economic welfare of the community.

Figure 1. Source: MoDNR E-START Map, 2017d.

In 1994, the State of Missouri established a Brownfield/Voluntary Cleanup Program to assist property owners who “want their properties cleaned up to standards acceptable to the state, and to receive some type of certification of the cleanup from the department.” (MoDNR 2017c) If contaminated material is stored onsite at the property, the site enters long-term stewardship. The Department maintains a database of brownfield assessment sites listing 1,122 sites, their location, and their assessment status. Figure 1, created using the DNR’s E-START map utility, shows the locations of the assessment sites.






Figure 2. Data source: MoDNR 2017a.

Figure 2 shows the number of sites by assessment type. During a Phase I assessment the Department does a records review, observes the physical setting and building characteristics, interviews owners, occupants and adjacent property owners, and reviews historical data concerning the property. If the Phase I reviews turns up any “recognized environmental concerns,” then a Phase II assessment will be conducted, in which the Department may sample and test soil, sediment, groundwater, surface water, drums and other containers, tanks, and/or building materials (asbestos and lead). (MoDNR 2017b)

St. Louis County has the most properties in the database (342), while the City of St. Louis has the second most (242). Jackson County (the location of Kansas City) and Greene County (the location of Springfield) have far fewer (49 and 17, respectively). Does this mean that St. Louis and St. Louis County are that much more contaminated than Kansas City or Springfield? Possibly, as St. Louis once had a large industrial economy, but it may also mean that the St. Louis region has a more active program to identify brownfield sites. (MoDNR 2017a)

The Department provides participants in the program with a report describing the remediation that would be required to return the property to a condition that meets state standards. Unless the property is so contaminated that it qualifies for some other program (Superfund, for instance) remediation is not required, it is voluntary and conducted by the property owner. One a property is brought into compliance with state standards, a certificate of completed cleanup is issued, but it is not deleted from the database of brownfield sites.


Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017a. Brownfield Assessment List – 2017. Downloaded 10/31/2017 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/bvcp/SiteSpecificData.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017b.Brownfield Assessment/Environmental Site Assessment. Viewed online 11/1/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/bvcp/BrownfieldAssessment.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017c. Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program. Viewed online 10/31/2017 at http://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/bvcp/hwpvcp.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017d. Missouri E-START Map (Brownfields). Downloaded 10/31/2017 from http://www.dnr.mo.gov/ESTARTMAP/map/init_map.action.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017e. What Is a Brownfield? Viewed online 10/31/2017 at http://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/bvcp/Whatisabrownfield.htm.

Other Missouri Hazardous Waste Sites

On 11/16 Chris Cady of MoDNR posted a comment correcting some errors in this post and making additional clarifications. I have gone through the post to correct the errors. Please be sure to read Cady’s comment at the end of the post.

In the last post I reported on the National Priorities List (Superfund) sites in Missouri. Those sites tend to be the worst of the worst: physically large, badly contaminated, and the greatest threats to health and the environment. But they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other seriously contaminated sites that don’t quite reach the same level of threat as do the NPL sites. In addition, there are also brownfield sites. These are smaller sites; though they may contain very toxic waste, and there are many more of them, each one individually represents less off a threat. Also numerous are underground storage tanks (for instance below ground gasoline tanks at a gas station) that represent environmental threats.

Figure 1. Source: MoDNR 2017a.

Under the same law establishing the NPL, Under state law, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) maintains a Registry of large, badly contaminated hazardous waste sites in the state. The list is published each January in the Missouri Registry Annual Report. This post concerns the report for FY 2016, published January, 2017. Figure 1 maps the sites in the Registry.

Inclusion in the Registry does not automatically slate the property for remediation. By law, the parties responsible for contaminating a site in the Registry or NPL are responsible for cleaning it up, under supervision of the Department and EPA. If there are no potentially responsible parties, Superfund dollars finance 90% of the work, with a 10% state contribution. Cleanup can be a long, expensive process; with tight budgets, inclusion on the Registry is no guarantee that cleanup has started or has been completed. Rather, inclusion puts the site under oversight by the MoDNR, assesses and classifies the level of threat, and provides the public (especially any potential buyers and nearby property owners) of the contamination. In some cases, the department is able to negotiate consent agreements with site owners to remediate the site in order to avoid having it listed. (MoDNR 2017b, 2017c)

The sites on Missouri’s Registry overlap with the sites on the active NPL, however each contains sites that the other does not. Figure 1 maps the sites in the Registry.

The sites on the Registry are classified according to the following classes:

  1. sites that are causing or presenting an imminent danger of causing irreversible or irreparable damage to the public health or environment – immediate action required.
  2. sites that are a significant threat to the environment – action required.
  3. sites that do not present a significant threat to the public health or the environment – action may be deferred.
  4. sites that have been properly closed – require continued management.
  5. sites that have been properly closed with no evidence of present or potential adverse impact – no further action required. According to the state law, any site classified as a Class 5 is removed from the registry. (MoDNR 2017a)

Data Source: MoDNR 2017a, MoDNR 2013.

Table 1 lists the number of sites by classification. The single Class 1 site is already on the NPL, while 3 of the Class 2 sites are on the NPL. Like the Superfund sites, the sites on the Registry do not change quickly. Several of the sites on the NPL were previously listed in the registry, but have since been removed (e.g. Times Beach, Fullbright Landfill). Some sites on the NPL are not included in the registry, nor are they listed in the sites under remediation or those that have been removed (e.g. the Compass Plaza Well in Rogersville). What this means, I’m not sure.

One final caveat must be discussed here. Combined, the NPL and Registry probably represent the most comprehensive list of the worst hazardous waste sites in the state. However, Many eligible sites are not listed due to pending or ongoing investigation. In addition, sites are listed only if they contain substances that meet strict legal requirements. Thousands of hazardous substances do not meet the criteria or are exempted, such as:

  • radioactive materials;
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
  • gasoline or other petroleum materials;
  • grain bins with pesticide contamination;
  • manufactured gas plants with coal tar residue;
  • fly ash waste;
  • mining waste. (MoDNR2017a)

This list of exemptions is illustrative, not comprehensive. Waste from some of these sources is covered by other programs, either federal or state, but I don’t know the specifics. Thus, there may be many more large, seriously contaminated hazardous waste sites that are not included in the Registry. In a previous post I have reported the existence of the E-START mapping utility available through the DNR’s website. It may be the most comprehensive resource of contaminated waste sites in Missouri. I will refer to it again in the upcoming couple of posts.

In the next post I will discuss brownfield sites.


Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2017a. Missouri Registry Annual Report. Downloaded 9/22/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2017b. Superfund – Registry. Viewed online 10/29/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/sfund/registry.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2017c. Operating Units (Superfund Division). Viewed online 11/3/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/sfund/operatingunits.htm.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2013. Missouri Registry Annual Report. Downloaded 2013 from http://www.dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/sfund/sfundregistry.htm.

Missouri Superfund Sites

In August I reported on abandoned mine lands in Missouri, which are inventoried and reclaimed by the Land Reclamation Program of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, working with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement of the Department of the Interior. These lands constitute the largest inventory of contaminated lands in Missouri. The most seriously contaminated, however, are Missouri’s Superfund sites, and the most widely dispersed are leaking underground storage tanks. These are each monitored by different government programs, and the programs that monitor them are distinct from the program that monitors toxic releases. I will report on these latter three types of pollution in the next several posts.

In 1980, the U.S. Congress enacted the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, designed to clean up sites badly contaminated with hazardous substances. This program is what is known by the common name of Superfund. Contaminated sites are proposed to EPA for inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL). Using a number of criteria, the EPA assesses each site and assigns a hazard score to each, and those above the designated threshold are assigned to the NPL for clean up. The NPL sites are what we commonly call Superfund sites. They tend to be the largest, most badly contaminated hazardous waste sites, the worst of the worst.

The number of NPL sites in Missouri and several other states are given in the table below. Some of the sites are mine sites, but others represent contamination by industrial or agricultural chemicals and pollutants.

Table 1: Number of National Priorities List Sites in Selected States:

2013 2017
North Dakota 0 0
Arkansas 9 9
Iowa 11 12
Kansas 11 12
Missouri 33 33
Illinois 45 45
New Jersey 111


North Dakota has the fewest in the nation. (With all the petroleum activity up there, would you want to bet on whether that will change?) New Jersey has the most. (EPA 2017a) You can see that the number of sites in the selected states has changed only slightly.

Figure 1. Source: EPA 2017a.

Figure 1 at right shows the location of the sites in Missouri. Yellow diamonds are sites on the NPL. Green circles are sites that were on the list, but have been removed. Red squares indicate sites that have been proposed for addition to the list. The sites cluster around St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Joplin, and the Lead Belt mining region. The yellow, orange, and pink denote different EPA administrative regions. Missouri is in Region 7.

In some cases, the contamination cannot be made safe. Rather, it must be removed and placed in a structure designed to prevent the contamination from escaping for a very long time.





Figure 2. Weldon Spring Disposal Cell. Source: Department of Energy.

The NPL site in Weldon Spring is a good example. A large chemical plant operated in Weldon Spring that produced explosives during World War II and that processed uranium for 11 years at mid-century. A large volume of land became contaminated with toxins, including radioactive materials. This land was excavated and put in a large pit/mound surrounded by impervious materials and covered with rock (a “disposal cell”) (See Figure 2). Residual contamination remains, which is handled through “administrative means,” (keeping the public out), and the NPL program will have to continue to monitor the site for a very long time. (EPA 2017b, DOE date unknown)

Nationwide, 1,785 sites are listed as active on the NPL. Of these, 394 are classified as deleted (meaning the site has been remediated to the point that it is no longer of interest to the NPL program), 1,342 are classified as on the final list (meaning they are awaiting remediation, in the process of remediation, and/or under continuing monitoring after remediation), and 40 are listed as proposed (meaning they are under consideration for addition to the list). (EPA 2017a)


U.S. Department of Energy. Weldon Spring Interpretive Brochure. Printing date unknown. Downloaded 10/28/17 from https://www.lm.doe.gov/LMSites.aspx?id=1399.

U.S. Department of Energy. 2017. Weldon Spring Site (photo). Downloaded 10/28/2017 from https://www.lm.doe.gov/Weldon/Interpretive_Center/Presentation_Topics.pdf.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017a. Search for Superfund Sites Where You Live.. At this webpage, each NPL site is listed, and links are provided to additional information about the site. In addition, maps of NPL sites can be created, and spreadsheets can be downloaded. Viewed online at https://www.epa.gov/superfund/search-superfund-sites-where-you-live#advanced.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017b. Superfund Site: Weldon Spring Quarry/Plant/Pits (USDOE/ARMY), St. Charles, MO. Viewed online 2017-10-18 at https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=0701753.

California Ablaze: Nature’s Revenge?

Fires torch hundreds of thousands of acres in California.

Just a few short weeks ago I discussed the terrible hurricanes that affected Houston, the Caribbean Islands, and Florida this year. Now, the headlines are full of the wildfires that have been raging in California.

By late September, it had already been a heavy forest fire season in the western United States. Then, over the weekend of October 7-8, wildfires broke out in the area around the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Fanned by hot, dry winds, they spread unbelievably quickly, burning 155,509 of acres (as of 10/17/2017), including prime wine producing vineyards, and thousands of homes (CALFIRE 2017b). Dozens were killed. Figure 1 shows the Coffee Park area of Santa Rosa in 2015. Figure 2 shows it after the fire. The gray areas are homes that have been burned – I mean burned to the ground, reduced to ashes. (City of Santa Rosa 2017)

Figure 1: Coffee Park Neighborhood, Santa Rosa CA, in 2015. Source: City of Santa Rosa.

Figure 2. Coffee Park Neighborhood, Santa Rosa CA, after the fire. Source: City of Santa Rosa.












All totaled, as of 10/15/2017 CALFIRE lists 7,980 fires in California that have burned 1,046,995 acres (1,636 sq. mi.) (CALFIRE 2017b). Figure 3 shows a map of the fires. Maps such as this one tend not to be comprehensive, as they map the fires to which the specific agency has responded. (CALFIRE 2017a) Across the United States, as of 10/17/2017 there have been 51,435 wildfires that have burned 8,769,877 acres. That puts 2017 among the top 10 fire years ever, and compares to an average of 6,016,599 acres from 2006-2016. Figure 4 shows the data. Data collection methods changed after 1984, which is why I have used different colors for before and after that year. (National Interagency Fire Center)

Figure 3. Fires Responded to by CALFIRE in 2017. Source: CALFIRE, 2017.

Figure 4. Data source: National Interagency Fire Center, 2017.













At a recent workshop of wildland fire experts, the consensus was that the United States was experiencing wildland fires that were behaving in aggressive, destructive ways that had never been experienced before. (National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017) What is going on?

In a series of posts last year, I explored the role that wildfire plays in western forests and showed that, though the number of fires did not seem to be trending higher, the number of acres burned per fire did. The result was that more acres per year were burning. There seemed to be 3 causes. One was that, while for decades fire was regarded as an unmitigated evil and suppressed as vigorously as possible, it was now regarded as a necessary part of forest ecology, and was allowed to burn without suppression efforts in some cases. A second reason was that decades of suppression had left western forests littered with dead and downed wood, perfect conditions for small fires to grow into huge raging crown fires that destroyed tens of thousands of acres. And a third reason was that climate change had raised summer temperatures, causing forests to dry out earlier in the season, turning small fires that would extinguish on their own into large, destructive fires.

Early fall is the driest time of year in the regions around the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Typically, it has rained very little or not at all since March or April; the grasslands are brown and sere, the forests dry and brittle. Then, in October, the wind starts to blow: the Diablo Winds in Northern California, and the Santa Ana Winds in Southern California. Fueled by high pressure over the central United States and lower pressure over the coast, the winds rush over the Sierra Madre Mountains, down the passes and valleys, and through the lowlands. It happens every year. This year, when the fires started near the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, gusts were blowing at 79 m.p.h. Recent research suggests that the winds may be getting hotter and drier as a result of climate change. (Fountain, 2017)

Wildfire needs three things to grow, and it got all of them: warm temperatures, lots of dry fuel, and high winds that were hot and dry. The fires blew up into raging infernos. Blowing sparks along at 70+ m.p.h., the wind and the fire outraced the firefighters. In a span of only a few hours, tens of thousands of acres were reduced to ashes, whole neighborhoods were destroyed, and dozens were killed.

Hurricanes in the Atlantic, fires across the West, deluges and record heat in Australia, terrible floods in Asia, drought and desertification in some parts of Africa and floods in other parts: is Mother Nature mad at us? Is she exacting revenge for the way we have mistreated Her all these years? To borrow a thought from Abraham Lincoln: if we shall suppose that environmental destruction is an offense against Nature, and that humankind has caused that offense, and that suffering inevitably comes to those who commit such offenses, and if Nature now gives to us these terrible disasters as due to those who have caused the offenses, then shall we see in them anything but a judgment and a justice that is altogether true and righteous? “Woe unto the world because of offenses.” (Lincoln, 1865)


CALFIRE. 2017a. Incident Information: Number of Fires and Acres. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_stats?year=2017.

Cal Fire. 2017b. Statewide Fire Maps. Downloaded 2017-10-17 from http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents.

City of Santa Rosa. 2017. Emergency Information Homepage: Fire Aerial Photo Comparison. Downloaded 2017-10-17 from https://www.srcity.org/2620/Emergency-Information.

Fountain, Henry. 2017. “California Winds are Fueling Fires. It May Be Getting Worse. New York Times, 10/11/2017. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/climate/caifornia-fires-wind.html?action=click&contentCollection=climate&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront.

Lincoln, Abraham. 1865. Second Inaugural Address. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. A Century of Wildland Fire Research: Contributions to Long-term Approaches for Wildland Fire Manage- ment: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi. org/10.17226/24792. Downloaded 8/25/2017 from http://nap.edu/24792.
National Interagency Fire Center. Year-to-Date Statistics. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm.

The Legacy of Abandoned Mine Lands in Missouri – Update 2017

Figure 1. Source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The previous two posts have reported on the amount of abandoned mine land in Missouri and neighboring states, how much of it is high priority, how much of it has been reclaimed, and how much remains to be reclaimed.

Coal has been one of the world’s most important industrial fuels, and for most of the last 100 years it has been the primary fuel from which we generate electricity. One of the reasons America grew to be an economic powerhouse was because we had abundant energy resources, and coal was one of them. West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, and Pennsylvania are currently the largest producing eastern coal states, in that order. Because their coal is high in sulfur, however, some coal production moved to the West, where the coal is lower in sulfur. Wyoming is now the nation’s largest coal producer, producing 39% of the nation’s coal.

Missouri is a coal producing state, though our production has been small compared to the high producing states. As Figure 1 shows, a significant portion of the state is underlain by coal. The majority of the coal veins are thin, however, and tend to be high in sulfur. Thus, coal mining never became the huge industry that it did in some other states.

Figure 2. Source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Coal mining began in Missouri in the 1840s. It peaked in 1984, when almost 7 million tons were mined. But since then, production has trended lower, and 138,206 tons were mined in 2015, only 2-3% of peak production. In contrast, Wyoming mined 387.9 million tons, hundreds of times more. Figure 2 shows the trend since 1994. Currently, the coal used to generate Missouri electricity is about 90% Wyoming coal, 10% Missouri coal.

Other kinds of mining began in Missouri even earlier, as early as the 1740s. At one time, Missouri was the primary source of lead in the United States. As many as 67,000 acres of unreclaimed land were abandoned by the coal industry, and 40,000 acres by other mining operations.

Missouri’s land reclamation program was established by state law in 1974, when the Department of Natural Resources was created. But it got a big boost with the passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. This law provides minimum requirements for mines, funding, and oversight of state reclamation efforts.

As we saw in the previous post, some states have an abandoned mine land problem many times greater than does Missouri, and their reclamation efforts receive higher levels of funding than does ours. Funding has varied from year-to-year with budgetary woes and shifting priorities. But Missouri and other states have been working to reclaim abandoned mine lands since the 1970s. As we saw in the two previous posts, abandoned mine lands are classified into 3 broad categories. Lands that pose an extreme danger to health and welfare are classified Priority 1, and lands that pose a threat to health and welfare are classified as Priority 2. Land that has been degraded by mining operations, but which is not a threat to health and welfare, is classified as Priority 3. Priority 1 and 2 lands are classified as high priority. The law requires their reclamation before Priority 3 lands are addressed. In addition, the law requires abandoned coal mining land to be addressed before other types of abandoned mine lands, I’m not quite sure why.

Since the 1970s, mining operations have been required to obtain state permits in order to operate. Miners must pay a fee for the permit, and place a bond with the state, and they are required to reclaim their land when mining operations finish. Should they fail to reclaim the land, the bond is forfeited, and the funds are used by the state for its reclamation efforts. Because there is less coal mining in Missouri, fees collected by the Department of Natural Resources have decreased, and this is one reason that the funds available for reclamation have also decreased. (Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 2014)

As reported in the previous 2 posts, Missouri has made significant progress in reclaiming its abandoned mine land. But it is a very, very big and expensive job. Because the units to be reclaimed can be of so many different types, and because funding levels control the rate of reclamation, I think that estimated costs may give the best picture of what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done. By cost, Missouri has completed about 1/3 of its work to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 land. However, that does not include Priority 3 land. At the 2014 funding level, it will take Missouri 3-4 decades to complete reclamation on Priority 1 and 2 land, and about 8 decades to finish the job completely. Unfortunately, not all abandoned mine lands have been inspected. As they are, unless Missouri devotes more resources to the job, the time to completion is likely to grow.


U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2015. Frequently Asked Questions: Which states produce the most coal? http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=69&t=2. Viewed 4/16/2015.

Alton Field Division, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. 2017. Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory Program and the Abandoned Mine Land Program Administered by the State Regulatory Authority of Missouri, For Evaluation Year 2016.. U.S. Department of the Interior. https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/lrp/docs/16annualevaluationreport.pdf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2014. 2012-2013 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2016. 2014-2015 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

High Priority Abandoned Mine Lands Spike in 2017

The amount of dangerous highwall in Missouri spiked in 2017, leading to a large increase in uncompleted high priority abandoned mine units needing reclamation.

Table 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The previous post concerned the total inventory of abandoned mine lands in Missouri. This post focuses on high priority abandoned mine lands: those that pose an extreme danger to public health and safety (Priority 1) and those that pose a threat to public health and safety (Priority 2). The law requires Missouri to reclaim high priority lands before low priority lands.

Table 1 shows the data for August 2017, April 2015, and April 2014. Completed units increased across all three dates, as one would want. However, uncompleted units grew between 2014 and 2015, and then spiked between 2015 and 2017 by 384%. This resulted in a similar pattern for total units: they increased between 2014 and 2015, and spiked between 2015 and 2017.

Reviewing the categories of hazards (not shown), most categories increased modestly between 2015 and 2017. However, units of dangerous highwall increased from 11,350 to 160,924. There are several possible reasons for such a drastic change. I cut and paste my data from the database, and I have made several checks with the e-AMLIS database to ensure I did not make an error, and I don’t think I did. However, there may be a data entry error in the online database itself. Alternatively there may have been a change in the way units of highwall are counted that is not described in the database information. Missouri could have inspected mine lands that had not been previously inspected, resulting in the discovery of additional dangerous highwall. Finally, known highwall that was not unstable may have become unstable during the period.

Figure 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Restoration and Enforcement.

Completed costs have also grown at each date, indicating the reclamation work that has been completed. Uncompleted costs, however, have grown even more quickly, and in 2017 they were more than 6 times what they were in 2014. This is unlikely to be a data error; more likely, it represents an improved estimate of what the costs will actually be, combined with inflation.

The Figure 1 shows the number of Priority 1 and 2 units for Missouri and 5 neighboring states. Blue represents completed reclamation, red represents uncompleted. Don’t forget that a unit can be acres of spoiled land, individual buildings or structures, hazardous bodies of water, vertical openings, or lengths of dangerous highwall, so one cannot directly translate number of units to environmental threat or cost to reclaim.




Figure 2. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Figure 2 shows the estimated costs to reclaim Priority 1 and 2 sites for those same states. Blue represents completed work, red represents uncompleted. This chart may be a more informative representation of the amount of work accomplished so far, and the amount yet to do. It shows that in terms of costs, Missouri has completed about 1/3 of the work required to reclaim its high priority sites. Arkansas has completed more than 2/3, Illinois not quite 1/2, and Iowa not quite 1/2. Kentucky, a big coal mining state, has had a larger reclamation challenge, but even they have completed more than half of the work. Kansas, on the other hand, has completed about 1/17 of the work. They are just getting started. (e-AMLIS Database, 2015)

Pennsylvania is the state with the largest amount of abandoned mine land, and the state with the largest reclamation challenge. They have more than 10 times as many Priority 1 and 2 units as does Missouri, and the estimated cost to reclaim them is $4.8 billion, some 29 times as much as Missouri’s cost. (e-AMLIS Database, 2015)

Figure 3. Data source: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

The Figure 3 shows changes in the number of uncompleted units and uncompleted costs. Changes in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, and Kentucky were small. The large changes in Missouri have been discussed above. Kansas had small increase in the number of units, but a large increase in costs. As in Missouri, my guess is that the change represents improved estimation of the costs involved plus inflation.

In my next post, I will report on some other interesting facts in the most recent reports on abandoned mine lands.


Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. e-AMLIS Database. I used the Summary, and selected State/Tribe = Missouri. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.

For other abandoned mine land sources, see previous post.

Abandoned Mine Lands Increase Yet Again

The amount of abandoned mine land needing reclamation has grown every year I have looked at it.

Figure 1. Data source: Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation e-AMLIS database, 2017.

Between April 2015 and August 2017 the number of units of abandoned mine land in Missouri increased by 0.75% according to a federal database (e-AMLIS, 4/15/2015). The data is shown in Figure 1: blue represents land on which reclamation has been completed, red represents land funded for reclamation but not completed, and green represents land awaiting funding for reclamation.

(Click on graphic for larger view.)

Mines create environmental hazards if efforts are not made to prevent it. The hazards range from piles of material that can leach hazardous substances, to clogged streams, to polluted or hazardous water bodies, to vertical openings into which victims can fall, to dangerous walls, dams, and structures that can collapse.

The federal government keeps an inventory of identified abandoned mine lands, the e-AMLIS Database. There can be several units at one abandoned mine site. For instance, one might be a pile of tailings, another might be an abandoned building, and a third might be a highwall. The units of mine land in the statistics may refer to acres of spoiled land, number of unsafe structures, or lengths of unsafe highwall. You can’t translate directly from units to acres of land.

Figure 2. Source data: Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement e-AMLIS database, 2017.

Figure 2 shows the location of abandoned mine lands in the e-AMLIS inventory in Missouri and in nearby regions of neighboring states. “Why,” a thoughtful reader might ask, “are these lands in southwestern and north-central Missouri? Isn’t the “lead belt” in southeastern Missouri?” Yes, of course it is. But these are surface lands, mostly from coal mining, and these are the locations where that kind of mining occurred.

Not all of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands have been inventoried, and I don’t know the status of the uninventoried land. Since the 1970s, mine operators have been required to restore mine land when mining operations cease. Compliance is enforced through a bonding system. Most of Missouri’s abandoned mine lands result from mines abandoned before the 1970s. The Missouri Land Reclamation Authority estimates that as many as 107,000 acres of mine lands have been abandoned in Missouri, about 0.2% of the entire state. (Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 2016, p.2) Since 1970, when a mine operator abandons the land, they forfeit their bond, and the state uses that money, plus appropriations, to reclaim the land. The decline of mining in Missouri has resulted in lower bond holdings, reducing the money available for reclamation.

During FY 2016, Missouri completed reclamation of 40 acres of clogged stream land, 74 acres of dangerous piles, embankments, and highwalls, 35 polluted or hazardous water bodies, 1 acre of industrial waste, 45 acres of mine spoils, and part of a hazardous vertical opening, at a cost of $1,319,499. (Alton Field Division, 2017, Appendix 1, Part B, Tables 2 & 3)

Over the history of the reclamation program, 39% of the high priority units have been reclaimed (more on that in the next post), but an estimated $109,512,447 of reclamation work remains unfunded. At 2016’s rate of spending, it will be 83 years before the work is finished. The last time I looked at this data, in April 2015, the time to complete the work was 75 years. Mine reclamation is a costly, long-term project.

The law requires that abandoned coal mines be reclaimed before other abandoned mines, and it requires high priority lands be reclaimed before low priority lands. Priority 1 lands (those posing an extreme danger to public health and safety) and Priority 2 lands (those posing a threat to public health and safety) are high priority. Priority 3 lands (those involving the restoration of land previously degraded by mining) are low priority. More on high priority abandoned mine lands in the next post.


Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. e-AMLIS Database. I used the Advanced Query, State = Missouri, County = All, District = All, Priority = All, Problem Type = All, Program = All, Funding = All, Mining Type = All. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.

For the map, I used the e-AMLIS Database, and I used the mapping function, which allows a map for Missouri to be produced. I created the map 8/6/2017. https://amlis.osmre.gov/Default.aspx.

Alton Field Division, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. 2017. Annual Evaluation Report for the Regulatory Program and the Abandoned Mine Land Program Administered by the State Regulatory Authority of Missouri, for Evaluation Year 2016. U.S. Department of the Interior. Downloaded 8/3/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/lrp/docs/16annualevaluationreport.pdf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2016. 2014-2015 Land Reclamation Program Biennial Report. http://dnr.mo.gov/pubs.

The Challenge of Urban Sustainability

Figure 1. The triple bottom line.

Figure 1. The triple bottom line.

There is no generally accepted definition of urban sustainability. A recent report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine defines it as “the process by which the measurable improvement of near- and long-term human well-being can be achieved” in three areas: environmental, economic, and social. These three areas constitute the “triple bottom line” we hear so much about these days. The report conceptualizes them as combining to represent urban sustainability as illustrated in Figure 1 at right. By mentioning “near- and long-term” welfare, the report points to a popular conceptualization of sustainability: not compromising future welfare in the pursuit of short-term goals.




Figure 2. Top National Priorities. Source: Pew Center for Research.

Figure 2. Top National Priorities. Source: Pew Center for Research.

This blog typically focuses on the environmental part of sustainability. Research consistently indicates that, while a large majority of Americans favor protecting our environment, they consistently rank its importance below other national priorities. For instance, Figure 2 shows the results of Pew Research Center polls asking Americans to rate which issues should be top policy priorities. The chart shows that out of 20, protecting the environment ranks 14th, and dealing with global warming ranks 19th. Polls in 2009 and 2013 had similar results. I feel that the capacity of the planet to support life should not be a low priority; I focus on it because it is neglected.

The specific urban processes that might underly urban sustainability are still under conceptual development. The real purpose of the report is to review that work. It looks at 4 sustainability rating systems that have been developed: the American Green City Index (EIU, 2011), the Urban Sustainability Indicators (Mega and Pedersen, 1998), The Sustainable Cities Index (Arcadis, 2015), the Sustainability Urban Development Indicators (Lynch et al., 2011). In addition, the report develops its own rating metrics by looking at 9 North American urban centers, plus the United States itself, to see what systems are being monitored, and which specific indicators are being used to monitor those systems. The 9 cities are Cedar Rapids, Chattanooga, Flint, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver.

Table 1. Environmental Indicators. Source: National Academies.

Table 1. Environmental Indicators. Source: National Academies.

Table 1 at right shows the results of the review. I have adapted the table to focus only on the environmental indicators, and to eliminate the scholarly references.

If you are interested in this conceptual work, then the report would make important reading. I suspect than many readers of this blog, however, want to know what the results are: which cities rate as sustainable, and which don’t. As I said, the metrics are still under conceptual development, and I could find only one rating system that has actually been applied to cities in the United States: the US and Canada Green City Index. They rate 27 North American cities using their system. They provide separate ratings on policies related to CO2 emissions, energy mix and consumption, land use, green buildings, green transportation, water consumption and purity, waste management, air quality, and environmental governance. They also combine it all into an overall index.

Figure 3. Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

Figure 3. Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

Figure 3 shows the results for the overall index. St. Louis is the only urban area in Missouri represented, and it comes in 26th out of 27; only Detroit ranks lower.

The index values have no specific meaning other than as a score on this particular index. Thus, absolute values probably have no interpretable meaning. They probably do have relative meaning, however, in comparison to each other. What disturbs me is not that St. Louis is low on the scale, anybody familiar with the city would suspect as much, but with how far behind the city is.

In considering this chart, please be aware that the index was not constructed by an academic or governmental body. It was developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (a part of The Economist Media Group) in cooperation with Siemans AG (a German corporation). This does not mean its conclusions are invalid, but it may mean that their work hasn’t undergone the review processes that academic and governmental publications do.


Arcadis. 2015. Sustainable Cities Index 2015: Balancing the Economic, Social and Environmental Needs of the World’s Leading Cities. Available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/arcadis-whitepaper/arcadis-sustainable-cities-index-report.pdf.
Economist Intelligence Unit. 2010. US and Canada Green City Index. Munich, Germany: Siemens AG. Downloaded 2/26/17 from http://www.siemens.com/greencityindex.

Lynch, A. J., S. Andreason, T. Eisenman, J. Robinson, K. Steif, and E. L. Birch. 2011. Sustainable Urban Development Indicators for the United States. Report to the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation, Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Philadelphia: Penn Institute for Urban Research. Online. Available at http://penniur.upenn.edu/ uploads/media/sustainable-urban-development-indicators-for-the-united-states.pdf.
Mega, V., and J. Pedersen. 1998. Urban sustainability indicators. Dublin, Ireland: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Online. Available at http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_files/pubdocs/1998/07/en/1/ef9807en. pdf.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Pathways to Urban Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23551. Downloaded 1/12/2017 from http://www.nap.edu/23551.