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Small Missouri Earthquakes Continue to Increase

During the last decade, a huge increase in the number of earthquakes striking the Midwest has been reported, especially in Oklahoma. Despite the presence of the New Madrid Fault, historically this part of the country has not been known to produce large numbers of earthquakes. There has been an uptick in earthquakes in Arkansas, and I have been tracking the yearly number of earthquakes in Missouri.

The last time I looked, I looked at data through 2016. This post updates the data through 2018. The U.S. Geological Survey database is not categorized by state, so I have been following earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater in a rectangle that approximates Missouri. The precise boundaries are given in the Sources list.

Figure 1. Data source: United States Geological Survey.

The data are in Figure 1. It shows that the number of earthquakes has continued to increase. The chart forms a rather dramatic spike, with the average number of earthquakes in 2017-18 slightly more than 10 times the average number from 1980-2012.

The vast majority of these earthquakes are small. In 2017-18, 12 of the earthquakes were magnitude 3.0 or larger, with the largest topping out at 3.64.

The felt intensity of an earthquake depends on several factors, including the type of soil, the distance from your location to the epicenter, the type of ground movement that occurred, and the depth underground at which the earthquake happened. Still, in general, earthquakes below magnitude 2.0 are not commonly felt by people. Earthquakes above magnitude 3.0 are often felt by people, but rarely cause damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 4.0 may cause minor damage. Earthquakes above magnitude 5.0 typically cause moderate damage to vulnerable buildings. It is the earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and greater that cause severe damage. The Richter Scale is logarithmic; that means that every 1.0 increase represents a 10-fold increase in the energy released by the quake. The earthquakes that caused the tsunamis in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011 were magnitude 9.1-9.3 and 6.6, respectively.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the famous New Madrid Earthquake was actually a series of 3-5 major quakes of magnitude 7.0 or larger, and many several thousand smaller ones. Major earthquakes are also believed to have occurred in southeastern Missouri in the years 300, 900, and 1400 C.E.

Figure 2. Location of Earthquakes in a Rectangle Approximating Missouri, Magnitude 2.0 or Greater, 2017-18. Data source: United States Geological Survey.

Figure 2 is a map showing the location of the earthquakes counted above in 2017-2018. It is easy to see that they cluster along the New Madrid Fault in southeast Missouri. The second largest group extends across northern Arkansas.

I don’t know why Missouri is experiencing this increase in small earthquakes. The swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma has been attributed to the deep well injection of wastewater from fracking, but there is virtually no fracking in Missouri, and Missouri has no deep well waste injection sites. There are fracking operations in Arkansas, but they run through the center of the state from Conway west to Oklahoma. They are not particularly close to the New Madrid area.


United States Geological Survey. Search Earthquake Catalog. Data and map retrieved 2/16/2017 from http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/search. I searched for minimum magnitude 2.0, no maximum magnitude, starting date 1980-01-01 and ending date 2016-12-31. I searched for earthquakes in a rectangle defined by the following decimal degree coordinates: 40.964 on the north, 35.729 on the south, -95.999 on the west, and -89.099 on the east.

Wikipedia. April 2011 Fukushima Earthquake. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_2011_Fukushima_earthquake.

Wikipedia. Richter Magnitude Scale. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richter_magnitude_scale.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. History of Earthquakes in Missouri. Viewed online 2/26/2017 at https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/geosrv/geores/historymoeqs.htm.

Wikipedia. 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami. Viewed online 2/16/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Indian_Ocean_earthquake_and_tsunami.

More Developed Land Nationally and in Missouri

Figure 1. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Developed land is on the increase, while cropland, pastureland, and rangeland are on the decrease, according to the 2012 Natural Resources Inventory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted the inventory every 5 years since 1982, but it takes several years to put the report together, so the inventory for 2017 is not yet available.

Figure 1 graphs the surface area of the contiguous 48 states by land cover/land use in 2012. The top 3 uses were forest land, rangeland, and federal land, each of which accounted for 21% of the total. When the USA was first settled, forest land and rangeland were much more extensive, but they have been converted into cropland and developed land. In addition, we think of our country as having huge freshwater lakes, but only about 3% of the surface area is water. Freshwater is very precious and special.

Of course, federal land could also be categorized into forest land, rangeland, cropland, and the other categories, but the Natural Resources Inventory does not do so.

Figure 2. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Figure 2 shows the change in land cover/land use since 1982. Over that time, cropland decreased and developed land increased by more acres than did any other category. “CRP Land” is land placed in the Conservation Resource Program.

The Natural Resources Inventory grew out of the National Erosion Reconnaissance Survey, conducted in 1934 because of severe dust storms and erosion during the Dust Bowl. Thus, since its inception, the report has been concerned with erosion. Figure 3 shows the estimated erosion rate on cropland in 1982, and Figure 4 shows the same data for 2012. You can see that in 1982, erosion was most severe in a region centered on Iowa’s borders with Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska, but also extending along the Mississippi River into western Tennessee. In 2012, that region remained the one with the most severe erosion, but the rate had been significantly reduced. Across northern Missouri in 1982, more than 10 tons of soil eroded from each acre of cropland each year! In 2012 that had been reduced by 50% or so.

Figure 4. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Figure 3. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.










Figure 5. Data source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Figure 5 shows land use in Missouri from 1982 – 2012 in a few broad categories. The green areas of the columns represent federal land, which is not broken-out according to use. The red areas represent water. The two blue areas represent non-federal land, and they are broken into two categories: developed (light blue) and rural (dark blue). You can see that rural land represents by far the largest use of land in Missouri. In 2012, it represented 86.8% of Missouri’s surface area, while federal land, water areas, and developed land represented 4.5%, 2.0%, and 6.7%, respectively. Over the 30-year period, federal land increased slightly, water areas increased slightly, and developed areas increased by a whopping 38%, all being converted from rural land.


Figure 6. Data source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Figure 6 looks at Missouri’s non-federal rural land more closely. In 2012, more land was used for crops than for any other purpose (36% of rural land), followed by forest land (32%) and pastureland (27%). Over the 30-year period, the amount used for cropland decreased slightly, pastureland has decreased 17%, and rangeland, which was already such a small portion of the land that you can barely see it on the chart, declined 62%. Forest land and other rural land have increased. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP Land) began after 1982, peaking in 1997, and declining since then.

This report is compiled and published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and from an environmental perspective it may be a bit misleading. Figure 5 shows that developed land represents only 6.7% of all Missouri land. However, Figure 6 shows that almost 1/3 of rural land is cropland, and another 27% of it is pastureland. It is not as if these lands are undeveloped. While they may not be covered in asphalt or highly populated, they are intensively used. They may be subject to high levels of erosion, as shown in Figure 3, or they may be disturbed by tilling and the application of agricultural chemicals. Pig farms and feed lots, for instance, are located in rural areas, but they are highly developed operations, in many cases resembling factories.

Thus, the Natural Resources Inventory probably provides the most comprehensive look at land cover/land use in the USA. It does not, however, provide an in depth review of the ecological status of the land.


Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2018. Soil and Water Conservation Program. Viewed online 4/18/2018 at https://dnr.mo.gov/env/swcp.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. Summary Report: 2012 National Resources Inventory, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/nri/12summary.

Breeding Bird Survey, 2015

How are the birds doing? Ever since Rachael Carson revealed in the 1960s that pesticides were decimating bird populations, how the birds are doing has been an important question. DDT was the worst-offending pesticide, and it was soon banned, but other chemicals and other factors affect the ability of birds to survive. These days, the most important may be habitat destruction, competition from invasive species, and the effects of other chemicals, such as lead.

Many, many bird species migrate. Those that do require habitats along the way where they can rest and refuel. Break the chain of habitats in even one place, and you seriously harm the ability of the birds to survive.

Figure 1. Breeding Bird Survey Routes. Source: Sauer et al, 2017.

The largest and most important survey of bird populations is the Breeding Bird Survey, which has been conducted every year since 1966. Here’s how they conduct the survey: during peak breeding season, starting 1/2-hour before sunrise, volunteers follow a route with 50 stops, each stop at least 1/2 mile apart. The route stays the same from year-to-year. The volunteer counts all birds of that species seen or heard within a quarter mile of the stop. Figure 1 shows a map of the routes. The routes look like blue dots because of the scale of the map. You can see that coverage of the USA is quite good.

From the multiple routes in each geographical area, for each species a yearly index is constructed. These indexes represent “the mean count of birds on a typical route in the region for a year.” (USGS, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

The results are mixed, differing from species-to-species and from region-to-region. As you might expect, even though the routes have 50 stops on them, and the method used is quite rigorous, it is not the same as physically being able to count every bird. Some of the birds may not be calling when the volunteer is there, or they may be hidden in brush, etc. The survey method does not permit a calculation of the absolute number of birds in a region, and the annual index is only reliable if a sufficient number of birds are observed. Thus, the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may be only part of the picture.

Table 1. Breeding Bird Survey Trend Estimates for Bird Species Observed in Missouri. Data source: Sauer, et al. 2017.

Trend data on how the annual indices for each species have changed is available for every species and for every state and region. I shall focus only on observations in Missouri. Table 1 shows the data. The trends are reported from 1966-2015 and from 2005-2015. The trends represent the annual rate of change over the period of interest.

(Click on table for larger view.)

The table is a bit complex, so let’s unpack it. It shows all species observed in Missouri. They are listed in order of the change between 1966 and 2005, with species that declined on the left side, and species that increased on the right. Each side of the chart begins with 4 columns intended to comment on the quality of the data for a given species. They are coded “G”, for green, or good, “Y” for yellow, or caution, and “R” for red, or extreme caution. The first column comments on the credibility of the measurement. The second column comments on the size of the data sample. The third column comments on how precise the measurements are. The fourth column comments on the relative abundance of the species.

The trend statistics follow the names of the species, and they are color-coded with green and red bars, representing the size of the change. Readers of this blog know that time series are vulnerable to year-to-year variation, but the fact that these are trends computed over the entire period of measurement should minimize that effect.

Between 1966 and 2015, annual indices for 58 bird species decreased, while 79 increased. If one counts only species for which the Regional Credibility Measure was “G,” then the situation is reversed: 40 species decreased and 31 increased.

Those with declines of more than 5% were the blue-winged teal, the loggerhead shrike, the house sparrow, and the American bittern. The blue-winged teal declined at a rate of 18.1% per year, however the Regional Credibility Measure for that species is red, indicating that use and interpretation of the data for that species warrants extreme caution. The same is true for the American bittern. The Regional Credibility Measures for the loggerhead shrike and house sparrow, however, are good.

Because 1966-2015 is a 49 year period, even small annual changes can accumulate to rather significant changes across the entire period. Any decline of 1.4% per year over 49 years would result in a 50% decline over the whole period. The loggerhead shrike, for which the Regional Credibility Measure is “G,” declined at an annual rate of 6.68% per year. Over 49 years, that computes to a decline of 97%!

Among the success stories are some birds that are everybody’s favorites: bald eagle observations increased almost 40% per year, great egret observations increased almost 11%, and cedar waxwing observations increased almost 9%. With the bald eagle and great egret, however the Regional Credibility Measures are red, again indicating extreme caution in using and interpreting the data, and for the cedar waxwing it is yellow.

These findings reinforce what was stated above: the Breeding Bird Survey provides crucial data, but it may not be a complete picture.

Missouri is home to 9 federal wildlife refuges and hundreds of state conservation areas. All are devoted to providing animals and plants the habitat they need to survive. If you visit them on the wrong day, they often look empty, and you can come away wondering what the big deal is. If you visit them on the right day, however, they can be teeming. Figure 2, for instance, shows the afternoon lift-off of a flock of snow geese at Loess Bluffs NWR in northwestern Missouri. The snow geese are only there to rest and refuel for a few days each spring and fall.

Figure 2. Snow Geese Lift Off at Loess Bluffs NWR. Source: Keyserill, 2017.


Keyserill, Robert. 2017. “Afternoon Lift Off.” Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.” Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Loess_Bluffs.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr, K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link. 2017. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2015. Version 2.07.2017 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. Downloaded 3/14/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs.

Siolkowski, Dave, Jr., Keith Pardieck, and John Sauer. 2010. “On the Road Again for a Bird Survey that Counts.” Birding, 42, (4), pp. 32-40. Downloaded 3/18/2018 from https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/bbsnews/Pubs/Birding-Article.pdf.

United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Trend and Annual Index Information. Downloaded 3/19/2018 from https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/trend_info15.html.

The United States Wasted 31% of Its Food Supply in 2010

In the United States, 133 billion pounds of food were wasted in 2010.

Figure 1. Data source: Buzby, Hodan, & Human, 2014.

In the USA, 133 billion pounds of the food supply available at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten, according to a report from the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The total available food supply was 430 billion pounds, meaning that 31% of the food was lost. Retail losses represented 43 billion pounds, while consumer losses represented 90 billion pounds. The data is shown in Figure 1.

The total amount of food represents represents about 387 billion calories (Technically, kilocalories. In common speech, when we refer to “calories,” we are actually referring to “kilocalories.” In the rest of this post I’m going to follow common usage, and use “calories” to refer to “kilocalories.”) The report translates this to 1,249 calories per person per day, which is about half of a person’s daily caloric requirement.

These statistics have a humanitarian implication. There are many factors that would complicate attempts to deliver the wasted food to those who need it, but it would feed a lot of hungry people.

Figure 2. Source: Buzby, Hodan, & Hyman, 2014.

Food waste can also be thought of from an environmental perspective. Food waste constitutes about 14% of the total waste stream in America. After recycling products are separated out, it represents the largest category of waste going into our landfills: 21%. (See Figure 2) In addition, though the report doesn’t go into specifics, the growing and transport of food requires the use of energy, the spraying of pesticides and herbicides, the tapping of aquifers for irrigation, problems dealing with animal waste, and the erosion of topsoil, all of which are significant environmental problems. That almost 1/3 of the product produced with these practices is wasted should be a concern to almost everybody.

What are we throwing away so much of? In terms of total pounds of wastage, we throw away more dairy products than anything else (25.4 billion pounds), and vegetables are a close second (25.2 billion pounds). In terms of the percent of the available food supply that gets wasted, sugars and sweetners top the list (41%), followed by fish (39%).

Figure 3. Source: Buzby, Hodan, & Hyman, 2014.

Unfortunately, reducing waste is not so easy, and requires attention at all levels, including the level of the individual consumer. The EPA has published what they call a “food recovery hierarchy,” prioritizing different strategies. (Figure 3) Perhaps the basic first step involves the awareness that wasting food has a humanitarian and environmental cost.


U.S. Department of Agriculture. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day by Age, Gender, and Physical Activity Level. Viewed online 3/3/2018 at https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usda_food_patterns/EstimatedCalorieNeedsPerDayTable.pdf.

Buzby, Jean C., Hodan F. Wells, and Jeffrey Hyman. 2014. The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States, EIB-121, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2014. Downloaded 1/3/2018 from https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43833/43680_eib121.pdf.

Missouri Species of Concern 2018

Many species have dwindled to the point that their continued survival is an issue of concern. So says the most recent edition of the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist. The checklist monitors the status (in Missouri) of:

  • 18% of all vascular plants (plants with a specialized system to conduct nutrients throughout the plant, including almost all trees and flowering plants);
  • 14% of all non-vascular plants (plants without a specialized circulatory system, including mosses and algae);
  • 28% of all vertebrate animals (animals with a backbone, including fish, snakes, birds, rodents, cats, dogs, bear, and deer); and
    an unknown percentage of native invertebrate species (animals lacking a backbone, including insects, worms, and shellfish).

Species have become threatened despite the fact that, legally at least, “All native animal species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements unless a method of legal harvest, harm or take is described in the Code. All native plant species in the State of Missouri are protected as biological diversity elements only on land owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation.” (Missouri Department of Conservation 2018)

Figure 1. Data source: Missouri Department of Conservation 2018.

Threatened or endangered species in Missouri are defined as those listed as such by the Missouri Wildlife Code (3 CSR 10-4.111), or the U.S. Endangered Species Act. There are 75 listed in the checklist. They include such notable species as the Peregrine Falcon, the Greater Prairie-chicken, and the Snowy Egret.

There are many, many more species of concern that are not listed in those laws, however. The report lists 1,156 in total. Figure 1 shows the number of species by rank. (Some species carry more than one rank, thus, the total number of rankings is larger than the total number of species on the list.) Some of these species may exist in other parts of the country or the world, but some are (were) unique to Missouri.


Figure 2. Data source: Missouri Department of Conservation 2018.

Plants and animals tend to group together into communities where the species each fit into a niche that contributes to the health of the whole community. Weaken one and you weaken the whole community. Because Missouri’s landscape is fractured into relatively isolated ecosystems defined by soil type, sunlight, and the presence (or absence) of water, the state is home to many unique, but small communities of this kind. Many of Missouri’s threatened species live in such communities. Eighty-five such communities have been identified by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Of them, 24 are listed as imperiled (28% of the total), and 17 more are listed as critically imperiled (20% of the total). Together, that means 41 are either imperiled or critically imperiled (48% of the total). (Figure 2).


Consolidated State Rules of Missouri. 2017. 3 CSR 10-4.111, Wildlife Code, Endangered Species. Viewed online 2/15/2018 at https://www.sos.mo.gov/adrules/csr/current/3csr/3csr.asp.

Missouri Department of Conservation. 2018. Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern. Publication # SC1077. Downloaded 2/15/2018 from https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/2018_SOCC.pdf.

Missouri Forest Resources Largely Unchanged in 2016

Forest resources in Missouri were unchanged in 2016, after more than 40 years of gradual increase, according to an estimate by the U.S. Forest Service.

The estimate comes from the Missouri Forest Inventory, which is conducted annually. Data were collected from 7,524 individual forested plots across the state. Researchers surveyed how many trees of each species were located within the plot, and measured their height and girth. Researchers then extrapolated from this data to create a estimates for the whole state.

Table 1. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

Table 1 shows the data. In the table, “forest land” means land that is at least 10% covered by trees. “Timberland” means forest land that is capable of producing more than 20 cubic feet per acre per year of industrial wood crops. Compared to 2011, in 2016 the amount of forest land in Missouri decreased by 0.9%, the number of live trees decreased by 3.8%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.1% and the net volume of live trees increased 2.9%. The area of timberland decreased 1.1%, while on timberland the number of live trees decreased 3.7%, the aboveground biomass of live trees increased 2.0%, and the net volume of live trees increased 2.7%. All of these changes were either within or just outside the margin of error. Thus, while there may be some very slight change between 2011 and 2016, it appears to have been small.

(Click on table for larger view.)

Figure 1. Area of Forest Land and Timberland in Missouri by Year. Source: Piva and Trieman 2016.

At the time of first settlement Missouri had an estimated 31 million acres of forested land. By 1947, the year of the first forest inventory, it had decreased to 15.2 million acres. As shown in Figure 1, the area of both forest land and timberland bottomed in 1972, and over the next 40 years slowly rebounded to 1947 levels.






Figure 2. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

As shown in Figure 2, the Eastern Ozarks is the most heavily forested area in the state, with the remainder of the Ozarks next most heavily forested.










Figure 3. Percent of Tree Species on Missouri Forest Land. Source: Piva et al, 2017.

As shown in Figure 3, Missouri’s forest lands are predominantly oak-hickory forests.

The extent of Missouri’s forest land, and the raw amount of forest that it supports is one factor in assessing the health of Missouri’s forests, but there are other factors as well, such as the presence of invasive nuisance species, the land’s ability to support animal and bird life, the presence of toxins, and the health of the trees on the land. I have discussed some of those issues in this blog, and those who are interested can find the relevant posts under the Land and Water menus at the top of the page.



Piva, Ronald and Thomas Treiman. 2017. Forests of Missouri, 2016. Resource Update FS-120. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-RU-120.

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.