Home » Water » Water Pollution

Category Archives: Water Pollution

Missouri Fish Advisory for 2017

Table 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 2017.

Eating fish is thought to have healthful benefits, including cognitive benefits for the young and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. However, environmental toxins limit the amount of fish you should eat. The principle of bioaccumulation, which explains why, was reviewed in the previous post.

Whether fish are safe to eat depends on the water where they were caught. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services publishes a report identifying lakes, rivers, and streams where environmental contamination requires a fish advisory. This post looks at the report for 2017.

Table 1 lists the bodies of water for which fish advisories have been issued, the species of fish affected, the sizes of fish affected, the contaminants, and the limit that should be observed (serving advice).

Looking at the table, the toxins include chlordane, lead, mercury, and PCBs. In some cases the fish are safe to eat once weekly, in other cases only once monthly, and in some cases they should not be eaten at all. Several species from rivers near Missouri’s old lead belt tend not to be safe at all. I’ve posted on the Big River previously (here).

The advisories are separated into those that apply to all consumers, and those that apply to “sensitive populations.” Please look at who is included under “sensitive populations”: children younger than 13 and women who are either pregnant, nursing, or of childbearing age. Wow, that is a huge portion of the population! For them, there is no fish caught in any body of water in the United States that is safe to consume more than once weekly. And for them, several important species of game fish caught in Missouri waters should only be consumed once monthly.

Figure 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Figure 1 shows a map of the affected bodies of water. Looking at the bodies of water affected, you can see that they cover a lot of territory: the entire lengths of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in the state, the major portion of the Big River, the Blue River, Clearwater Lake (ironic, no?), and Montrose Lake.

The contaminants of concern listed by the Missouri report include chlordane, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, and methylmercury. Chlordane was an insecticide. It was widely used as a termite control in residences, and it was used widely on crops. Starting in 1988, sales of chlordane were banned in the United States. However, chlordane persists in the environment. It adheres to soil particles in the ground and very slowly dissolves into groundwater, where it migrates to rivers and lakes. Once in the water of rivers and lakes, it bioaccumulates. That is why, even though banned in 1988, it is still a contaminant of concern in Missouri fish. Elevated levels of chlordane in the blood are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline, prostate cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. According to the Missouri report, levels of chlordane are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

PCBs are a family of chemicals that were once widely used as insulating and cooling liquids in electrical mechanisms. PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979, however they are extremely long-lived compounds, and it is estimated that 40% of all PCB ever manufactured remain in use. Toxicity varies among specific chemicals in the family. Exposure to PCBs is capable of causing a variety of health effects, including rashes, reduced immune function, poor cognitive development in children, liver damage, and increased risk of cancer. PCBs in the environment generally enter bodies of water, where they enter the bodies of aquatic species and bioaccumulate up the food chain. According to the Missouri report, levels of PCB are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

Lead is a heavy metal that was once heavily mined in Missouri. Lead mining continues, and as recently as 2014, more lead was released into the environment in Missouri than any other toxic chemical. (See here.) Lead used to be released into the environment through the inclusion of tetraethyl lead in gasoline, and through lead paint. Both of those uses have been banned in the United States. Today, lead enters the environment through mine tailings. Thus, it is of greatest concern in locations that either have or had significant lead mining activities (portions of Southeastern Missouri, for instance). Tailings containing lead were (are) dumped on the ground. From the tailings lead washes into nearby bodies of water, where it is ingested by aquatic species and then bioaccumulates. Lead is readily absorbed by living tissue. It affects almost every organ and system in the body. At high levels it can be immediately dangerous to life and health. At lower levels, symptoms include abdominal pain, weakness in fingers, wrists, and ankles, blood pressure increases, miscarriage, delayed puberty, and cognitive impairment.

Mercury enters the environment from many sources. One important source is coal. When coal is burned, it is emitted up the flue. Though the amount in any lump of coal is tiny, so much coal is burned to produce energy that tons and tons are emitted every year. The mercury falls out of the atmosphere, where it gets washed into bodies of water. There, it is converted by microbes into methylmercury, which is then ingested into aquatic species, and it bioaccumulates. In children a high level of methylmercury has been associated with language and memory deficits, reduced IQ, and learning disabilities. In adults, it has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions.

It seems to me that for all of these contaminants, the situation may be slowly improving, though it is still problematic. The persistence of these contaminants in the environment, in many cases decades after their manufacture was banned, demonstrates an important environmental principle: the environmental problems you create may not go away quickly. They are likely to remain with you for a long, long time.

Sources:

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from http://www.health.mo.gov/fishadvisory.

Wikipedia. Chlordane. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlordane.

Wikipedia. Lead. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead.

Wikipedia. Methylmercury. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylmercury.

Wikipedia. Polychlorinated biphenyl. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polychlorinated_biphenyl.

Advertisements

Environmental Toxins Limit Fish Consumption

Eating fish may be good for you, or it may poison you. (Pick one)

In the 1970s, researchers reported that native people living in Greenland (Inuits) had very low rates of heart disease compared with counterparts living in Denmark. Scientists attributed these health benefits to the consumption of fish and sea mammals containing high levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Recently, however, research has questioned the accuracy of these early studies, as more recent research shows that the rate of heart disease and heart attack among the Inuit are similar to those in non-Inuit populations. Thus, there has been some question regarding how strong the association is between reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and fish consumption. The situation reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: It ain’t what we don’t know that’s gonna hurt us, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.

Over the years, thousands of research studies have been conducted, with the result that the consumption of fish is included in most dietary guidelines. The benefits are primarily considered to be the previously mentioned reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease in adults, but also an improvement in cognitive development in infants and young children.

The current dietary guidelines in the USA have moved away from the concept of the minimum daily requirement. Instead they describe recommended patterns of healthy eating. The recommendation for seafood has not changed, however: 8 oz. of seafood per week. (Dietary Guidelines, p. 18)

It is generally recognized, however, that some fish species contain significant levels of contaminants. These contaminants include a number of really nasty poisons, including chlordane, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and methylmercury. These compounds can be toxic even in very small amounts, and they are bioaccumlative.

Bioaccumulation is an important concept in understanding environmental toxins. The basic idea is that even tiny amounts of toxin can build up in the body. Here’s how: at any given feeding, a toxin may be eaten in such tiny amounts that there is no immediate effect on the animal that consumes it. However, it is absorbed by the body, and it is not readily eliminated by natural processes. Thus, over time, the amount in the body builds up each time the animal eats a little more.

Imagine a lake. Mercury emitted by coal-burning power plants falls into the lake, where microbes convert it to methylmercury. Algae living in the lake take in some of that methylmercury. Along comes a tiny fish fry, and it eats some of that algae. Now with each mouthful of algae, the fish fry ingests a dose of methylmercury. And it starts to build up. How many mouthfuls of algae does a fish fry eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a lot. Now, along comes a medium-sized fish, and it eats the fish fry. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of methylmercury, but all the methylmercury that built up in the body of the fish fry during its lifetime. How many fish fry does a medium-sized fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the medium-sized fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats. Now, along comes a large fish, and it eats the medium-sized fish. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of mercury, but all the methylmercury built up in the body of the medium-sized fish. How many medium-sized fish does a large fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the large fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats.

Now, let’s imagine that our fish are living in a Missouri lake. Along comes a fisherman, and he catches one fish per week and eats it. That will be 52 fish per year. Now, I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but let us assume that a fish fry eats 1,000 individual alga, while a medium-sized fish eats 100 fry, and a large fish eats 100 medium-sized fish. These estimates may be wildly wrong, but the point is to illustrate the principle of bioaccumulation, and they will allow us to do so.

Using the estimates above, each fish fry will ingest the methlymercury contained in 1,000 algae; each medium-sized fish will ingest the amount contained in 100,000 algae; each large fish will ingest the amount contained in 10 million algae, and in a year, our fisherman will ingest the amount contained in 520 million algae. If he continues for 10 years, he will consume the amount contained in 5.2 billion algae.

Over time, the amount of methylmercury in our fisherman’s body will build up, perhaps eventually reaching the point where it starts to poison him.

Now, my presentation is over-simplified; in real life bioaccumulation is much more complex. Further, the numbers I chose for my progression were totally arbitrary. Nonetheless, they illustrate the basic idea of bioaccumulation. And the principle applies not only to methylmercury, but also to lead, PCBs, and dioxins.

The result is that, however good for you eating fish may be in theory, there are limits due to environmental contaminants. The next post will look at what those limits are in Missouri.

Sources:

Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System; Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, editors. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jun 17. ANNEX 1, DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FISH CONSUMPTION. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305180.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from www.health.mo.gov/fishadvisory.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.

Missouri Monitors More of Its Lakes, Less of Its Streams, than the Nation as a Whole

An acquaintance who serves as a volunteer water quality monitor dropped by to regale me with stories of the many meetings and intense lobbying that occurred over the writing of the regulations that govern water quality monitoring in Missouri. These regulations determine what becomes a classified stream or lake (see the last 5 posts), and how they determine what beneficial uses each are used for. Classified streams and lakes come under water quality protections established by the federal government. Unclassified streams come under water quality protections established by the state, which may be significantly more lax.

According to my source, the Department of Conservation does most of the actual water quality monitoring, but it is the Department of Natural Resources that is responsible for preparing the biennial 503 report and submitting it to the EPA. The state was evidently under pressure from the EPA to tighten and improve what EPA regarded as inadequate water quality monitoring. In opposition were lobbying groups representing the farmers, utilities, and other interests.

I thought it might be useful to see whether Missouri was significantly out of step with the rest of the country in terms of the amount of its surface water that is assessed for quality, and in terms of the results of the assessments.

Figure 1. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1 shows two charts. The top chart shows the percentage of classified stream miles that were assessed for quality in Missouri and in the USA as a whole in 2014. The chart shows that nationally, 31% of classified streams were assessed, while in Missouri only 9% were. Missouri is badly lagging behind on that one. The bottom chart shows the percentage of assessed stream miles that were assessed as impaired vs. unimpaired. Missouri’s data may be less accurate because so few miles are assessed, but of those that are assessed, results roughly parallel national results. In both cases, somewhat more than half of assessed stream miles are impaired.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Figure 2. Data Source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2. Data Source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2 shows similar data for lake acres. Here, Missouri assessed a significantly higher percentage: 85% of lake acres vs. 44% for the USA as a whole. And only 27% of Missouri’s lake acres were impaired, whereas nationally a whopping 70% of lake acres were.

I wouldn’t run too far with this data. There is a lot of controversy over what constitutes clean water. For instance, if at a cove on a lake, the water tests clean 50 weeks of the year, but contaminated 2 weeks of the year, is it clean or impaired? A lot of dollars are on the line, and truth always becomes hard to find in such situations.

At first glance, it is heartening that Missouri assesses such a large percentage of its lakes, but then again, Truman Reservoir, Missouri’s largest lake, has 0.2% of the surface area of Lake Superior. You wouldn’t expect Minnesota to be monitoring the water quality way out in the middle of Lake Superior as intensively as you might expect Missouri to be monitoring the quality of its smaller lakes. Even Kentucky Lake and Lake Mead are 3 times Truman Reservoir’s size.

It is rather disheartening that Missouri assesses such a small percentage of its stream miles when other states seem to be able to do much better.

[Addition 6/19/16: The same acquaintance suggests to me an alternative explanation for why Missouri has surveyed a relatively high percentage of lake acres: Missouri has relatively little lake acreage to survey. All our large lakes are man-made reservoirs, and it may require less effort to survey such a small acreage of lakes. To check this out, I did some quick research on the Internet. Indeed, Missouri is below average in the total number of lake acres, coming in 32nd out of 50 states. This is unusual for such a large state as Missouri, and indeed, only about 1.4% of Missouri’s total area is water. This puts us 40th out of 50 in the fraction of our state that is surface water. Minnesota touts itself as “the land of 10,000 lakes.” Well, that is certainly not us here in Missouri. Perhaps my acquaintance is on to something. Thanks for the suggestion.]

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. National Summary of State Information. Data retrieved 5/28/16 from https://ofmpub.epa.gov/waters10/attains_nation_cy.control#STREAM/CREEK/RIVER.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

List of Largest Lakes of the United States by Area. Wikipedia. Viewed online 5/28/16 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_lakes_of_the_United_States_by_area.

Impairment in Missouri’s Streams, 2014

This is the 4th in a series of posts on the water quality of Missouri’s surface waters. The first post discussed terms and introductory material about the state’s surface waters. The second and third posts focused on trends in the assessed water quality of the state’s classified streams and lakes. This post focuses on stream impairment in 2014, and its causes (I’m using the word “impaired” for what the Missouri Department of Natural Resources calls “non-support”).

Impairment might mean that the water is unsafe, or it might not. For instance, too much bacteria or lead in the water would make the water unsafe. On the other hand, too much weedy material in the water can make water unpleasant to swim in, or it can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, but it doesn’t necessarily make either unsafe.

Table 1. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Table 1. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Missouri’s streams were used for a variety of purposes. Impaired streams may not have been impaired for all uses, but for only some. Table 1, shows the number of classified stream miles used for each use category, the number of miles assessed, and the number of miles impaired. In the table, Whole Body Contact Rec. – A (WBC-A) indicates designated or known swimming areas, Whole Body Contact Rec. – B (WBC-B) indicates areas other areas where recreational whole body contact with the water occurs.

The the number of stream miles used varied from purpose to purpose. The most widespread uses were Aquatic Life & Fish Consumption, Livestock Watering, and WBC-B. Relatively few miles were used for Drinking Water Supply or Industrial. Interestingly, for some uses, only a very small fraction of miles were assessed. For instance, only 11% of the stream miles used for Livestock and Wildlife Watering were assessed, and a tiny 6% of the miles used for Industrial purposes.

Figure 1. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1 shows the data in the last two columns: the percentage total classified stream miles that were assessed as impaired for each use, and the percentage of assessed stream miles that were assessed as impaired for each use. The blue columns show the percentage of total classified miles, the red column shows the percentage of assessed miles.

No stream miles used for Livestock and Wildlife Watering, Drinking Water Supply, and Industrial were assessed as impaired for those purposes. On the other hand, 85% of assessed stream miles used for WBC-B were impaired for that purpose, 39% of assessed stream miles used for WGC-A were impaired for that purpose, and 35% of of assessed stream miles used for Aquatic Life & Fish Consumption were impaired for that purpose.

Table 2. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Table 2. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Table 2 shows the problem causing of the impairments. There were 22 of them, but the first thing to note is that the list sums to only 5,351 miles. Even if one assumes that there was no overlap between categories, which seems highly unlikely, the list only accounts for only 51% of the total assessed stream miles, meaning that the cause of the other 49% is undocumented. Some of the problems, like bacteria, mercury, lead, zinc, and cadmium, can directly impact human and animal health. Others, like low dissolved oxygen, and temperature, affect the ability of the water to support life.

The bacteria referenced (fecal coliform and E. coli) come from animal waste. Sometimes the contamination comes from livestock, but often it comes from human waste. Waste treatment facilities, be they sewage treatment districts or individual septic tanks, discharge improperly treated waste into streams. Stream eventually cleanse themselves if the bacterial load is not too large, but the water is contaminated for miles downstream.

Table 3. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Table 3. Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Table 3 shows the source of the problems causing the impairments. Again, the first thing to notice is that the list sums to only 5,344 miles. As above, even if one assumes that there was no overlap between categories, the list accounts for only 51% of total assessed stream miles, and the source of the remaining 49% is undocumented. Beyond that, the leading two categories in the list are Not Specified, Nonpoint, and Not Specified, Source Unknown.

Atmospheric Deposition was the leading known source of stream impairment. Readers of this blog encountered atmospheric deposition in the post on Heavy Metals in the Big River. There, I wrote about material from mine waste piles being blown by the wind into the Big River. Even more, however, most of the problem we have with mercury toxicity in fish comes from atmospheric deposition. Coal contains trace amounts of mercury. When coal is burned in power plants, the mercury is vented up the flue into the atmosphere. Over time it settles out of the atmosphere into bodies of water, or it settles onto the land, where rain washes it into bodies of water. There, it is ingested by tiny organisms, which are then eaten by fish.

There is a disconnect between Tables 2 and 3. In Table 2, the largest contaminant type was Bacteria. In Table 3, the largest known source of contamination was Atmospheric Deposition. Bacteria are not deposited into streams by the atmosphere. Municipal Point Source was the second leading known source of contamination, and that should probably be read as indicating (mostly) sewage treatment discharge. But in addition, some (much?) of the bacterial contamination probably came from untraceable individual septic systems in the Not Specified sources of contamination.

Of the 20 contamination sources that are known, the top 7 are all human caused, and only 2 are not directly related to human activities. We are the ones causing impairment to the streams, not nature.

The next post will look at similar data for Missouri’s lakes.

Sources:

Missouri Consolidated State Rules, 10 CSR 20-7.031. Viewed online 5/6/2016 at http://s1.sos.mo.gov/cmsimages/adrules/csr/current/10csr/10c20-7a.pdf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

(A word about the availability of the Missouri Water Quality Reports. As of 5/1/2016, reports for 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 are available on the Department of Natural Resources, Water Protection Website. Though the 2014 report is dated April 24, 2014, it was not available on the website until much later. The report for 2016 is not yet available, and may not be for many months.)

Water Quality Trends in Missouri Streams

This is the second post in a series looking at the water quality of Missouri’s lakes and streams. The first post, here, contained introductory material and an explanation of terms. This post looks at trends from 2002-2014 in the number of stream miles that have been assessed as supporting all intended uses vs. impaired. This data looks only at streams that are large enough to be “classified,” that is, qualify for protection under the federal Clean Water Act. The status of unclassified streams is unknown.

Figure 1. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1 shows the status of Missouri’s classified streams. In the chart, the blue shows the number of miles that were fully supported. The red shows the number of miles that were impaired. The dark gray shows the number of miles that were not assessed, but which the Department did not suspect to be impaired. The light gray shows the number of miles that were not assessed, but which the Department suspected were impaired. In two of the years covered, the Department listed how many miles were not assessed, but did not say whether they were suspected to be fully supported or impaired. Those miles are shown with a hatched pattern.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

In looking at this chart, the first thing that jumps out is that for a few years the total number of classified stream miles decreased. As it seems unlikely that the topography of Missouri changes that much, I don’t know what the decrease was about. The changes were not large, and they seem to have returned to the 2002 level in the last two reports. Perhaps they were drought related, or more likely, perhaps they related to changes in reporting criteria or methods.

The second thing that jumps out is that, within classified streams, the number of miles assessed has varied widely. In 2004, 99% of the classified stream miles were assessed. In all other years, less than 67% of stream miles were assessed, and in 2002, 2012, and 2014, less than 50%.

The third thing that jumps out is that in 6 out of 7 years, less than half of Missouri total stream miles were assessed to be unimpaired for all intended uses. In 2002, 2012, and 2014, the percent assessed safe for all intended uses was 20% or less. This may be misleading, as in those years the bulk of stream miles were not assessed. Still, it leaves a gap in our knowledge about the safety of our streams.

Fourth, if one assumes that the Department’s guesses about unassessed streams are correct, and adds the fully supported miles to the miles for which non-support is not suspected, then the percentage of streams that are unimpaired for all intended uses would range from 49% to 63%.

Figure 2. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2. Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2 shows similar information, but it includes only assessed stream miles. The blue represents stream miles supported for all uses, the red represents impaired stream miles. The chart shows that from 2006 – 2010 over 70% of all assessed stream miles were supported for all intended uses. But in 2002, 2004, 2012, and 2014, only about 50% were. Figuring out the reasons for the change is beyond this blog post, but it would be a fascinating research project for some college student. (If any body knows the answer, let us all know by posting a comment.)

I think it is hard to interpret a trend in this data – it seems to jump around from year to year. I don’t know what causes the differences. Overall, it seems that in some years half or more of Missouri’s streams were impaired for one or more of their intended uses. In other years, only 30% were impaired, but even that is a very substantial fraction.

The next post in this series will look at similar data for Missouri’s lakes.

Source:

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

(A word about the availability of the Missouri Water Quality Reports. As of 5/1/2016, reports for 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 are available on the Department of Natural Resources, Water Protection Website. Though the 2014 report is dated April 24, 2014, it was not available on the website until much later. The report for 2016 is not yet available, and may not be for many months.)

Missouri Surface Water Quality – 2014

What is the overall quality of Missouri’s surface water? Is it improving over time? The following series of posts will attempt to answer those questions.

Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Data source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Missouri is home to a lot of surface water. By volume, the surface water is dominated by a few very large rivers (the Mississippi and the Missouri) and by a few large man-made reservoirs (Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Bull Shoals Lake, and Table Rock Lake are the 4 largest). By far the most stream miles and lake surface acres, however, come from small creeks, streams, lakes, and ponds. In 2014, 24,491 miles of streams and 303,014 acres of lake surface were large enough to qualify for protection under the federal Clean Water Act, and these are known as “classified” waters. Smaller streams, lakes, and ponds qualify for a lower degree of protection under state clean water laws, and they account for an estimated 234,395 stream miles and 605,979 acres of lake surface. They are known as “unclassified” waters. Thus, Missouri’s unclassified streams account for more than 9 times as many stream miles as do classified streams, and Missouri’s unclassified lakes account for about 2 times as many acres as do classified lakes. Table 1 summarizes Missouri’s surface waters by type.

Classified streams and lakes are the largest bodies of water in the state, and they receive priority in Missouri’s efforts to protect water quality. They are governed by the federal Clean Water Act. Every 2 years, to comply with this act, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources assesses and reports the water quality in these classified water bodies. The most recent report is for the year 2014.

Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Source: Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

People use surface water for all kinds of purposes. Table 2 shows the number of stream miles and lake acres classified for each use (more than one use may apply to a body of water).

Often, water is used for one or more of these uses, but not all of them. Water that is of sufficient quality to be used for all of its intended purposes is said to be in full support of assessed uses. Water that is not of sufficient quality for one or more of its intended uses is said to be impaired.

The following post will review trends in the overall quality of Missouri’s surface waters from 2002-2014: the number of stream miles and lake acres that are supported for all intended uses, vs. those that are impaired. After that, I will look at the problems that impair some Missouri waters, and I will finish by providing a map of Missouri’s impaired waters.

Source:

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

(A word about the availability of the Missouri Water Quality Reports. As of 5/1/2016, reports for 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 are available on the Department of Natural Resources, Water Protection Website. Though the 2014 report is dated April 24, 2014, it was not available on the website until much later. The report for 2016 is not yet available, and may not be for many months.)

Heavy Metals in the Big River

The Big River is a tributary of the Meramec River . Running 145 miles, it drains an area of 955 square miles in east-central Missouri, roughly 14% of the state. Its course runs through Missouri’s Old Lead Belt, a region in and around St. Francis County. For more than a century, Missouri was the leading lead producer in the world, and more than 8.5 million tons of lead were produced from the Old Lead Belt before production tailed off in the 1950s and 1960s.

Figure 1. Source: Barr 2015.

Figure 1. Source: Barr 2015.

Though mining activities have ended in the Big River Basin, the area is still affected. Six large piles of mine waste remain on the land surface. Together they consist of some 2,800 acres. Figure 1 shows the drainage area of the Big River and the Old Lead Belt mining district. The black dots represent towns, while the red dots show the locations of the six piles of mine waste.

Historically, wind blew dust from these piles into the air, and precipitation washed it into streams, both of which collected into the Big River, which flows near the piles. Because it was (and is) impossible to extract all of the heavy metals from these mine wastes, the dust blown into the river contained heavy metals that posed a threat to human and animal health.

Between 2008 and 2012, the EPA attempted to reclaim the piles by capping them to prevent further erosion. In 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a study of heavy metals in the Big River to assess the results of the capping operation. They studied 4 heavy metals known to have significant toxic effects on humans and animals: barium, cadmium, lead, and zinc. These 4 metals can get into river water in two ways. They can dissolve into the water, like sugar dissolves into your tea. Or, particles containing the metals can get washed into the river. Larger particles (sand-sized and larger) get moved into the river during heavy precipitation, but once the current calms, they sink to the bottom. There, they either tumble downstream along the bottom, or they rest until the next stormflow picks them up again. Fine particles (silt-sized or smaller) eventually settle to the bottom, also. However, they are kept suspended in the water by the current for a longer period of time. Thus, they can travel downstream farther, and they also have a greater chance of coming into contact with humans and animals.

The USGS studied the 4 metals at two locations between October 2011 and September 2013. The upstream location was at Gauge 07017610, just north of Bonne Terre. The downstream location was Gauge 07018500, at Byrnesville, about 68 miles from the upstream location, a few miles above the Big River’s confluence with the Meramec River. The locations are shown as black triangles on Figure 1.

The study developed a lot of information about the Big River at these two locations. I will focus on only a few of the major conclusions.

  1. Some heavy metals, but very little, were getting into the Big River by getting dissolved in the water. Most of the heavy metals in the river were in suspended sediments.
  2. The concentration of suspended sediments in the Big River was much higher after precipitation, much lower during dry periods. (This is hardly surprising. Anybody who knows rivers knows that precipitation causes erosion, which muddies the water. The water then clears gradually during dry weather as the suspended sediments settle to the bottom.)
  3. Figure 2. Source: Barr 2015.

    Figure 2. Source: Barr 2015.

    During stormflow events, the concentration of cadmium, lead, and zinc were all significantly higher than the Toxic Effect Threshold, the concentration at which significant toxic effects are expected to occur. Figure 2 shows the results for each metal. Blue columns represent the amount of metal present in small sediments, green columns the amount in larger sediments. The yellow dotted line represents the level below which effects are not expected. The orange dotted line represents the level above which effects become more common. The red dotted line represents the level above which toxic effects are expected.

  4. Concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc were all higher at the upstream location than the downstream location, suggesting that the amount of these metals in the streambed decreased from upstream to downstream. One possible reason would be that their source lay upstream, possibly in the Old Lead Belt.
  5. No Toxic Effect Threshold was reported for barium. Barium was present in all stormflow events. It was significantly higher at the downstream location than the upstream, suggesting that a significant source of barium enters the Big River between the two locations. Two possibilities would be Mineral Fork Creek and Mill Creek, which flow through a barite (barium sulfate) mining district in Washington County.
  6. Fine particles accounted for the larger fraction of the heavy metal load, suggesting that the metals may be slow to clear from the water after precipitation.
  7. Lead and zinc concentrations at the upstream site were lower than those found in a study at Desloge in the early 1990s. Barium and cadmium concentrations at the upstream site were similar to those from the Desloge study. Care needs to be used in considering these comparisons. The locations were different, and the hydrological conditions were different. Both probably affected results.
  8. The amount of metal carried in the river water was not trivial. Modeling suggested that during the sampled events of 2013, the river carried 69.6 tons of barium, 0.34 tons of cadmium, 68.7 tons of lead, and 32.3 tons of zinc.
  9. Capping the mine waste piles did not eliminate the metals from the Big River. One reason may be that metals continue to leach from the piles, despite capping. Another might be that they originate from sources other than the piles. And a third may be that the metal sediments may already be deposited in the streambed. They rest there until storms cause the river to rise and the current to increase, at which point they get picked up and carried by the water.

In considering this study, it is important not to imagine it to be an evaluation of the general water quality of the Big River. The findings reviewed above concern heavy metals carried by the water during stormwater events. There were only a few of these in each year studied. The Missouri Department of Conservation seems to be of two minds about the overall water quality of the Big River: the Department’s website declares the river to “generally have good water quality.” At the same time, however, the Department “classifies the lower 93 miles of Big River as not suitable for aquatic life protection and fishing or livestock and wildlife watering. (Missouri Department of Conservation 2013). This 93-mile stretch would include the entire area in this study, and in fact, the entire area below the Old Lead Belt.

The results of this study seem to indicate that, whatever the quality of the water may be during dry periods, during periods of stormflow, it carries relatively high concentrations of these four heavy metals. The concentrations for all 3 that have established Toxic Effect Thresholds are well above the level at which effects are expected to occur. Capping operations may have decreased the load of the 4 metals carried by the river, but the observed decrease could have come from other factors not related to the capping.

Sources:

Barr, M. 2015. Surface-Water Quality and Suspended-Sediment Quantity and Quality Within the Big River Basin, Southeastern Missouiri, 2011-13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2015-5171, http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20155171.

Menau, Kevin. 1997. Big River: Inventory and Assessment for Big River Watershed. Missouri Department of Conservation. http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/greener-communities/missouri-watershed-inventory-and-assessment/big-river.

Missouri Department of Conservation. 2013. Water Quality, Big River. Accessed online 4/26/2016 at http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/greener-communities/missouri-watershed-inventory-and-assessment/big-river/water-qualit.

Groundwater Contaminants Increase

Groundwater contaminants are on the increase in many locations across the country, including Missouri, according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program monitors water quality in well networks across the country. The report looked at chloride, dissolved solids, and nitrate concentrations in water samples from 1,235 wells in 56 well networks. Concentrations of these three compounds are indicators of overall water quality and the potability of drinking water. Because they were interested in changes over time, the report compared concentrations from the decade before the Millennium (1988-2000 actually) and the decade after the Millennium (2000-2010).

Chloride is a constituent of salt. It is of concern because too much chloride in drinking water gives it a salty taste, and because it is a health risk. Dissolved solids are of concern because they also give drinking water a bad taste, they make the water “hard,” and they cause mineral deposits and staining. Nitrates are of concern because elevated levels in drinking water cause health problems.

All three compounds can get into groundwater from natural sources. However, contamination can also be related to human sources. For instance, chloride can seep into groundwater from deicing compounds applied to roads or from salts in septic systems. Primary human sources of dissolved solids include agricultural runoff, leaching of soil contaminates, and industrial/sewage plants. Nitrates are the most frequent human-caused groundwater contaminant, deriving from fertilizers used in farming and landscaping.

Whatever their source, to protect our drinking water, it is important to keep our groundwater as free of contaminants as possible.

Taking all three compounds together, 66% of the well networks tested showed a statistically significant increase in at least 1 of the compounds. Each of the compounds is discussed below.

Chloride

Chloride

Figure 1. Source: Lindsay and Rupert, 2012.

Figure 1 shows the results for chloride. Each well network is located with a label: “lusag,” “lusurb,” or “sus,” depending on the type of well network (the different types of well networks are unimportant for the purposes of this blog post). Well networks with a green arrow showed a decrease in chloride concentration. Networks with a red arrow showed an increase. Networks with a black dot showed no statistically significant change. The size of the arrow represents the size of the change. Colored regions represent the type of aquifer from which the groundwater came.

(For larger view, click on figure.)

The lone tested well network in Missouri showed an increase in chloride concentrations, but not large enough to be statistically significant. Nationally, 24 out of 56 well networks had a statistically significant increase. Only two had statistically significant decreases.

.

Dissolved Solids

Dissolved Solids

Figure 2. Source: Lindsay and Rupert, 2012.

Figure 2 shows the results for dissolved solids. The well networks are labeled as in Figure 1, except in this map, yellow highlighting around the well network indicates networks where the level of dissolved solids was greater than 500 mg/L in the second sampling. Five hundred mg/L is the Secondary Maximum Concentration Level (SMCL) for drinking water, meaning that drinking water from these locations requires treatment to reduce the level of dissolved solids.

The network tested in Missouri experienced a statistically significant 24 mg/L increase in dissolved solids. The report does not give the absolute value of dissolved solids, but the absence of yellow highlighting indicates that the concentration was not greater than 500 mg/L. Nationwide, 22 out of 54 well networks tested experienced a statistically significant increase in dissolved solids. Only 1 had a statistically significant decrease.

.

Nitrate

Nitrate

Figure 3. Source: Lindsay and Rupert, 2012.

Figure 3 shows the results for nitrates. The well networks are labeled as in Figure 2, with yellow highlighting around well networks indicating networks where, in the second sampling, the concentration of nitrate exceeded 10 mg/L, the Maximum Concentration Level for drinking water.

The network tested in Missouri showed a small increase that was not statistically significant. Nationally, 13 out of 56 well networks tested experienced a statistically significant increase, while 5 had a statistically significant decrease.

The data in this report are not meant to identify specific sources of groundwater contamination, but rather to indicate regional trends over time. The report is clear: few networks experienced decreases in the contaminants, and 2 out of 3 experienced a statistically significant increase in at least one of them.

Sources:

Lindsay, Bruce, and Michael Rupert. 2012. Methods for Evaluating Temporal Groundwater Quality Data and Results of Decadal-Scale Changes in Chloride, Dissolved Solids, and Nitrate Concentrations in Groundwater in the United States, 1988-2010. United States Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5049, http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2012/5049.

Toxic Chemical Waste 2013

This post begins a series to update information on toxic chemical releases in Missouri and nationwide. The most recent data is through 2013.

Many industrial processes require the use of toxic substances. These substances must be properly handled to prevent harm to people, land, and water. During the 1970s and early 1980s concerns grew about how toxic substances were being handled. For instance, tons of toxic waste were discovered dumped in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls. Oil containing dioxin was sprayed on the streets of Times Beach, Missouri, turning it into a ghost town; people can’t live there to this day. In 1984, a malfunction at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India released a cloud of poisonous gas that killed more than 3,000 people overnight, and 15,000 – 20,000 eventually (5-7 times as many as were killed in the 9/11 attacks). Shortly thereafter, a serious release of toxic gas occurred in Institute, West Virginia.

Cement Creek, Colorado, location of a toxic release in August 2015. Photo by John May.

Cement Creek, Colorado, location of a toxic release in August 2015. The natural color of the rocks is grey. Photo by John May.

These concerns are hardly a thing of the past, however; just this summer, an accident at a mine in Colorado released millions of gallons of water contaminated with toxic heavy metals into Cement Creek (photo at right). Cement Creek flows into the Animas River, the only water source for several cities in Colorado and New Mexico.

Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act in 1986, and the Pollution Prevention Act in 1990. These laws require facilities to report releases, transfers, and waste management activities of toxic materials.

The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program of the EPA gathers this information and makes it available to the public on their website. In addition, they publish an annual report covering the whole country, plus fact sheets for each of the 50 states. The TRI data does not cover all toxic materials and all facilities, but it does cover an important set of them.

After being used, toxic substances can be managed or released into the environment. In decreasing order of preference, managing them can mean improving industrial processes to use less toxic material to start with, recycling them, burning them to generate electricity, or treating them to make them less toxic. Where toxic materials are not managed, they can be injected into wells, stored, landfilled, emitted into the air, discharged into surface water, or spread over the land. They can be handled either on-site or off-site. Determining whether any of these activities represent a potential hazard to people, land, or water is complex. One cannot simply assume, for instance, that on-site means safe. On the other hand, one cannot assume that emission or discharge of the substance means that there is toxic exposure. The statistics in the TRI are only a starting point, and many factors must be taken into consideration when analyzing TRI data.

Number of Toxic Release Inventory Sites in Missouri, by County. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Number of Toxic Release Inventory Sites in Missouri, by County. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

In 2013, 521 facilities in Missouri were covered by the Toxic Release Inventory, and 21,707 nationwide. On the map at right, each green circle represents a county in Missouri, with the number of TRI sites inside the circle. On the map at the TRI website, if you click on a green circle, the name of the county will pop up with some additional information. Unfortunately, the TRI website does not seem to have this map available for download in a form that labels the counties. The three counties with the most sites are Jackson County (45), Green County (27), and Franklin County (24). Having the most TRI sites does not necessarily mean the most toxic releases. One reason is that by far the most toxic waste is managed.

.

.

 

Missouri data in the blue columns should be read on the left axis. U.S. data in the red line should be read on the right axis. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

Missouri data in the blue columns should be read on the left axis. U.S. data in the red line should be read on the right axis. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency 2015b.

.

The chart at right shows the data for Missouri and for the United States. About 84% of Missouri toxics are managed, only 16% are released. For the United States as a whole, a slightly higher percentage is managed, but really, the percentages are similar. Even though only 16% of toxic materials are released in Missouri, that still amounts to 72 million lb. In the following posts I’ll look into the releases in more detail.

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015a. Toxic Release Inventory: TRI National Analysis 2013.

Environmental Protection Agency. 2015b. 2013 TRI Factsheet: State – Missouri. This is a webpage with data released in March, 2015. http://iaspub.epa.gov/triexplorer/tri_factsheet.factsheet_forstate?pZip=&pCity=&pCounty=&pState=MO&pYear=2013&pDataSet=TRIQ2&pParent=NAT&pPrint=1.

Pesticides Seeping Into Urban Streams

Pesticide Stream Monitoring MapPesticides are seeping into an increased number of urban streams, according to a scientific report. The report looks at pesticide levels at USGS National Water-Quality Assessment sites. The sites are shown on the map at right. Some are urban, some are rural, and some are at mixed urban/rural sites.

(For larger view, click on map.)

.

.

.

 

Source: Stone, Wesley, Robert Gilliom and Karen Ryberg, 2014.

Source: Stone, Wesley, Robert Gilliom and Karen Ryberg, 2014.

The report focuses on pesticide levels during the decade from 2002-2011, and compares them to levels during the decade from 1992-2001. The report focuses on streams where pesticides were present at least 95% of the year. The first chart at right shows the percentage of streams in which at least one pesticide exceeded maximum aquatic-life benchmark. An aquatic-life benchmark is the level above which the pesticide is believed to be toxic for aquatic life.

From 2002-2011, pesticides exceeded aquatic benchmarks in 61% of agricultural streams, a decrease of 8%. They exceeded aquatic benchmarks in 90% of urban streams, an increase of 37%. And they exceeded aquatic benchmarks in 46% of mixed use streams, an increase of 1%.

In considering this information, it is important to understand that not all pesticides were included. Thus, results represent a minimum, and actual levels of contamination are almost certainly higher.

The stunning result here is the increase in the percentage of contaminated urban streams. The report states that the increase is primarily due to the use of fipronil and dichlorvos. Fipronil is an insecticide that did not come into common use until the late 1990s, so it has spread into streams relatively quickly. It is highly effective because it is slow acting. Thus, it is carried back to roach and ant nests, affecting the entire nest, not just a single individual. However, it has been found to be toxic to aquatic life, and the compounds into which it degrades in the environment may be even more toxic.

Dichlorvos is a popular insecticide in commercial use since the 1960s. The EPA lists it as a probable carcinogen and has restricted its used, but not banned it.

The report is national in scope, and unfortunately does not break out data for Missouri.

Sources:

Stone, Wesley, Robert Gilliom, and Karen Ryberg. 2014. Pesticides in U.S. Streams and Rivers: Occurrence and Trends During 1992-2011. Environmental Science & Technology, 48,(19), 11,025-11,030. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es5025367.

Weston, D.P. and M.J. Lydy. 2014. “Toxicity of the Insecticide Fipronil and its Degradates to Benchic Macroinvertebrates of Urban Streams.” Abstract. Environmental Science and Technology. 48,(2); 1290-97.

EPA. “Dichlorvose.” Air Toxics Web Site. http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/dichlorv.html.