Good Days Are Better in Bryce Canyon, and Bad Days Are, Too

Figure 1. Air Pollution Affects Visibility at Bryce Canyon National Park. Source: National Park Service, 2017.

I began my last post with photographs taken in Bryce Canyon National Park on three days ranging from clear to hazy, shown again at right. Because it is one of the most remote locations in the continental USA, it is a good place to observe background air pollution.

(Click on photo for larger view.)

The haze in Bryce Canyon is caused by pollutants that have dispersed widely throughout the atmosphere. The previous post reviewed data on two pollutants that contribute the most to acid rain: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Bryce Canyon, however, is most impacted by particulates, tiny particles that float freely in the air. They are too small to be seen individually with the naked eye, but collectively they cause haze. They also get into your lungs when you breathe, where they cause lung disease and other problems. The smallest ones (PM2.5) get most deeply into your lungs and are the greatest health hazard. How small are they? They are 2.5 microns or less in diameter, while the average human hair is 50-70 microns in diameter.

Figure 2. Source: IMPROVE Aerosol RHR (New Equation) Dataset.

I downloaded PM2.5 data from the Bryce Canyon IMPROVE Site. For each year, I selected the 10 highest readings and I averaged them. Then I selected the 10 lowest readings and I averaged them. The results are shown in the graph at right. The blue line represents the high readings, the red line the low readings.

Since 1983 the level of particulates on good days has trended slightly down.

In 1983 the bad days had roughly 5 times as much particulate matter in the air as the good days. The level of particulates on bad days trended up and peaked in 2009, about 20 years after data collection started. By then, the level had almost doubled, and the level of particulate matter on bad days was approximately 20 times the level on low days. Since then, the PM2.5 level has declined, and is now slightly lower than the level at which it started.

I don’t know what accounts for the reversal. My first guess would be the retirement of one or more coal-burning power plants, but searching the web does not seem to indicate it. The Navajo Generating Station, the largest in the West and the closest to Bryce Canyon, has been scheduled for retirement, but it has not occurred yet. It has been required to upgrade its pollution control equipment over the years, and perhaps that plays a role. It is also possible, however, that pollution from as far away as Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Southern California may have been involved. I just don’t know. If somebody out there does, please leave a comment and let us all know.

It was an issue of concern that the PM2.5 level on bad days continued to trend upward for so many years, and, whatever the cause, it is a relief to see that it has declined significantly. Hopefully it will decline even further from here.


IMPROVE Aerosol RHR (New Equation) Dataset, Database Query Wizard, Federal Land Manager Database, Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE).

Source: Federal Land Manager Environmental Database. Database Query Wizard. Data downloaded 12/8/2017 from

Background Air Quality 2017

Several times this blog has reported on air pollution, especially focusing on the Air Quality Index published by the EPA. In general, air quality has improved significantly. (The most recent series starts here.) The Air Quality Index monitoring program in Missouri focuses on large metropolitan areas or potentially large sources of pollution. Monitoring sites are often located next to pollution sources such as busy highways, industrial areas, or smelters. The sites monitor pollution where it is most likely to be most intense, but they don’t tell us much about the background level of pollution that has dispersed into the atmosphere.

Air Pollution Affects Visibility at Bryce Canyon National Park. Source: National Park Service, 2017.

The photos at right show Bryce Canyon National Park on three days ranging from clear to hazy. Bryce Canyon is dry, so the haze is not caused by humidity, it is air pollution. But Bryce Canyon is one of the remotest locations in the continental United States. It is close to no cities and no major sources of air pollution. The haze is caused by pollution that has dispersed widely into the atmosphere.

Spurred by the problem of acid rain, in 1990 the Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management established a network of rural monitoring sites far from cities and significant sources of pollution, called the Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET). These cites monitor the degree to which pollutants have dispersed into the ambient air. CASTNET has grown into a national network of 95 monitoring sites. CASTNET focuses on only a few pollutants most relevant for acid rain: sulfur dioxide and sulfates, nitric acid and nitrates, and ozone. (Clean Air Status and Trends Network 2017a)

No CASTNET monitoring sites are located in Missouri. Sites are located in Clark County Arkansas, Champaign, DuPage, Jo Daviess, and Madison Counties in Illinois, Brown and Riley Counties in Kansas, and Adair County in Oklahoma. (Clean Air Status and Trends Network 2017b)

The program to reduce the air pollution that causes acid rain has been one of the most successful environmental programs in our nation’s history. Two of the principal causes of acid rain are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. When these gases are emitted by power plants and vehicles, they mix with water vapor already present in the air to form sulfuric acid and nitric acid. Even in this diluted form, these powerful acids fall with the rain, killing plants and dissolving metal, stonework, and concrete. Forests are affected, of course, but in addition, billions of dollars of damage has been done to buildings, bridges and roads.

Figures 1-4 map the average background concentration of sulfur dioxide over 4 periods: 1989-1991, 1999-2001, 2009-2011, and 2011-2014. Figures 5-8 map the average background concentration of nitric acid over the same 4 periods. (Be sure to notice that there is a decade between the first three maps in each series, but fewer years between the final two.)

Suflfur Dioxide Maps

Figure 1. Source: CASTNET 2017a.

Figure 2. Source: CASTNET 2017a.









Figure 3. Source: CASTNET 2017a.

Figure 4. Source: CASTNET 2017a.











Nitric Acid Maps

Figure 5. Source: CASTNET 2017a.

Figure 6. Source: CASTNET 2017a.









Figure 7. Source: CASTNET 2017a.

Figure 8. Source: CASTNET 2017a.











First, notice that the white space on the maps disappears over time. The CASTNET system did not cover the whole country at first, and this represents the development of the system.

Second, notice that in 1989-1991, the area of high pollution concentration extended from roughly Missouri to the eastern and northeastern portions of the country. The prevailing wind blows west-to-east, blowing pollution from the Midwest to the East.

Third, notice that over time the areas of red and orange have disappeared, and the area of yellow has been much reduced. The background atmospheric concentration of these two pollutants is much less than it was in 1989.

The background level of sulfur dioxide has improved significantly in Missouri and across the entire eastern portion of the country. Across the West, it does not appear to have been very high when measurements started. On the other hand, across the West the high background concentration of nitric acid appears to have occurred primarily in Southern California. It has improved. So has the background concentration of nitric acid across Missouri and the entire eastern portion of the country.


Clean Air Status and Trends Network. 2017a. Ambient Air Concentrations. Downloaded 12/1/2017 from

Clean Air Status and Trends Network. 2017b. Clean Air Status and Trends Network (CASTNET): Program Overview.

Clean Air Status and Trends Network. 2017c. Site Information, Clean Air Status and Trends Network, EPA,

National Park Service. 2017. Air Pollution Impacts, Bryce Canyon National Park. Downloaded 12/2/2017 from

Happy Holidays

I’m going on break until January 4. There will be data on background air pollution and on average world temperatures to look at when I resume posting. In the mean time:


It has been a dark year for America and for the world.
Remember that in the midst
of even the blackest night
the sun creeps toward the horizon
bringing light and hope
with the new day.
So in December
just as the coldest weather sets in
the seasons change
and the sun begins to move
towards spring
when it will bring
warmth and new life
to a grateful world.
May your holidays be warm
and full of good cheer
(Photo by John May)

Worldwide Carbon Dioxide Emissions Holding Constant

A recent article in the New York Times by Eduardo Porter (here) points out that if one considers only carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from the combustion of fuels, then worldwide emissions have been flat for 3 years in a row.

Figure 1. Source: International Energy Agency, 2017b.

The finding comes from a news release issued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Figure 1 shows the data. Between 1980 and 2014, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion grew from 17.7 billion metric tons to 32.3 billion metric tons. However, in 2015 they stayed at 32.3 billion metric tons, and in 2016 emissions were 32.1 billion metric tons. (IEA 2017a, 2017b)

Since 2005, CO2 emissions from fuel combustion have declined in the OECD from 12.8 billion metric tons to 11.7 billion metric tons, a decline of 8.6%. In the United States, emissions declined from 6.71 billion metric tons to 5.00 metric tons (a decline of 25%). That’s good work, however it needs to be put in context. Compared to 1990, OECD emissions in 2016 were 6.4% higher, and USA emissions were 4.1% higher. (IEA 2017a)

I don’t have breakouts by country for 2016, but in 2015 the world’s largest emitter of CO2 from fuel combustion was the People’s Republic of China (mainland China), at 7.28 billion metric tons. Even China is reducing its emissions, however, by 1% in both 2015 and 2016. (IEA 2017a)

Emissions from fuel combustion may be the best estimate of worldwide emissions available. They constitute the largest percentage of emissions, and it is virtually impossible to inventory how much methane is being released by every bog or permafrost around the world, or how much nitrogen oxide from farm chemicals, etc.

Figure 2. Source: Earth Systems Research Laboratory, 2017.

In August I posted that the American Meteorological Society reported that in 2015 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere averaged above 400 ppm for the first time ever. It was my opinion that this was terrible news: 400 ppm was something akin to a threshold we needed not to cross in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We crossed it decades before anybody thought we would. Further, the concentration of greenhouse gases was continuing to increase, and the rate of increase seemed, if anything, to be growing over time. Figure 2 repeats the chart showing the trend over time.

How can one reconcile that post with the new findings? Imagine you are on the Titanic, and an hour ago the ship struck an iceberg. The ship’s crew happily reports that the amount of water getting into the ship is no longer increasing minute-by-minute. Well, that’s nice to hear, but water is still pouring into the ship, and unless you can stop the water getting in, the ship will still sink. The CO2 situation is similar, but in reverse. The rate at which the world is putting CO2 into the atmosphere may not be going up, but we are still putting billions of tons of it into the atmosphere every year. It is more than enough to cause climate change. We don’t need emissions to flatten, we need them to decrease to a fraction of what they are today.

So, it is good news that worldwide emissions have not grown over the last 3 years. Perhaps it even tends to validate the efforts we’ve been making: maybe moving away from fossil fuels, especially coal, has helped stabilize emissions. But we have a long way to go before we stop this vessel of ours from sinking.

UPDATE: The Global Carbon Project released a report published 11/13/2017 (after this post was written) that projects 2017 carbon emissions from combustion of fuels will increase 2% from 2016. If their estimates prove correct, then the period of flat emissions will be over, and emissions will have resumed their upward climb. (Global Carbon Project, 2017)


Earth System Research Laboratory. 2017. Full Mauna Loa CO2 Record. Downloaded 2017-06-15 from

Global Carbon Project. 2017. Global Carbon Budget: Summary Highlights. Viewed online 11/15/2017 at

International Energy Agency. 2017a. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion: Highlights. Downloaded 11/09/2017 from

International Energy Agency. 2017b. IEA Finds CO2 Emissions Flat for Third Straight Year Even as Global Economy Grew in 2016. Downloaded 2017-11-09 from

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

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017a. Missouri E-START Map (Regulated Petroleum and Hazardous Substance Storage Tank Facilities). Downloaded 10/31/2017 from

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017b. Tank Database. Downloaded 2017-9-27 from

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017c. Underground Storage Tank Registration. Downloaded 2017-10-27 from

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

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017b.Brownfield Assessment/Environmental Site Assessment. Viewed online 11/1/2017 at

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017c. Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program. Viewed online 10/31/2017 at

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017d. Missouri E-START Map (Brownfields). Downloaded 10/31/2017 from

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2017e. What Is a Brownfield? Viewed online 10/31/2017 at

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

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2017b. Superfund – Registry. Viewed online 10/29/2017 at

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2017c. Operating Units (Superfund Division). Viewed online 11/3/2017 at

Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR). 2013. Missouri Registry Annual Report. Downloaded 2013 from

Missouri Superfund Sites

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

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

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

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

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


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

Figure 1. Source: EPA 2017a.

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

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





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

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

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


U.S. Department of Energy. Weldon Spring Interpretive Brochure. Printing date unknown. Downloaded 10/28/17 from

U.S. Department of Energy. 2017. Weldon Spring Site (photo). Downloaded 10/28/2017 from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017a. Search for Superfund Sites Where You Live.. At this webpage, each NPL site is listed, and links are provided to additional information about the site. In addition, maps of NPL sites can be created, and spreadsheets can be downloaded. Viewed online at

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2017b. Superfund Site: Weldon Spring Quarry/Plant/Pits (USDOE/ARMY), St. Charles, MO. Viewed online 2017-10-18 at

California Ablaze: Nature’s Revenge?

Fires torch hundreds of thousands of acres in California.

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

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

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

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












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

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

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













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

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

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

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

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


CALFIRE. 2017a. Incident Information: Number of Fires and Acres. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at

Cal Fire. 2017b. Statewide Fire Maps. Downloaded 2017-10-17 from

City of Santa Rosa. 2017. Emergency Information Homepage: Fire Aerial Photo Comparison. Downloaded 2017-10-17 from

Fountain, Henry. 2017. “California Winds are Fueling Fires. It May Be Getting Worse. New York Times, 10/11/2017. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at

Lincoln, Abraham. 1865. Second Inaugural Address. Viewed online 10/17/2017 at

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