BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has a plan to clean up waste from a century of lead mining in southeast Missouri, but tourism businesses and environmentalists have concerns about it for differing reasons.
The Old Lead Belt is centered in St. Francois County, where lead- and zinc-mining operations existed from 1864 to 1972.
Waste known as tailings was left behind and littered the landscape and waterways such as the Big River and Flat River.
It’s unclear when the EPA will finalize a cleanup proposal, but St. Louis Public Radio reports that the likely plan would spend $23 million over 12 years and focus on removing contaminated sediment from waterways.
Environmentalists want the plan revised to a higher standard of lead removal. Float companies and others worry the project will drive customers away.
The EPA plan calls for reducing lead concentrations in sediments along the rivers and several beaches in St. Francois State Park. In some areas, it aims to cut levels down to 581 parts per million and others down to 1,200 parts per million.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment is petitioning for lower concentrations, noting that the EPA’s standard for soils where children play is 400 parts per million.
“There are kids playing on beaches, so we’re just concerned that the targets they’ve put forward, based on EPA’s own thresholds for risk, they’re just not aggressive enough,” said Maisah Khan, the coalition’s water policy coordinator.
Several of the remediation sites are along routes where Steven Anderson routinely takes customers on kayak trips. He worries the EPA’s work will change Big River’s appearance.
“People like to have a serene float and not have a bunch of Caterpillar ’dozers and stuff sitting along the side and the whole thing looking like a construction zone,” Anderson said.
Cleanup without interfering too much with recreation will be a challenge, said Jason Gunter, project manager for the Superfund site.
The EPA’s proposal also includes stabilizing eroding riverbanks to keep contaminated sediments out of the Big River. Environmentalists expect the EPA plan to use rocks for stabilization, but prefer a bioengineering approach that uses deep-rooted native plants and natural materials.