Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources still investigating cause of Wilson’s Creek contamination

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 9:21 PM CDT
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GREENE COUNTY, Mo. (KY3) - A local waterway is still polluted after more than two decades, and researchers are trying to figure out why. 

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources says it is not so sure it is all connected to just one problem. Contamination in Wilson’s Creek dates back to at least 1998. At that time it was placed on an “impaired waters” list.

“It was placed on the list for an unknown cause of toxicity to aquatic life,” said Missouri Department of Natural Resources Environmental Supervisor Robert Voss.

The EPA has conducted all sorts of testing at Wilson’s Creek over the years.

”They found elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs,” Voss said.

PAH’s are types of chemicals found naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. There are a wide variety of them.

“There’s at least 34, there are lots of other ones that break down, but there’s different compounds that make up PAH’s,” Voss said. ”And through our research, we found that if you don’t have the entire list, or at least a large list of what all of the different levels of those compounds, we don’t know the true toxicity of those compounds to the community.”

For a while the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources thought that type of chemical could be the source of the pollution. But now researchers are not so sure that’s the case.

”The aquatic community is still impaired, but we’re not 100% sure that PAH’s are either the sole cause or even a main cause of the impaired community,” Voss said.

While Voss said Wilson’s Creek is still listed as an impaired waterway, it has since been de-listed for PAH’s. He said streams can often have a very large variety of contamination.

“With a lot of urban streams, there can be lots of different pollutants that can cause problems in streams,” Voss said. “It could be starting in excess storm water flow. It could be lots of different things that could be in the water that could be causing low diversity in aquatic life.”

Without being able to directly link the source, the City of Springfield has aided efforts. Storm water runoff often flows into the creek.

”We’ve got staff that does a great job working to reduce the pollutant load from runoff,” said Errin Kemper, Director of Environmental Services for the City of Springfield. “A lot of that’s targeted around education and outreach. Working with homeowners and citizens to understand what they can do to prevent pollution.”

Kemper said the city and its partners are trying to find new and affordable ways to keep waterways clean like Green Infrastructure.

”That’s implementing infrastructure across the city that has a water quality benefit in addition to the other benefits it can provide,” he said. “And so that might look like providing storm water detention for flood control that can also be used for water quality purposes. It could also improve the aesthetic in neighborhoods.”

The Department of Natural Resources says more testing needs to happen before it can determine the cause of the pollution.

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