Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
Rockford Beach on the Big River
Jefferson County, MO
“Seeing Egrets, Heron Angels”
Angels are usually pictured as graceful, winged creatures, frequently dressed in white gowns and perched on clouds. What if we imagined that water birds, like the egrets and herons symbolized by this Cairn in the Big River, were angels in disguise? (Clouds are just puffy-water, after all.) Would we treat the river and its watershed with greater respect?
Although the mines of Missouri’s Old Lead Belt have closed, the water in the Big River is contaminated with lead and zinc from the chat (waste mineral ore). Fish in these waters have higher concentrations of lead in their bodies than in non-mining areas, and some wildlife, especially fish-eating birds like herons and egrets, may be adversely affected.
Humans are also harmed by consuming lead. The Missouri Department of Conservation advises people not to eat carp, suckers, and some species of sunfish from the Big and Flat rivers because of the high levels of lead found in these fish.
Children are most at risk. Consuming lead can damage a child’s developing nervous system, her blood cells, and his ability to process calcium and Vitamin D. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 11 percent of the children in nearby St. Francois County have lead poisoning, a preventable and treatable disease. Nationwide, the average for lead contamination in children is less than 3 percent.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources
History of Lead Mining in Missouri
Lead in Drinking Water: Important Information on How to Protect Your Health
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