PRELIMINARY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSESSMENT
BIG RIVER MINE TAILINGS DESLOGE
(a/k/a ST. JOE MINERALS)
DESLOGE, ST. FRANCOIS COUNTY, MISSOURI
DOH/ATSDR concludes, based on a review of available information, that the Big River Mine Tailings/St. Joe Minerals site is a public health hazard because of long-term exposure to various metals. Past mining in the area has left waste material (tailings) at many locations throughout the region, most of which are easily accessible to humans. Some of the heavy metals were not recovered in the milling process and were left in the tailings. Exposure to the elements (i.e. wind, rain, freezing, thawing, etc.) has allowed the heavy metals to become available to the environment and to humans. Wind, rain, and human use have helped distribute the tailings and heavy metals to the nearby communities and environment. Metals recommended for further evaluation are lead, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc. Those metals can be found at elevated levels in the tailings, soil, air, indoor dust, surface water, and groundwater on site and throughout the surrounding communities.
- Lung cancer death rates and lung cancer incidence rates, especially for older males, are
elevated in the area. Smoking was reported to be heavy in the area and may contribute to the
elevated rates of lung cancer. Measurable levels of carcinogens, such as arsenic and cadmium
have been detected in on- and off-site ambient air monitoring, above their CREG reference
levels. Winds have been reported to spread a plume of mine tailings dust for approximately one
mile around the area.
- Total lead has been found in residential surface soils at elevated levels. Levels of cadmium,
zinc, and arsenic were also found above the ATSDR's reference level. Blood lead levels in
children living in the area are currently being evaluated.
- Elevated levels of metals were found in concentrated household dust samples from nearby
homes. The method used to collect the dust is not appropriate for quantifying levels of
contaminants in the indoor dust.
- Degradation of the Big River has been caused by releases of metal-contaminated tailings into
the river. Elevated levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc have been found in surface water
and aquatic biota. Lead levels in fish and other food items, water, etc., may contribute to the lead
intake of people who consume them. Surface water with elevated metal levels is not expected to
be of concern unless the water is used as a drinking water source.
- Groundwater from a few private wells within a one-mile radius of the site has been found to contain lead as a contaminant. A portion of the samples exceed the EPA Action Level for lead, which is used as a guideline for public drinking water supplies and is measured at the tap.
- Evaluate the incidence and prevalence of lung cancer, particularly in adults. The evaluation
should control for smoking.
- Eliminate the spread of dust from the tailings.
- Conduct an exposure study on children (6 to 72 months of age), pregnant women, and women
of child bearing age to determine actual blood-lead levels because of the elevated levels of lead
that are readily available in various environmental media.
- Consider determining the actual levels of lead in homes and its contribution to blood-lead
levels. In order to better evaluate the availability of metals to humans, determine metal species
(chemical form of the metal). Metal speciation may help determine the source of the
contaminant (soil/tailings vs lead paint) and the direction of needed remediation.
- Continue efforts to prevent releases from the Desloge tailings pile, as well as other piles in the
region, and expand efforts to prevent continued loss of tailings into the Big River and it's
- Continue fish and biota sampling in the Big River to monitor the levels of contaminants. If
lead levels continue to be elevated above a health concern, continue the advisory on not eating
contaminated fish and expand notification efforts.
- Continue groundwater monitoring to detect any movement of contaminants toward private
- Continue to distribute well sampling reports to well owners, along with recommendations on
how to prevent exposure. This may include providing information about filtering systems.
- Conduct health education activities for both the people in the community and area health care providers.
HEALTH ACTIVITIES RECOMMENDATION PANEL (HARP)
The data and information developed in the Big River Mine Tailings/St. Joe Minerals Preliminary
Public Health Assessment have been evaluated for appropriate follow-up health actions. The
ATSDR Health Activities Recommendation Panel (HARP) determined that people are being
exposed to contaminants from the site at levels that can cause illness. HARP determined that
exposure to contaminants is caused from regional mining practices and not confined only to site
contaminants. HARP determined that education is needed to inform the local community and
health professional about how exposures can be reduced, as well as about health effects that
might result from exposure. HARP also determined that the planned health consultation would
help identify the exposed population. Once the exposed population is identified, a cluster
investigation is indicated to determine if the increased cancer rate may be associated with
exposure to contaminants from the site and others like it, or if the excess of cancers are a result of
other factors, such as smoking, or a combination of several factors. ATSDR will reevaluate this
site for additional follow-up public health actions if new data become available indicating a need to do so.
The Public Health Action Plan (PHAP) for the Big River Mine Tailings/St. Joe Minerals site contains a description of actions to be taken by ATSDR and/or DOH at and in the vicinity of the site subsequent to the completion of this public health assessment. The purpose of the PHAP is to ensure that this public health assessment not only identifies public health hazards, but provides a plan of action designed to mitigate and prevent human health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous substances in the environment. The public health actions to be implemented by ATSDR/DOH are as follows:
As previously stated, a number of activities have been started since the initiation of this document. To the extent possible, up-to-date information is provided. However, not all activities have been adequately defined and identified in this document. Further documents will be made available that will record the history of activities conducted until all work at the site is complete. The first of these documents is scheduled to be initiated in late 1996.
- DOH is now conducting an ATSDR funded exposure study to determine if there are elevated
blood-leads in the communities most affected by the tailings.
- Public and Professional health education is on-going. Area health care providers have been
given information on treating people with high lead exposure and on how to gather and evaluate
patient information to determine the extent of exposure. DOH and ATSDR meet regularly with
the Citizens Advisory Group about, among other issues, how to reduce or eliminate exposure to
- EPA has initiated removal activities and is moving forward with the Remedial
- DOH and ATSDR are coordinating activities with EPA, local health officials, and the community in addressing the public health issues at the site.
- Further community and medical professionals health education is expected to be implemented in the fall of 1996.
- DOH, in cooperation with ATSDR, will evaluate new information and provide a summary of
activities undertaken to date. The first of those evaluations will begin in late 1996 and will be made available for review upon completion.
- The PHAP will be expanded if new information shows a need to do so.
Missouri Department of Health
Ana Maria Murgueytio
Missouri Department of Health
Public Information Specialist
Missouri Department of Health
ATSDR Regional Representative
Senior Regional Representative
EPA Region VII
ATSDR Technical Project Officer
Gail D. Godfrey
Environmental Health Scientist
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation
The Big River Mine Tailing/St. Joe Mineral Public Health Assessment was prepared by the
Missouri Department of Health under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and
procedures existing at the time the health consultation was begun.
Gail D. Godfrey
Technical Project Officer
Superfund Site Assessment Branch (SSAB)
Division of Health Assessment and Consultation (DHAC)
The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this health
consultation and concurs with its findings.
for Robert C. Williams, P.E., DEE
Director, DHAC, ATSDR
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1990a. Case Studies in Environmental Medicine, Lead Toxicity. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1992a. Case Studies in Environmental Medicine, Lead Toxicity, Revised. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1992b. Impact of Lead-Contaminated Soil on Public Health. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1993. Toxicological Profile for Arsenic. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication no. TP-92/02.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1989a. Toxicological Profile for Cadmium. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication no. TP-88/08.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1992c. Toxicological Profile for Cobalt. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication no. TP-91/10.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1990b. Toxicological Profile for Lead. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication no. TP-88/17.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1989b. Toxicological Profile for Zinc. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication no. TP-89/25.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. 1992d. Public Health Assessment Guidance Manual. Atlanta, Georgia: ATSDR, DHHS publication.
Center for Disease Control. 1991. Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children. Atlanta, Georgia: CDC, DHHS publication.
Ecology and Environment, Inc., (E&E). Memorandum. December 1991. Site Assessment: Big River Mine Tailings Site, Desloge, Missouri. TDD # T07-9104-041.
Ecology and Environment, Inc., (E&E). Memorandum-Draft. December 1992. Site Assessment: Big River Mine Tailings, Desloge, Missouri. TDD # T07-9210-004
Ecology and Environment, Inc., (E&E). Memorandum. February 17, 1993. Site Assessment: Big River Mine Tailings, Desloge, Missouri, Addendum Report. TDD: T07-9210-004.
Ecology and Environment, Inc., (E&E). Memorandum. June 1990. Work Plan for the Listing Site Inspection of the Big River Mine Tailings site, Desloge, Missouri. TDD # F-07-9004-011.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1978a. Chemical & Biological Analysis of the Big River. EPA, Region VII.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1978b. Big River Survey, Southeastern, Missouri. EPA Region VII.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1988. Preliminary Assessment, Big River Mine Tailings, Desloge, St. Francois County, Missouri. TDD # F-07-8711-039.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1991. Final Report, Listing Site Inspection, Big River Mine Tailings, Volume 1., Desloge, St. Francois County, Missouri. Washington, DC: EPA document. TDD # F-07-9004-011.
Environmental Protection Agency. May 1994. Drinking Water Regulations and Health Advisories. U.S. EPA. Washington D.C.
Environmental Protection Agency. 1986. Air Quality for Lead and Addendum. EPA Research Park N.C. EPA 600/8-83-018F.
Ernhardt CB, Landa B, Schnell NB. 1981. Subclinical Levels of Lead and Developmental Deficits, A Multivariate Follow-up Assessment. Pediatrics 67.
International Agency for Research on Cancer. 1980. Monograph on the Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risks of Chemicals to Humans. IARC Vol.23.
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 1991-92. Missouri School Directory 1991-92. Jefferson City, Missouri.
Missouri Department of Conservation. 1988. Recreational Use Survey of Big, Bourbeuse, and Meramec Rivers. Columbia, Missouri: MDOC document no. Dingel-Johnson Project, F-1-R-37, Study S-26.
Missouri Department of Conservation. 1980. News Release.
Missouri Department of Health. 1992. Cancer Registry and Natality Data Analysis. Desloge, Missouri
Missouri Division of Health. 1980. The Implication of Finding Lead In Fish In the Big River of Missouri-Draft.
Missouri Department of Health. 1986a. Report of Flat River Environmental Study. Flat River, Missouri.
Missouri Department of Health. 1986b. A Case-Control Study of Lung Cancer in the Flat River Area, 1976-1984. Flat River, Missouri.
Missouri Department of Health. 1993. Missouri Department of Health 1993 Fish Advisory. Jefferson City, Missouri.
Missouri Department of Health. 1995. Missouri Department of Health 1995 Fish Advisory. Jefferson City, Missouri.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 1993. Surveillance Memorandum, St. Francois County Landfill. MDNR Southeast Regional Office.
Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 1992. Rules of Department of Natural Resources, Chapter 7 -- Water Quality. Title 10 CSR 20-7.031.
Missouri State Census Data Center. 1991a. 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Desloge, Missouri. Summary Tape File 1, 8 page profile.
Missouri State Census Data Center. 1991b. 1990 Census of Population and Housing, Desloge, Missouri. Summary Tape File 3, 5 page profile.
Pinto SS, Henderson V, Enterline PE. 1978. Mortality Experience of Arsenic Exposed Workers. Arch. Environ. Health 33.
Task Force on Metals and Carcinogensis. 1981. Problems of Epidemiological Evidence. Environmental Health Perspective 40.
U.S. Geological Survey. 1988. Assessment of Water Quality in Non-coal Mining Areas of Missouri. Rolla, Missouri: USGS document no. Water Resources Investigation Report 87-4286.
U.S. Geological Survey. 1991. Hydrochemical and Sediment Data for the Old Lead Belt, Southeastern Missouri 1988-89. Rolla, Missouri: USGS document no. Open-File Report 91-211.
Schmitt CJ, Finger SE. 1982. The Dynamics of Metals from Past and Present Mining Activities in the Big and Black River Watersheds, Southeastern Missouri. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Columbia National Fisheries Research Laboratory, Columbia, Missouri.
World Health Organization. 1981. Arsenic. Environmental Health Criteria 18.
Wixson BG, Gale NL, Davies BE. 1983. A Study on the Use of Chat and Tailings from the Old Lead Belt of Missouri for Agricultural Limestone. A Research Report Submitted to the Department of Natural Resources. University of Missouri-Rolla. Rolla, Missouri.