State representative calls for repeal of cooler ban on rivers

Thursday, January 27, 2011 | 5:54 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — A southwestern Missouri lawmaker Thursday urged the repeal of a state law designed to ban foam coolers from rivers, saying it is unnecessary and exempts a foam used to make many of the targeted coolers.

Two years ago, the legislature passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor to have certain foam coolers within 50 feet of most rivers. The measure was aimed at what frequently are called "Styrofoam" coolers because of concern about floating debris and pollution from the abandoned containers. Omitted from the ban, however, was the type of foam used in many of the coolers.

Rep. Don Ruzicka, R-Mt. Vernon, a former agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, now wants to repeal the 2009 law, citing concerns about the mistake and the inconvenience it poses for people who want to keep food and drinks cool while on the river. He said floaters who leave their foam coolers floating on the river or along the shore already can be punished for littering and that no separate offense is necessary.

"It's litter, just like cans and bottles," said Ruzicka.

The 2009 law also makes it a misdemeanor to possess beer bongs and containers that hold more than 4 gallons of an alcoholic beverage while paddling. The cooler and alcohol restrictions do not apply to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The Osage River — which is dammed to form the Lake of the Ozarks — also was exempted from the restrictions. The remaining Missouri rivers are covered.

Ruzicka's legislation would leave the alcohol restrictions intact.

The Missouri Conservation and Environmental Alliance said foam coolers should be restricted and that volunteers who help pick up trash along Missouri's rivers continue to see pieces of foam.

"The material is still there, and we would like to see it prohibited from getting that close to rivers," said Josh Campbell, an attorney representing the group.

Missouri's cooler legislation was based on federal rules for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways that cover the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in southeastern Missouri. The national park has banned foam containers within 50 feet of the river since May 2007. The park's regulations include the type of foam that Missouri's law left out.

Part of the confusion stems from what foam coolers are called.

Although the coolers commonly are referred to as "Styrofoam," that is a brand name for a product developed by the Dow Chemical Co. more than a half-century ago. It frequently is used in home insulation. So lawmakers in 2009 banned "expanded polypropylene," but they did not prohibit any products made of polystyrene, which is used in many foam coolers.

Expanded polypropylene can be used in consumer products such as coolers, automotive parts, heating and air condition and packaging.

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