JEFFERSON CITY — Dotting the Missouri landscape are the ingredients for human suffering: lead, arsenic and dioxin.
Just ask the residents of North Kansas City.
Armour Road, the town’s main thoroughfare, leads directly to a corralled dead zone where arsenic residue — the result of pesticide production across four decades — has been undergoing cleanup for soil and groundwater contamination the last seven years.
Now, state officials say they’ll have less money for enforcement activities and cleanup of hazardous waste sites like this one unless legislators extend the collection fees that support them.
“We don’t have the latitude to sit back right now,” said Robert Stout, an environmental planner with the department.
For more than 25 years, the state’s Natural Resources Department has tracked locations where harmful substances have been dumped.
The General Assembly enacted the Hazardous Waste Category and Land Disposal fees programs in the mid-1980s to support environmental cleanup and maintenance. Businesses and people who create hazardous waste pay the fees each year into a remedial fund managed by the Natural Resources Department.
Stout said expiration of the fee programs this in December 2004 will severely limit the department’s efforts to maintain environmental response and prevention activities — and shackle its ability to acquire federal dollars for large-scale site cleanup.
The fees — about $2.6 million are collected annually — are used to track confirmed waste disposal sites, launch state-managed cleanup efforts and monitor and assist facilities that are producing hazardous waste.
They’re also used to help the department oversee the federal government’s cleanup of the most dangerous waste locations, like the Armour Road site, through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.
To date, the fees have been used for cleanup and oversight at 757 hazardous waste sites across the state.
With fewer funds available for individual state efforts, Stout said the EPA will have to assume a greater role in the state’s hazardous waste activities. But he questioned whether that role would be aggressive enough.
“EPA is in a position now where they have to consider that if Missouri isn’t able to pay its share for cleanup, are they going to be able to shift federal dollars to do that?” he said.
A measure to extend the fee died on the last day of the legislative session last spring. It has won preliminary Senate approval.
“I think the fees will be renewed, but there may be some different rules for them,” said the chairman of the House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Merrill Townley, R-Chamois.
Townley said it’s likely that legislators will seek changes to the Department of Natural Resources’ inspection and permit rules that businesses contributing to the remedial fund must follow. They also might want to change how much certain businesses have to pay.
“The industry has been fined some pretty exorbitant fees,” he said.
Despite this, officials with the Natural Resources Department said the companies contributing to the fee programs were generally supportive of renewing them.
The renewal is not expected to increase the fees at this time, but changing the fee structure is something planner Robert Stout said should be taken up later.
“I don’t think DNR has any objection to restructuring the fees in the future, but for now time is running out. We’re putting things off that are coming due.”