Columbia kids are giving residents an education in pollution

Friday, October 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Swirls of bright fall leaves swept around rambunctious children dashing door-to-door on Sexton Road on Wednesday afternoon. Between bouts of cartwheels and somersaults, the little volunteers canvassed the neighborhood with door hangers. Their message: Pollutants that flow into storm drains lead directly to streams.

Under Mona Menezes’ direction, children from The Intersection — an after-school program on Sexton — have handed out about 75 informational packets during the past three weeks. Packets included literature telling residents their closest storm drain flows directly into Flat Branch Creek. Everything from cigarette butts to fertilizer eventually ends up in local streams, said Menezes, program coordinator for the Community Storm Water Project.

“As long as we can get the connection between the storm drain and the stream, then these kids got the job done,” Menezes said. Korie Miller, Menezes’ “right-hand girl,” was doing her part by keeping kids on task during the distribution. The 11-year-old Smithton Middle School student said it was her second time distributing the packets.

“It’s a lot of fun, but I hate wearing this orange thing,” Miller said, referring to the safety vest the children are required to wear. “All the cute boys always see me in it.”

The children’s hard work is part of a nationwide Environmental Protection Agency-mandated effort involving the city, county and MU to clean up water pollution from storm drains, Menezes said. Since 2000, the Community Storm Water Project team has been educating residents at local events and through classroom presentations about the harm of dumping pollutants near storm drains and streams. The door hangers are not required by the EPA; Menezes just thought they were an important extra detail.

“We just want the water coming off our streets, gutters and sidewalks to be clean,” said Menezes, who holds a master’s degree in forestry from MU. “When cars leak transmission fluid and oil, all that goes straight into the storm drain, then straight into the stream.”

Children also glued blue and white decals that say “no dumping, drains into streams” on sewer tops. Menezes said they already cover drains on Broadway and 160 spots on the MU campus. The city is required to apply 100 decals per year.

“We hope to eventually have the decals up all over the city,” said Menezes, “especially in an area with many walkers.”

As for educating the children, Menezes brings red and purple plastic fishing poles for them to use in a small pond outside The Intersection. She said the kids keep breaking the poles, but that’s OK.

“We fix them and keep fishing,” Menezes said. “I really want them to get the connection that your storm drains and gutter go directly into streams.”

For now, Menezes’ focus is on Flat Branch watershed, but she hopes to move on to watersheds all over the city.

“Bottom line is people don’t want this stuff in their streams,” Menezes said. “And we can keep improving the water quality in our stream.”

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