UW-L Researchers’ hunt for lead in marsh continues

2012-08-22T23:45:00Z 2012-08-23T06:15:20Z UW-L Researchers’ hunt for lead in marsh continuesBy PATRICK B. ANDERSON | panderson@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune

Gun enthusiasts of the early 20th century riddled the La Crosse River marsh with lead. And decades after the last trap shoot, traces of the toxic metal remain.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse researchers have found high lead levels in the sediment where La Crosse Gun Club members frequently shot skeet.

Their research was first reported last summer in the Tribune.

New samples taken this summer will help determine if lead is spreading from the marsh bed and threatening surrounding wildlife.

Lead can be absorbed by nearby vegetation and travel up the food chain, causing neurological and developmental problems in fish.

“At really high levels, it can be lethal,” said Gretchen Gerrish, a UW-L assistant professor of biology.

But there’s no indication the lead is threatening residents and no evidence of it reaching the city’s drinking water.

A $60,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and $5,000 from the university is allowing the scientists to continue their research to better understand the scope of the contamination.

If enough lead is found in the sediment, water or fish, the marsh could be declared impaired, said John Sullivan, Mississippi River water quality specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The designation needs approval by the DNR and EPA. Officials would have to remove or control lead contamination in the marsh if it’s added to Wisconsin’s list of impaired water bodies.

All of that is yet to be determined, Sullivan said.

“We don’t know if the levels in the marsh are creating a water problem,” he said. “We’re not saying any remediation has to be done at this point and time.”

The next step is more testing.

On Tuesday, Ryan Perroy hoisted a surveying pole as he maneuvered his way through the marsh.

The UW-L assistant professor of geography and earth science has studied the marsh’s lead levels with Colin Belby, an assistant professor in UW-L’s geography and earth science department, since last year.

Perroy donned waders to help chart an improved map of the marsh.

“It will also help us understand our how the lead is moving through the sediments,” he said.

Whether it’s a meter down in the muck or on the surface of the marsh bed, the lead is there, UW-L researchers say. Hundreds of sediment samples taken last year show varying degrees of lead contamination throughout the marsh.

Belby declined to provide the exact numbers, but initial tests last year revealed levels of up to 1,200 parts per million — the maximum amount allowed in bare soil, and three times the legal limit for soil in areas with playing children.

Still, it’s unclear whether lead is contaminating the surrounding habitat, Belby said. The researchers are collecting and analyzing wildlife samples as part of the study.

Samples include duckweed and submerged plant life, aquatic insects such as mayflies and dragon flies, and fish.

Results won’t be available for at least a month, possibly two. The scientists plan to continue testing marsh water through the winter.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. Mac
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    Mac - August 23, 2012 9:54 pm
    I own cars, but I am not a car enthusiast. I also own a tractor, but I am not a tractor enthusiast... Need I go on?
  2. Mac
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    Mac - August 23, 2012 9:41 pm
    FUBAR, you may be every bit a gun enthusiast as the term implies, but I have a hard time applying that term to those that used to shoot trap over the swamp. They shot trap there from '33 to '63. (I don't think they had a skeet range, but the Trib tends to use the terms "trap" and "skeet" interchangeably). It was a different time back then. My grandfathers and great-grandfathers owned guns for deer, bird, squirrel & rabbit hunting, for pest control, and probably self-defense if need be, but it wasn't necessarily about the guns. They were just implements for use. I wouldn't consider them "gun enthusiasts" as the media tends to portray all firearm owners, but only as farmers, hunters, or even trap shooters.
  3. allcav
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    allcav - August 23, 2012 7:59 pm
    As we continue to deplete our oceans of food fish and turn to farmed fish, the tilapia's diet may come to be less of a problem for us, if we want fish to eat. The Dirty Jobs Vomit Island episode is an exception for most farming, but I avoid Chinese tilapia.
  4. FUBAR
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    FUBAR - August 23, 2012 7:59 pm
    I am a gun enthusiast. But yet I have never skeet shooted nor killed a animal with a gun..Just a bunch of targets get shot up. But, I like your point. And please quit blaming guns for everyones problems, it is getting very old.
  5. Mac
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    Mac - August 23, 2012 4:24 pm
    Gun enthusiasts? I like to shoot skeet. I wouldn't consider myself a "gun enthusiast" though, just a sport shooter. Calling those folks "gun enthusiasts" is like calling a baseball player a "bat enthusiast".
  6. Muddy
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    Muddy - August 23, 2012 3:23 pm
    "Lead can be absorbed by nearby vegetation and travel up the food chain, causing neurological and developmental problems in fish."
    I would like to know how exactly a inert metal can be "absorbed" into vegetation...
    I thought lead had be ingested to be a danger.....
    How does a plant "ingest" or "absorb" lead???
  7. Nastysmell
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    Nastysmell - August 23, 2012 1:25 pm
    "allcav", speaking of "Dirty Jobs" program, one of the segments was about farm raised tilapia fish (everybody is buying tilapia like it is some sort of good fish, I won't touch the stuff) and the funny part is that the tilapia are fish used to eat the "waste (you know what I mean)" from the other fish on the fish farm. Gives new meaning to a "double McFish sandwich", - YUMMMM!!
  8. allcav
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    allcav - August 23, 2012 11:11 am
    This could spawn another "Dirty Jobs" segment.
  9. LaCrosseBadger
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    LaCrosseBadger - August 23, 2012 9:41 am
    How much of the relevant area of the marsh could be dredged (with the lead shot-heavy sediment buried elsewhere) for $65,000? $65,000 to say "yeah, there is lead in the water where lots of people shot lots of lead in the distant past" seems wasteful; fixing the problem (if having mentally impaired carp in the marsh is a problem) might not be as wasteful.
  10. Nastysmell
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    Nastysmell - August 23, 2012 9:24 am
    Let me see - HMM - gun club = lead, no brainer. However, lead is a naturally occurring element in southwest Wisconsin and Illinois. I think I heard that the Blackhawk wars were fought over lead mining among other things. At that time lead was used for shot and cannonballs. Heavily used in all wars and batteries (still used in both). Where do you think the name for Galena, Illinois came from? I say we mine that nasty old marsh for profit and clean up the problem once and for all. In fack, I think we should fill in that marsh and build a bypass through La Crosse. Get rid of a lot of mosquitos in the process (another hazard to human beings). Then we wouldn't have the swamp huggers wasting money on THAT any more.
    Every gun club that has been around for a while has this problem and some of them have lakes.
  11. logical thinker
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    logical thinker - August 23, 2012 9:09 am
    Looks like there at least three commenters who like to bury their heads in the marsh...
  12. random annoying bozo
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    random annoying bozo - August 23, 2012 8:42 am
    these clowns, who are probably sustaining this 'study' on some governemnt ' grant', are dong more damage rooting around in the marsh then just leaving things alone.

    of course there is lead there, it was a trap club....it doesn't take 'science' to figure that one out.
    hey maybe i can get a grant to see if there are any grass clippings in my yard after i mow with the mulching attachment on.
  13. Anonangel
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    Anonangel - August 23, 2012 4:06 am
    My thoughts exactly.
  14. JlNt30
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    JlNt30 - August 23, 2012 3:52 am
    Blaming people with guns again for problems?? Spend your money on something else! You people must be really bored to be wading through there testing!! And who lets their kids swim there anyway!!??
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