LA CROSSE, Wis. -- The La Crosse river marsh is one of the most popular destinations in the city to enjoy a blend of wildlife, but high levels of lead in the water could be threatening the natural habitat.
It's something you can't really see, smell or taste, but UW-L graduate student Trevor Cyphers knows it's there.
“It is slightly concerning because earlier in the summer I saw a lot of kids fishing,” said Cyphers. “Right now, we know how high the lead is per say, but we don't know at what depth it is so that could play an influence on say, fish for example.”
Researchers at UW-La Crosse found high levels of lead in the marsh last year, but they didn't have the funds to continue studying the environmental impacts.
“Last year we found there were high levels of lead in the sediment,” said Colin Belby, UW-L assistant professor of geography. “High enough that we know that we want to see what is going on from there. The analyses that we're hoping to do aren't cheap.”
The La Crosse River Marsh was once used for trapshooting competitions back in the 1930s to the 1960s. That's where the high levels of lead came from. Now it’s finding out whether or not it’s moving its way up the food chain and how dangerous that could be for wildlife and humans.
Thanks to a $60,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, these researchers can now continue searching for those answers.
“Lead is a potent neurotoxicant, so it can damage the nervous system in different animals and in fish vertebrates as well,” said Tisha King- Heiden, UW-L assistant professor of biology. “So that poses a health risk to both the animals living in the eco-park as well as any people eating fish from the marsh.”
These researchers will spend the next year or so collecting samples from the marsh to analyze. It will be a while yet before they find any results, but the hope is to use the research to keep the community safe.
The grant from the EPA is good for two years. Depending on what results the researchers find, they'll move forward with either just monitoring the levels of lead or developing a plan to clean the marsh.
Researchers are using the grant in partnership with the city of La Crosse, the Wisconsin DNR and the Myrick-Hixon Eco Park.
Down the road, they also hope to hold community events at the eco-park to educate public about the marshes and its ecosystem.