From seaside resort to environmental disaster
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Summer is when families in Missouri pack up their vehicles and head somewhere for a relaxing vacation or a weekend getaway, just like any state in the state. popular lakes Where beaches. But there is an old resort town in western St. Louis County that was home to one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the United States and turned the resort town into a ghost town.
The city of Times Beach was founded in 1925 under a newspaper subscription contract. The editors of St. Louis Times The paper purchased hundreds of acres of farmland along the Meramec River, just east of Eureka, to create a resort town.
The newspaper’s management offered readers a deal: buy a six-month subscription to the Time and you could buy a 20-by-100-foot lot in the new resort for just $67.50 (about $1,127 in 2022 dollars). Hundreds of plots sold in a very short time. St. Louis residents and business owners were drawn to the newspaper’s promise: “The sweltering heat and discomfort of the city are unheard of in Times Beach.”
The creation and development of the town coincided with the construction of Route 66, which passed through Times Beach, allowing easy access to the resort.
For the first few years of its existence, Times Beach functioned as a resort town, with families living there during the summer and then leaving for the fall and winter. Unfortunately, the 1930s and 1940s were not kind to Times Beach. The Great Depression and World War II slowly transformed the city from a resort town into a permanent lower and middle class community.
In 1935, The Bridgehead Inn opened across the Meramec River as a truck stop. It became Steiny’s Inn in 1947 under new management. The inn was sold in 1972 and reverted to its original name. It was sold in 1980 and its name changed again, this time to Galley West.
In the early 1970s, Times Beach had a persistent dust problem. The city didn’t have the funds to pave its 23 miles of dirt roads and needed a solution to control the dust. In 1972, the city hired waste hauler Russell Bliss, who sprayed the roads of Times Beach over the next four years with a mixture of waste oil to act as a dust suppressant. Bliss was paid $2,400 ($16,782 in 2022 dollars) for his services. It was a technique he had developed by spraying local horse farms and stables.
Prior to its contract with Times Beach, Bliss collected up to six truckloads of industrial waste from the Northeast Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO) in Verona, Missouri, which he had leased from Hoffman-Taff. The facility was used to produce hexachlorophene (a chemical used in disinfectants) and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
The production of hexachlorophene and agent orange generated dioxin like a waste. According to World Health Organization, dioxin is “very toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer”. However, it is it is not known how much exposure to the chemical is required to cause these problems.
In 1971, NEPACCO paid a neighboring farmer to dispose of nearly 90 55-gallon barrels of dioxin waste in a trench on his property. That same year, they contracted with Bliss to collect 18,500 gallons of trash. Bliss took the dioxin-contaminated waste back to its plant in Frontenac, Missouri, and dumped it into tanks containing used motor oil.
This mixture of waste oil and dioxin is what Bliss sprayed on the streets of Times Beach. Those horse farms and stables that Bliss pulverized? Dozens of horses and other small animals died. People living in areas where Bliss had sprayed before taking the Times Beach post also reported headaches, nosebleeds, diarrhea, stomach pains and rashes. A stable owner’s six-year-old daughter has fallen ill, prompting an investigation by the Missouri Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a ban limiting the use of hexachlorophene in September 1972 following the deaths of more than three dozen babies in France who were exposed to the chemical through contaminated baby powder. The Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company was closed in August 1976.
In 1979, a former NEPACCO employee contacted the EPA and told them about the barrels of dioxin waste buried at this farm in Verona.
The EPA and CDC slowly worked to uncover the extent of the problem by taking samples from dozens of locations where Bliss had sprayed his dioxin-containing mixture. In November 1982, the EPA finally decided to test the Times Beach soil. They finished their sampling on December 4, 1982. The next day, the Meramec River overflowed and flooded Times Beach.
As Times Beach residents considered their next moves, the EPA found dioxin levels in the soil well above what the agency considered safe. Fearing that flooding could have spread dioxin contamination further, on December 23 the EPA advised residents of Times Beach not to return home.
In February 1983, the EPA declared Times Beach a Superfund site and announced a federal buyout of all homes and businesses. By 1985, more than 2,200 Times Beach residents had been evacuated and the city disincorporated.
The EPA has determined that the best way to dispose of dioxin waste in Times Beach and elsewhere in the state would be to incinerate everything – homes, structures and soil. The State of Missouri commissioned an incinerator built on the site of the former city in 1996. Syntex Agribusiness, which had acquired Hoffman-Taff in 1969 and had become the parent company of NEPACCO, was commissioned to build the incinerator.
According to the EPA, more than 265,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated materials from 27 sites across eastern Missouri, including Times Beach, were burned from March 1996 to June 1997, at a cost of $110 to $200. millions of dollars.
The incinerator was demolished and cleaned up and the EPA turned over the land to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. By 1999, the old Times Beach had been turned into a 419-acre Route 66 State Park.
APE removed Times Beach from its Superfund list on September 25, 2001. In June 2012, the EPA tested the park’s soil. In November, the agency said, “Soil samples from Route 66 State Park show no significant health risks to park visitors or workers.”
For years, Russell Bliss denied knowing what was in the trash he had picked up in Verona and mixed with his used motor oil. He has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, alongside NEPACCO, Syntex Agribusiness and the Independent Petrochemical Corporation. Prior to 1976, no law regulated the transportation and disposal of hazardous waste.
Galley West closed during the 1982 contamination and evacuation crisis in Times Beach. Although not in the contaminated area, the building has been included in the government’s takeover plan. It was used as the headquarters for the cleanup effort and eventually became the Route 66 State Park visitor center.
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