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The city of St. Louis County is going from vacation spot to environmental disaster

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Summer is the time when Missouri families pack up their vehicles and head somewhere for a relaxing vacation or weekend getaway, just like any other state popular lakes or beaches. But there’s a former resort town in western St. Louis County that’s home to one of the greatest environmental disasters in United States history and turned the resort into a ghost town.

The St. Louis Times is offering residents to sell lots cheaply as long as they buy a six-month subscription.

The City of Times Beach was founded in 1925 as part of a newspaper subscription. The editors of St.Louis times paper bought hundreds of acres of farmland along the Meramec River, east of Eureka, to build a resort.

The newspaper administration offered readers an offer: buy a six-month subscription to the Times and you could buy a 20-by-100-foot lot in the new resort town for as little as $67.50 (about $1,127 in 2022). Hundreds of plots sold in a very short time. St. Louisans and business owners were drawn to the paper’s promise: “The sweltering heat and unease of the city are unknown at Times Beach.”

The city’s founding and development coincided with the construction of Route 66, which ran through Times Beach and provided easy access to the resort.

For the early years of its existence, Times Beach functioned like a resort town, with families living in the summer and then departing in the fall and winter. Unfortunately, the 1930s and 1940s weren’t 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.

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A picture of Steiny’s Inn, across the river from Times Beach.

1935, The Bridgehead Inn opened as a rest stop over the Meramec River. It became Steiny’s Inn under new management in 1947. The inn was sold in 1972 and returned to its original name. It was sold in 1980 and its name was changed again, this time to Galley West.

In the early 1970s, Times Beach had an ongoing 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 garbage truck Russell Bliss, who sprayed the streets of Times Beach for the next four years with a mixture of waste oil to act as a dust suppressor. Bliss was paid $2,400 ($16,782 in 2022 dollars) for his services. It was a technique he developed by spraying local horse farms and stables.

Before his deal with Times Beach, Bliss collected up to six truckloads of industrial waste from the Northeast pharmaceutical and chemical company (NEPACCO) facility in Verona, Missouri, which it leased from Hoffman-Taff. The plant was used to manufacture hexachlorophene (a chemical used in disinfectants) and Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The production of hexachlorophene and Agent Orange generates dioxin as a waste product. According to that World Health Organization, Dioxin is “highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, disrupt hormones and also cause cancer.” Whatever it is unclear how much exposure to the chemical is needed to cause these problems.

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A map in the Route 66 State Park Visitor Center shows the city limits of Times Beach and Eureka.

In 1971, NEPACCO paid a nearby farmer to dump nearly 90 55-gallon drums of dioxin waste in a ditch on his property. That same year, she hired Bliss to collect 18,500 gallons of trash. Bliss brought the dioxin-contaminated waste back to its Frontenac, Missouri, facility and dumped it into tanks of used motor oil.

Bliss sprayed this mixture of waste oil and dioxin on the streets of Times Beach. Those horse farms and stables bliss sprayed? Dozens of horses and other small animals died. People who lived in the areas where Bliss sprayed before taking the Times Beach job also reported headaches, nosebleeds, diarrhea, abdominal pain and skin rashes. The six-year-old daughter of a stable owner fell ill, prompting an investigation by the Missouri Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now has one Banning 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 closed in August 1976.

In 1979, a former NEPACCO employee contacted the EPA and told them about the drums of dioxin waste buried at this Verona farm.

Floods on Times Beach
Floods along the Meramec River, December 1982. (Photo: National Weather Service)

The EPA and CDC slowly worked to uncover the extent of the problem by taking samples from dozens of spots where Bliss had sprayed his dioxin-laced mixture. In November 1982, the EPA finally got around to testing the soil at Times Beach. They completed their sampling on December 4, 1982. The following day, the Meramec River burst its banks and flooded Times Beach.

As Times Beach residents pondered their next steps, the EPA discovered dioxin levels in the soil well above what the agency thought safe. On December 23, the EPA advised people in Times Beach not to return home, fearing the flooding may have spread the dioxin contamination further.

By February 1983, the EPA declared Times Beach a Superfund location and announced a government takeover of all homes and businesses. By 1985, there were more than 2,200 Times Beach residents evacuated and the city dissolved.

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Incinerator built on the site of the former Times Beach.

The EPA decided the best way to clean up the dioxin waste at Times Beach and elsewhere in the state is to burn everything – houses, buildings and soil. The state of Missouri ordered the construction of an incinerator on the site of the former city in 1996. Syntex Agribusiness, which Hoffman-Taff had acquired in 1969 and had become the parent company of NEPACCO, was contracted to build the incinerator.

According to the EPA, from March 1996 to June 1997, more than 265,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated materials were burned at 27 sites in eastern Missouri, including Times Beach, at a cost of $110 million to $200 million.

The incinerator was demolished and cleared, and the EPA turned over the land to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. By 1999, the former Times Beach was converted into the 419-acre Route 66 State Park.

The EPA removed Times Beach from its Superfund list on September 25, 2001. In June 2012, the EPA tested the soil in the park. In November of that year, the agency stated, “Soil samples from Route 66 State Park show no significant health risks to park visitors or workers.”

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Times Beach 1990 (left) and 2009. (Photo: US Geological Survey)

for years, Russell Bliss has denied knowing what was in the garbage he picked up in Verona and mixed with his used motor oil. He has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, along with NEPACCO, Syntex Agribusiness and the Independent Petrochemical Corporation. Prior to 1976, there were no laws regulating the transportation and disposal of hazardous waste.

Galley West was closed during the 1982 Times Beach contamination and evacuation crisis. Although the building was not in the contaminated area, it was included in the government’s takeover plan. It served as the headquarters for the cleanup effort and eventually became the Route 66 State Park Visitor Center.

https://fox2now.com/news/missouri/st-louis-county-town-goes-from-resort-to-environmental-disaster/ The city of St. Louis County is going from vacation spot to environmental disaster

Nate Jones

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