Bliss had first used the technique of spraying waste oil to control
dust in horse stables. When, in 1971, spraying resulted in the death
of 62 horses, the stable owner automatically suspected Bliss of
contaminating the stables. However, Bliss assured them that it was
simple engine oil that he was spraying.
What the city and the stable owners didn’t know is that Bliss had
subcontracted to haul waste for the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and
Chemical Company (NEPACCO)
who operated a facility in Verona, Missouri. During the Vietnam
War, this facility had been a producer of Agent Orange and the waste
clay and water removed from the plant contained levels of dioxin some
2,000 time higher than the dioxin content in Agent Orange. Bliss would
later claim he was unaware that the waste contained dioxin. In the
meantime, he was spraying the dirt roads of Times Beach, as well as
area horse stables, with the lethal material.
As horses continued to die at area stables, the owners contacted the
Center for Disease Control and Prevention who began an investigation
in 1979. When a NEPACCO employee confessed that the company handled
dioxin, the government sued NEPACCO in 1980.
The EPA began to visit Times Beach in
1982, taking samples and tests that identified dangerous levels of
dioxin in Times Beach soil. In December, 1982, the Meramec River
flooded, further spreading the contamination through the town and
other areas. Soon, panic spread and every illness and animal death was
attributed to dioxin. President Ronald Reagan formed a dioxin task
force to study the effects of the chemical and in early 1983; the EPA
announced the town’s buyout for $32 million dollars.
years later, in 1985, the entire population of more than 2,000
residents had been evacuated, with the exception of one elderly
couple who refused to leave, and the town was dis-incorporated by
executive order of the Missouri
Governor. The entire site was quarantined as residents moved on to
other areas. But for the residents who moved, the scare was not over,
as they continue to worry about the contamination effects on their
long term health. Furthermore, with the wide press coverage at the
time, the former
Times Beach residents were
shunned by their new neighbors, who feared the contamination.
Thousands of lawsuits were filed against Bliss, NEPACCO,
and its subcontractors. Though Bliss’ practices were questioned, he
was never implicated or convicted of a crime. As to the lawsuits
involving the chemical companies, no laws were in effect that
regulated the disposal of hazardous waste at the time of the disposal.
For years after the evacuation, the site sat silent behind barricades
protecting the curious public from the toxic threat, while the Federal
Government decided what to do.
During the years of
1996 and 1997 the government removed 265,000 tons of contaminated soil and
Times Beach and
28 other sites in eastern Missouri at a cost of $110
million dollars. An incinerator was built on the
Times Beach site
by a company called Syntex, who was the parent company of NEPACCO. After the soil was incinerated, the incinerator was dismantled and the
site was turned over to the State of Missouri.
The 1983 buyout of the town by the federal
government was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in our nation. The
tragedy brought dioxin to national attention and the EPA continued to
locate and clean-up dozens of other toxic waste dumps throughout the
nation. It also provided the push to pass new environmental laws
regulating waste disposal.
Though dioxin has been connected to cancer, skin diseases, immune
disorders, and birth defects, the long term effect on the exposed
residents is still unknown.
After the site was
turned over to the State of Missouri with the EPA’s
assurance that the land was safe, Missouri began to make plans for
the site and the idea of the Route 66
State Park began to take shape.