BY C.D. STELZER
first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Dec. 28, 1994
When Cindy Taykowski was 11years old, Sen. John C. Danforth announced that the Environmental Protection Agency was then testing a promising new method of ridding soil of dioxin. The process involved spraying contaminated areas with a mixture of sodium hydroxide and polyethylene glycol.
Danforth told the press then that the treatment had already successfully destroyed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a dioxin-related toxin. The tests results were due back from the federal agency’s Risk Reduction Engineering Laboratory in Cincinnati in 45 days.
That was 12 years ago.
The EPA never followed through with the potential treatment for some reason. Although other alternative methods of dealing with dioxin contamination now exist, none of the current alternatives are under consideration either.
Instead, the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are backing the incinerator plan of Agribusiness Technologies, a subsidiary of Syntex USA, the party found legally liable for the cleanup of the more than two dozen dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri, including the Times Beach, where the incinerator is to be located. The DNR director David Shorr signed a draft permit to allow the incinerator on Dec. 17.
Danforth, who retired from the Senate at the end of the congressional session, never publicly re-entered the debate that has developed over the issue in the past year. The former senior senator’s disquieting silence continues to be echoed by other statewide officer holders including, fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond and Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan.
The silence of Missouri’s highest officeholders is an indication of their tacit approval for the project , and comes despite mounting evidence as to dioxin’s dangers by the EPA itself. An EPA study released earlier this year states that dioxin is a potential human carcinogen and is responsible for immunological and reproductive health problems.
Taykowski, a member of the Times Beach Action Group, is one of the young environmentalist who oppose the construction of the incinerator. The activists have expressed concerns that the dioxin incinerator will not eliminate dioxin, but, only redistribute it through air-borne emissions. Their views have found a degree of support from locally elected officials, but no direct legislative actions have been initiated. If a local ordinance is not passed soon it may be too late to stop the construction of the incinerator.
The draft permit issued by the DNR allows a 45-day public comment period. Last Tuesday, Taykowski sat quietly in the gallery at the St. Louis County Council meeting. She had arrived five minutes too late to sign up to address council, she says. Those who were allowed to speak to the council on the issue included the Agribusiness Technologies spokesman Gary Pendergrass and Edward L. Noel, an attorney for Agribusiness.
Acting Council chairman John R. Shear of the 1st District then stated that legislation was being introduced at the meeting regarding the incinerator. Shear motioned that the Council, as a whole, consider the pending legislation later in committee. The motion was seconded by Councilman George M. Corcoran, Jr. of the 2nd District.
At the preceding meeting, the County Counselor John Ross argued that any local ordinance would be invalid due to the consent decree signed by the EPA and Syntex. The County lawyer’s opinion comes despite the fact that the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act or Superfund law clearly states that any federal decisions must adhere to local laws.
The three proposed ordinances that have subsequently been drawn up by Ross, were introduced at last week’s council meeting by Councilwoman Deborah Kersting of the 6th District, and Councilman Gregory F. Quinn, whose 7th District includes Times Beach. Quinn could not be reached last week because he was out-of-town for the holidays.
None of the proposed laws are acceptable, as they now stand, to those opposed to the incinerator, says Don Fitz of the Gateway Green Alliance.
“The … thing that we ask for is a very simple ordinance saying you cannot build a hazardous waste incinerator on a floodplain in St. Louis County. That would end the issue real quick,” says Fitz.
But barring that possibility, the County Council should force the EPA to at least demonstrate the ability to burn the dioxin, which is present at Times Beach and other Eastern Missouri locations, at the 99.9999 percent destruction removal efficiency (DRE). As it now stands, the so-called six nines guideline applies only to a surrogate material that the agency deems more difficult to burn than the dioxin itself.
“They never specify that the test burn has to use dioxin,” says Fitz. “They only specify six-nines DRE (destruction removal efficiency). So consequently the DNR and the EPA are free to say, `We met the county ordinance requirements.’
“The ordinance should have a six-nines on dioxin and no surrogates allowed,” says Fitz.
“The other thing, which is even more important than that, is that repeatedly we asked that the ordinance specify that a hazardous waste incinerator has to use the targeted material,” says Fitz.
This would mean that the test burn would have to accomplish the six nines rule using the same concentrations that would occur in the soil to be burned.
Fitz fears that without this strict guidelines, the EPA will spike” the surrogate test-burn material with more dioxin in order to reach the accepted six-nines level of destruction. “It’s easier to destroy dioxin, if you have it in high concentrations,” says Fitz.
The proposed ordinances, as they are currently written, or worse than none at all, in Fitz’ view.
The latest moves by the EPA and DNR have coincided with the holidays. During the Thanksgiving week, the EPA released its site-specific risk assessment, which estimated that the incinerator operation would result in no more than one additional cancer death.
The Friday following Thanksgiving, Taykowski and fellow TBAG member Tim Schmitt were stopped by Eureka police, after they took photographs of a banner that had been draped over a billboard along Interstate 44, across the highway from the incinerator site. The banner, which express opposition to the incinerator plan and directed criticism at Gov. Mel Carnahan, had been placed there by unknown members of TBAG.
“We pulled up around 8:30 in the morning to take some pictures, off of Willliams Road” says Taykowski. “The police were immediately there,” she says.
At the time, the Taykowski and Schmitt were told they could be issued a summons for trespassing anytime in the next year.
It took less than a month for the pair of activists to be notified. By coincidence, of course, Taykowski and Schmitt received their summonses on Dec. 16, the same day that the DNR issued the draft permit to allow the incinerator to be built.