April 6, 1994
Press critics may find it comforting to know that a
newspaper is ultimately responsible for the imbroglio
called Times Beach.
The town in southwest St. Louis County began as a river
resort back in the mid-1920s, when the now-defunct St.
Louis Star Times sold property along the Meramec to
increase circulation. A six-month subscription qualified
a reader to purchase a lot for $67.50.
Of course, this was in the halcyon days before anyone
ever heard of dioxin, television or guerrilla theater.
Last Friday, those three modern inventions collided at
the Lewis Road exit to Interstate 44 in front of the
barricaded Route 66 bridge that once served the
About 30 members of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG)
began arriving around 11 a.m. dressed in white "moon"
suits. They came to protest the planned Times Beach
dioxin incinerator, which they believe will be unsafe if
In some ways, the original organizer of the protest was
Russell Bliss, the waste oil-hauler who unwittingly
sprayed the streets of Times Beach and other sites with
dioxin-tainted oil in the early 1970s. At the time, he
was just trying to keep the dust down. Bliss didn't know
his actions would make him the founder of an
environmental-protest movement and the provider of job
security for countless state and federal bureaucrats.
Those bureaucrats with the representatives of Syntex
Inc., the company liable for the cleanup, have been
creeping ahead since their 1990 consent decree to build
the Times Beach incinerator, despite opposition by the
St. Louis County Council and the disapproval of voters
in St. Louis County, who rejected the proposal in a
Last year, a federal judge halted a similar dioxin
incinerator in Jacksonville, Ark., because the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not be sued
until after the completion of a cleanup.
TBAG would prefer that the toxic waste be stored until a
proven technology is developed to destroy the dioxin.
State and federal studies recommended exactly the same
thing a decade ago, but the soil was never collected.
Since then, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) and the EPA have decided to burn the tainted soil
at Times Beach. If built, the facility would also torch
the dioxin from 26 other locations in eastern Missouri.
TBAG has demanded that the DNR reopen the consent decree
on the incinerator on the incinerator so the public can
voice opposition to its construction. The press release
distributed in advance of the demonstration warned of
acts of civil disobedience. In response, a handful of
St. Louis County police and a highway patrolman invited
themselves to the occasion.
For some, it was definitely an event worth recording.
The TBAG members didn't even have to wait for the TV
stations to arrive before the video cameras started
rolling. One camera was aimed at the protesters from the
security shack. later, a second cameraman who refused to
identify himself, began shooting footage from a doorway
of the rehabbed project offices across the road.
The protesters milled around the parking lot of that
building, talking to reporters and chanting
anti-incinerator sound bites. Most of those in "moon"
suits were college-aged, so it was easy enough to
identify the locals. The latter was Paulette Taykowski,
43, a lifetime resident of nearby Crescent, Mo. She and
her husband, Joseph, criticized the way the Times Beach
dioxin site has already disrupted their lives and both
questioned the efficacy of incinerating the waste.
The leaders of the demonstration used a bullhorn to get
their points across.
"We want a congressional investigation into the coverup
that's been perpetrated by the EPA and industry to
mislead the public about the dangers of dioxin," said
Tammy Shea. She was referring to industry sponsored
reports that diminish the dangers that dioxin poses to
humans. "We are also asking for an investigation into
the unethical relationship between the EPA and the
chemical waste industry. They are working on behalf of
profit not people."
When activist Don Fitz got his turn at the bullhorn he
said the preliminary finding of the EPA's long-delayed
dioxin reassessment reaffirmed that dioxin causes
cancer. The latest evidence also shows that dioxin may
enhance other carcinogens already in the body. "If this
incinerator goes up, the effect it will have will be to
increase the level of dioxin that an already-exposed
population has," said Fitz.
As part of the well-coordinated protest, activists set
up two mock smokestacks made of plywood. They then lit
smoke bombs attached to the cutouts and un furled a
banner across the road that read: "No dioxin
For the grand finale, three protesters walked behind the
gate on the bridge and were summarily busted for
trespassing. One slumped to the ground, while another
held a smoke bomb aloft like the Statue of Liberty.
Meanwhile, their comrades shouted slogans and lobbed
more smoke bombs in the direction of the arresting
officers. A reporter began gasping for air and waving
her arms. The police lieutenant checked the shoulder of
his starched white uniform for smoke damage. A small
plane buzzed over the gathering bearing yet another
motto of opposition.
It all seemed like a movie set, and, to a degree, it was
just that. But with the TV cameras trained on the smoke
and the air show, a moment of reckoning almost went
unnoticed. It came as 19-year-old Lydia Roberts of
Eureka waited to be placed in the backseat of the squad
car. Her hands were handcuffed. Her face and the
arresting officer's were inches apart. "I'm doing this
for family," she said. "What about your children? What
about the land?"
The cop didn't answer.
(first published in the Riverfront Times – St. Louis)
–C.D. Stelzer (firstname.lastname@example.org)