The EPA plows ahead With its dioxin cleanup despite workers’ concerns

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Nov. 1, 1995

(Beep) Carl, my name is Art Compton. I am an employee of NW (Nationsway Transport Inc.). My father died at Jones Truck Line next door of dioxin-related cancer. We are very upset because the federal government is going to remove that dirt starting next week. And we’ re very concerned about what’s going to happen to the people at NW when they do this. They are going to do this while we are working.They’re having a meeting Monday at NW; the EPA is going to meet with some people. I would like very much to talk to you.

The  week after receiving my first telephone
message from Art Compton, he called again. This time his
voice sounded a little weaker, the words came a bit
slower,  but the 50-year-old Teamster's resolve hadn't
lessened a bit.
     "I don't die easy," said Compton. The Vietnam
veteran had a heart attack at the office of the
Nationsway (NW) truck terminal on the morning of Oct.
23. The seizure occurred shortly after Compton had
argued strongly with federal and state officials over
their plans to excavate dioxin-contaminated soil at the
nearby Jones Truck Lines, one of the 27 sites that are a
part of the Times Beach Superfund cleanup in Eastern
Missouri. Compton has since been released from the
hospital and is now convalescing at home. "I think that
I brought a lot of awareness ... to the EPA
(Environmental Protection Agency) that this is more
serious than they thought, "  he says.
     At the hastily arranged meeting on Oct. 23,
representatives of the EPA, the Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Missouri
Department of Health (MDOH)  fended a barrage of
questions from Compton and other NW employees. About two
dozen employees attended the meeting. The workers and
their representatives from Teamsters Local 600 asked the
EPA to delay excavation at the nearby Jones site. 
     The labor union also requested that the interior of
the NW terminal itself be tested. After the Teamsters
brought in their own health experts early last week, the
EPA acceded.  Initial test results have now verified the
presence of dioxin-contaminated dust at levels as high
as 1.18 parts per billion (ppb) in the rafters at the
truck terminal, union officials say. Last Friday
afternoon , NW management sent workers home early so the
EPA could do further testing, union officials say.  At
press time on Monday, a union spokesman told the RFT
that most of the latest test results from the had been
determined to be invalid. Further sampling is
     Despite the discovery,  the EPA is plowing ahead
with the excavation of a contaminated section of roadway
behind NW. At the same time,  the agency  has now
acknowledged the existence of dioxin-contaminated soil
at  yet another location -- Gully Transport -- a truck
terminal immediately south of the Jones site. This
latest revelation comes as local environmentalists are
alleging the possible presence of polychlorinated
biphenyls (pcbs) and other toxic substances in the soil
at some of the cleanup sites, including Jones. If proven
true, the additional toxins could invalidate  the EPA's
projections on stack emissions at the incinerator. 
     Contaminated soil at the abandoned Jones truck
terminal on Hall Street was scheduled to be removed
beginning last week. The Times Beach project involves
transporting an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin
contaminated soil from more than two dozen locations and
burning it at a temporary incinerator that has been
constructed at the site of the former town of Times
Beach in St. Louis County.
     On Oct. 13, the St. Louis County Counselor's office
asked Judge John J. Nangle to temporarily halt use of
the incinerator pending appeal. It is unlikely the judge
will grant the stay, however, since the appeal seeks to
reverse an earlier decision by Nangle in which he
overturned a county ordinance that would have set a
strict emissions standard for the incinerator. 
     Meanwhile, NW  truck terminal employees are
concerned about potential exposure from additional
airborne dust once the asphalt lot at Jones is dug up.
The Nationsway terminal is directly adjacent to the
Jones site.The EPA belatedly acknowledged that dioxin
contamination has migrated from Jones onto the  property
where Nationsway is located (Toxic Migration, the RFT,
Oct. 11). Workers at Nationsway were not informed until
early last month about the imminent cleanup or the
migration problem despite test results being completed
more than a year ago. 
     According to the EPA's tentative time schedule, the
excavations on this portion of Hall Street are to be
finished in a few weeks. The original  plan included
excavating soil both on and off of the Jones site,
vacuuming the interior of the defunct terminal warehouse
and filling in a large sinkhole in the Jones  truck lot.
     Officials from the EPA, MDOH and ATSDR all tried to
convince the workers on Oct. 23 that  levels of dioxin
at the Jones site are so low that they pose little or no
health risk. Dioxin levels of more than 400 parts per
billion (ppb) have been found at the site. The 
established industrial standard requires excavating and
removing dioxin-contaminated soil that exceeds 20 ppb. 
The officials stressed that long term exposure to the
toxin is the real danger. Gale Carlson of MDOH told the
workers that diesel fumes they breathe daily contain
higher levels of dioxin than the contaminated soil that
is to be removed. Carlson's  assurances, however, came
before the discovery of the dioxin-contaminated dust in
the NW terminal's rafters. 
     At the same meeting, Gregory R. Evans, a community
health expert at St. Louis University, spoke to the
employees at the request of the NW management. Evans,
who lays claim to more than 20 years of experience in
dioxin-related research, told the workers there is
nothing to be concerned about.
      "I don't care what physician told you what there
has not been a person who has ever been documented to
have died from dioxin. I don't care what any physician
has told you. I've been doing this work for 20 years.We
have evaluated every single person that ever lived in
Times Beach. Every person that has lived in sites that
has levels 1,000 times higher than levels next door
there, and we followed them for years. There has never
been a person who has ever even come down sick with
anything done with dioxin," says Evans. "I'm not saying
that there aren't reports out there that don't say that
it's not dangerous. ...  I'm not saying that if I go out
and spray myself with pure dioxin that there might not
be a problem with that. I'm talking about the site next
door. I'm talking about most of these sites around here
in which we are talking about low-levels of dioxin that
for whatever legal purposes there are, they got to get
rid of," Evans says. 
     Not all health professionals or scientists agree
with Evans, however. Paul Connett, an environmentalist
and chemist at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.,
is among those who feel that dioxin exposure, at any
level, is more than a legal problem. "He can't even see
the evidence in front of his own eyes," says Connett of
Evans. "There has been a lot of documented sickness in
the people that have lived in Times Beach. Now whether
they've done a good enough epidemiological study to
satisfy themselves,  that's a different issue. The fact
is that many people in the Times Beach area have shown a
litany of sickness, which has not been explained."
     The EPA's  recently finalized reassessment of
dioxin found it to be a probable human carcinogen and
responsible for reproductive and immunological
disorders. In 1993, the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) recognized an association between Vietnam
War veterans exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide
containing dioxin, and a number of illnesses.  Those
dioxin-related maladies include: soft-tissue sarcoma,
non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, chloracne and
porhyria cutanea tarda (a liver disorder).  Other
diseases are suspected of being associated with dioxin
      In 1991,  a St. Louis jury awarded the family of
the late Alvin Overman $1.5 million. Overman, a Hall
Street truck-terminal employee,  died in 1984 of soft
tissue sarcoma. Syntex, the corporation responsible for
the Times Beach cleanup along with  Northeastern
Pharmaceutical Chemical Co (NEPCCO),  and Independent
Petrochemical Co. (IPC) were found liable in the case.
The truck terminal that employed Overman had been
sprayed with dioxin-contaminated waste oil in the early
      Given that fact alone, the Teamsters have
reasonable cause to doubt Evans' reassurances. NW
employees are uncertain why there is a need for the EPA
to now rush ahead with the cleanup. If the agency would
temporarily hold off on the Jones excavation, workers
say the potential for further human exposure could be
lessened because NW's lease expires early next year and
the company has had  longstanding plans to relocate to a
larger facility.  In defense of the agency's plans, 
Mark J. Thomas, the EPA's on-site coordinator, claims
the 1990 federal consent degree, which mandated the
cleanup, requires the EPA to begin excavating at Jones.
There is, however, no time schedule for individual site
cleanups included in the consent decree.
     "These guys probably have been exposed long term,
because before they paved these lots, the dust was
there," says Rick Schleipman, a business agent for Local
600. "In my heart, I believe that they (the EPA) were
just going to come in there, dig it up, move it and be
on there way without our involvement, whatsoever." 
Since the union interceded,  the agency has agreed to
excavate the areas closest to the NW facility over the
weekend, when none of the employees are there. The EPA
has also now decided to store the excavated soil
temporarily in a building on the premises, instead of
simply covering it with plastic, Schleipman says.
     Compton,  the worker who had the heart attack, is
one of two NW employees who say they have deceased
family members that worked at the Jones terminal. In
1971, Russell Bliss sprayed the then-unpaved truck lot
with dioxin-contaminated waste oil as a dust
     "My father passed away while he was working for
Jones Truck Lines," says Compton. "He had multiple
cancers. Whenever they diagnosed him, they gave him six
months and he died in 29 days."

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