TEAMSTERS FIGHT EPA SECRECY

by C.D. Stelzer

previously unpublished, Oct 18, 1995

Representatives from two federal agencies and a Missouri
Department of Health (MDOH) official fended off a
barrage of hostile questions from employees at the
Nationsway Transport Service Inc. on Monday. At the
meeting,  workers and their union representatives asked
the EPA for a delay to allow independent health experts
to assess the situation.  It was not clear at press time
on Monday whether the EPA would accede to the request. 
     The controversy has risen in advance of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans calling for
the excavation of  the Jones Truck Lines site this week. 
The abandoned truck terminal on Hall Street is one of
the 27 designated dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri,
which  are scheduled to be remediated as a part of the
Times Beach Superfund cleanup. That project involves
transporting an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin
contaminated soil and burning it at a temporary
incinerator that is being constructed at the former town
of Times Beach in St. Louis County.
     Nationsway truck terminal employees, most of whom
are members of Teamsters Local 600, are concerned about
the potential exposure they will face when the EPA
begins moving the toxic dirt.  The Nationsway terminal
is directly adjacent to the Jones site.  The  EPA 
belatedly acknowledged that dioxin contamination has
migrated from the Jones site and onto the property where
Nationsway is located (Toxic Migration, the RFT, Oct.
11). Workers at Nationsway were not informed until
earlier this month of the imminent cleanup or the
migration despite test results being completed more than
a year ago. 
      On Monday, a spokesman for the agency told  those
attending the meeting that dioxin has also been found at
Gully Transportation,  the truck terminal to the south
of Jones. Workers there have yet to be informed, says
Mark J. Thomas, an EPA  on-site coordinator. 
     According to the EPA's time schedule, the
excavations on this portion of Hall Street will be
finished in a few weeks. The cleanup  includes digging
up 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  truck lot.      
     Officials from the EPA, MDOH and the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) all tried
to convince the workers that  levels of dioxin at Jones
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. Industrial standards
require cleanups of dioxin levels exceeding 20 ppb.  The
officials stressed that long term exposure to the toxin
is the real danger. Gale Carlson of MDOH told the
workers that the diesel fumes they breathe daily 
contain higher levels of dioxin than the contaminated
soil which is to be removed. 
     Gregory R. Evans,  a community health expert at St.
Louis University, spoke to the employees at the request
of the management of Nationsway. He asserted that
dioxin-exposure has never been proven to be lethal. 
"(Moreover), there has never been a person who has ever
even come down sick with anything done with dioxin,"
Evans told the workers. 
      The recently finalized reassessment of dioxin
conducted by the EPA found it to be a suspected human
carcinogen and responsible for human reproductive and
immunological problems. 
      Given that fact alone, the Teamsters have
reasonable cause to doubt Evans' reassurances. On
Monday, Local 600 officials asked the EPA to delay the
Jones excavation. Thomas of the EPA gave no indication
that the project would be held up more than possibly a
day. In defense of the agency's plans,  Thomas claimed
the 1990 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.
      Union members are concerned about the rush and
they question why they were not informed in advance of
the EPA's plans. If the EPA would temporarily hold off
on the Jones excavation, workers say the potential for
further human exposure could be lessened because
Nationsway's lease expires in February and the company
has had  longstanding plans to relocate to a larger
facility. 
      "Our local attorneys are checking into whether we
can get any kind of court order against them (the EPA),"
says Rick Schleipman, a business agent for Local 600.
Schleipman was unsure at press time on Monday what the
union lawyers would recommend. At the same time, the
local has gained the support of its International union,
which is supplying its own health experts. They are
expected to arrive in St. Louis early this week to begin
their own investigation of the Jones site.
      More than one of the Nationsway workers say they
have relatives  that worked at the Jones terminal who
died of multiple forms of cancer. In 1971, Russell Bliss
sprayed the then-unpaved truck lot with dioxin
contaminated waste oil as a dust suppressant.
     "My father passed away while he was working for
Jones Truck Lines," says Nationsway employee Art
Compton. "He had multiple cancers. Whenever they
diagnosed him, they gave him six months and he died in
29 days. Twenty of those days were on morphine." After
arguing with the federal and state health officials at
the meeting on Monday, Compton, 50, had a heart attack
at the scene and has now been hospitalized.

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