Toxic Migrant

By C. D. Stelzer

first published in the Riverfront Times (St.Louis), Oct. 16, 1995

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has
discovered dioxin contamination on property in St.
Louis that the federal agency had previously listed
as clean, the Riverfront Times has learned.
 
Soil tests conducted in June 1994 at the
Nationsway Transport Service Inc., a truck terminal
at 5701 Hall St., revealed dioxin levels of up to
15 parts per billion, according to an EPA
correspondence and sampling data provided to the
RFT by an anonymous source. Despite the lapse of
more than a year since the test results were
issued, employees at the terminal and their union
representative were never officially notified of
the contamination by the EPA or the company. 

In September, Bob Feild, the EPA project
manager for the Times Beach dioxin cleanup,
repeatedly told the RFT that samples taken at four
sites in 1994 had uncovered no further dioxin
contamination. "They were found to be clean, ..."
said Feild. 

When asked last week about the Nationsway
terminal, Feild admitted the property was among
those he had previously identified as
uncontaminated. Feild and Martha Steincamp, the
regional counsel for the EPA, now maintain it is
likely that the newly discovered dioxin-tainted
soil migrated from the adjacent Jones Truck Line
lot, and, therefore, cannot be considered part of a
separate site, according to the terms of the 1990
federally-mandated consent decree. 

"I guess we're having a little semantical
problem about whether there are other sites," says
Steincamp. "Superfund doesn't care about property
boundaries, they clean up contamination. ... There
is migration at a lot of the sites," adds
Steincamp. Officials at the EPA and the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) say
the concentrations of dioxin at Nationsway are well
within health-based standards for industrial or
commercial properties and pose little risk because
the contamination is limited to the periphery of
the property. Nevertheless, the EPA says it will to
excavate and burn the toxic soil at Nationsway.

The abandoned Jones Truck Line property, at
5601 Hall St., is one of the 27 designated sites
that are part of the EPA's Times Beach Superfund
cleanup. The project involves transporting and
burning 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated
soil in Eastern Missouri. As a part of the plan, an
incinerator is now being built at the site of the
former town of Times Beach in West St. Louis
County. Test burns may start before the end of the
year. The EPA intends to use some of the
contaminated soil from the Jones site as feedstock
for those burns, which will require that the
cleanup at the Hall Street location begin soon.
 
As of last week, no one yet had informed
Nationsway employees about the imminent excavation.
In 1983, the EPA deemed the site -- formerly known
as Trans Con -- to be clean, but workers at the
terminal have long been concerned about potential
dioxin exposure.

"As far as I know there hasn't been any
announcement of any plans to clean it up," says
Rick Schleipman, the business agent for Teamsters
Local 600, who represents many of the workers at
the Nationsway terminal. "If there is something
wrong on the property, they should definitely let
them know," says the labor official. 

When risk manager Jerry Baer was contacted at
Nationsway's corporate headquarters in Denver, he
denied any knowledge that dioxin contamination had
been found at the company's St. Louis facility.
"Our understanding is that there is dioxin at the
site next door," Baer says. He refused to talk
about the company's policies regarding notifying
employees of potential dioxin exposure. He would
only say: "I know that they are aware of it, (but)
I don't know how they became aware." Nationsway --
an international transport company -- is controlled
by Jerry McMorris, the owner of the Colorado
Rockies baseball team.

The property on which the Nationsway terminal
is located is owned by Justin Williamson III of
Ladue. In a letter dated August 8, 1994, the EPA
notified Williamson of the dioxin contamination. "A
review of the data shows that 2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin)
was detected on your property ranging in
concentration from 0.336 to 15.0 parts per billion
(ppb)," the letter states. Williamson, a prominent
St. Louis businessman and philanthropist, also owns
Midwest Transfer, another transport company located
on Hall Street. He says he informed the management
of Nationsway about the dioxin contamination, and
otherwise bears no responsibility in the case.
Williamson has owned the property for four or five
years, he says. He refused further comment.
 
"He is essentially an innocent landowner,"
Steincamp, the EPA lawyer, says of Williamson. "In
other words, the contamination came to be located
on his property through no fault of his."

An estimated 3,278 cubic yards of toxic dirt is
supposed to be dug up at the 5.65-acre Jones site
and hauled to Times Beach for incineration,
according to the EPA's Engineering Evaluation/Cost
Analysis (EE/CA). Excavation, at this site alone,
will cost more than $1.3 million. The total price
tag for incinerating the tainted soil at Jones is
expected to be more than $4.2 million. In addition,
more than 182,000 square feet of the contaminated
soil will at capped with asphalt and remain at the
location. The cost of capping the remaining soil
will be more than $500,000.

The ostensible purpose of the
scorched-earth-and/or-asphalt policy is, of course,
the protection of human health. Established EPA and
ATSDR standards require residential property be
cleaned up to below one part per billion (ppb). The
same guidelines, however, allow dioxin levels of up
to 20 ppb in certain commercial or industrial
areas. The reasoning behind the double-standard is
that children are more vulnerable to the effects of
dioxin. The toxin is a suspected human carcinogen
and is known to cause immunological and
reprodcutive problems. "Children are just more
sensitive and they also, through their play habits
and eating habits, ingest more dust, more soil than
a worker does," says Denise Jordan-Izaguirre of the
ATSDR. The federal health official says that
studies "have shown that adult, healthy men, in a
work place, are exposed to much higher levels (of
dioxin) without any impact on their health." 

Opponents of the EPA's plan see things
differently. "It's a liability removal project,"
says Steve Taylor, an organizer for the Times Beach
Action Group (TBAG). "It's very suspicious that
these sites haven't been cleaned up for 20 years.
TBAG has long demanded that public officials help
us to uncover the dioxin coverup."

Fred Striley of the Dioxin Incinerator Response
Group (DIRG) shares a similar view. "The plan says
that they can cap over dioxin-contaminated soil,
and that will be safe. They've capped over a lot of
soil and its been that way for ten years," says
Striley. "I don't see why they have to burn it, if
it's safe to cap it. Why not cap it all, if it's
safe? I don't believe it is safe in the long term,"
says Striley. "I think the sites should be cleaned
up and the stuff should be stored." 

The dioxin-contaminated soil in the St. Louis
area was created as an unwanted byproduct at the
Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co.
(NEPACCO) plant in Verona, Mo. in the late 1960s
and early 1970s. NEPACCO manufactured
hexachlorophene, an antiseptic, which has since
been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. At the time, the company also
leased part of its facility to Hoffman-Taff, a
producer of Agent Orange, the herbicide used in the
Vietnam War. Syntex Agribusiness Inc. later
acquired Hoffman-Taff. During this period, NEPACCO
contracted Independent Petrochemical Corp. (IPC) to
dispose of the dioxin. IPC then hired Russell M.
Bliss. Beginning in 1971, Bliss mixed some 18,000
gallons of the dioxin residue with waste oil and
sprayed it as a dust suppressant at horse areas,
parking lots, truck terminals and the unpaved
streets of Times Beach. Bliss' folly did not become
publicly known until late 1982.

Six of the 27 confirmed sites sprayed by Bliss
were truck terminals in the city of St. Louis. 


In late 1994, more than 50 former
dioxin-exposed employees of Jones Truck Lines or
their surviving family members received an out-of
court settlement for a suit filed in 1983. The
defendants in that case included, NEPACCO, IPC and
Syntex -- the company liable for the Times Beach
cleanup. 

The same parties were defendants in a 1991
civil trial. In that case, a St. Louis Circuit
Court jury awarded the family of deceased truck
terminal employee Alvin Overman $1.5 million.
Overman died of soft tissue sarcoma, a rare form of
cancer associated with dioxin exposure.

"We are not more worried about company owners
than the people that work there," says Steincamp,
the EPA counsel. The lawyer remains firm in her
conviction that the agency she works for stnads by
its name and is more concerned about public health
than private interests. Steincamp, however, would
probably have a difficult time convincing former
Teamster Ken Manley of this. 

In the early 1980s, Manley helped run a dioxin
task force for Local 600. He recalls the Teamsters'
investigation initially received the support of the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and got
favorable coverage in the daily newspapers. A
health study proposal sponsored by the union
identified 700 members who had worked at three St.
Louis truck terminals that were then known to have
been sprayed by Bliss. 

"Then all of a sudden it just stopped," says
Manley."I can't tell you exactly what happened, but
somewhere along the line the issue just got shut
down. I mean it literally got shut down." 

Not long before the task force folded, Manley
received a tip that a playground on the near
Southside by Ralston Purina had been contaminated
with dioxin, he says. "I informed CDC and EPA,
(but) by that point they weren't doing any further
testing."

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