Another accidental release of dioxin at Times Beach heats up the debate over the incinerator’s safety
BY C.D. STELZER
first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), May 15, 1996
It happened again.
A power outage at the Times Beach dioxin
incinerator near Eureka caused a release of unknown
quantities of dioxin into the air on Monday morning.
This time the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
blamed wildlife for the malfunction, according to
Chesley Morrissey, a member of the St. Louis County
Dioxin Monitoring Committee.
"This is really getting to be to much," says
Morrissey. "A squirrel got into a transformer. ... This
isn't supposed to be happening." Morrissey says the DNR
informed her the problem had been rectified and the
incinerator would continue to operate as usual. "I don't
think they should start putting feed back into it until
they are more thorough," says Morrissey. The monitoring
committee is scheduled to meet with officials to discuss
the continuing problems at the incinerator on Wednesday
at the Environmental Protection Agency's offices at the
Meanwhile, opponents of the Times Beach dioxin
incinerator have announced plans to meet with U.S. Rep.
Jim Talent (R-Chesterfield) this week. They also
anticipate speaking to the EPA ombudsman, who will be in
St. Louis. In addition to the technical problems at the
incinerator, Among the subjects to be discussed are
recently obtained court documents that indicate Monsanto
Chemical Co. provided samples of dioxin to the Army
Chemical Corp as early as 1952.
Since burning began at the Times Beach dioxin
incinerator in March, there have now been four
documented emergency releases in which untreated dioxins
have been released. After the incident on April 28, the
Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shut down
the Superfund project to evaluate its safety. Following
the recommendation of the Missouri Department of Health,
the incinerator was allowed to start back up last week.
After the Monday emergency release, a spokeswoman for
the DNR continued to expressed confidence in the
incineration project. "If we didn't feel it was
protective of public health, we wouldn't do it," says
Nina Thompson, a spokeswoman for the DNR.
Despite the latest official reassurances nettlesome
questions remain as to why such a flawed technology
would be approved when it carries with it the potential
for harm to both the environment and humans. The lax
attitude of the of the DNR and EPA has led Steve Taylor
of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) to conclude that
the regulatory agencies are generating smoke other than
that pouring out of the incinerator's stacks.
"They don't want a close scrutiny of what is being
burned at Times Beach," say Taylor. Taylor says the
past withholding of soil samples by the EPA is part of
a coverup. Letters between Monsanto and the Army
obtained by TBAG add credence to his allegation.
According to a 1952 correspondence, Lt. Col. Loyd
E. Harris of the Army Chemical Corp asked Monsanto
research director Russell Jenkins for samples of the
toxic by-product of the chemical 2,4,5-T. The context of
the letters indicates the Army was investigating the
possibility of using the substance as a chemical weapon
not a herbicide. The Army Chemical Corp expressed
interest in the then-unnamed toxin after an industrial
accident at a Monsanto plant in Nitro, W.Va. in 1949. A
Subsequent letter from Harris to Jenkins indicates the
Army had dropped its interest in the compound.
TBAG obtained the correspondence from Peter Sills,
a former attorney for the Vietnam Veterans of America,
who acquired the evidence after the 1984 settlement of
the Vietnam veterans' class-action suit against Monsanto
and other manufacturer of 2,4,5-T, the dioxin
contaminated component found in Agent Orange. Sills, who
is writing a book on the subject, says the military
continued its research on the deadly toxin before
introducing Agent Orange to Vietnam in the early 1960s.
"We already know this (type of) waste is associated
with the production of Agent Orange," says Taylor of
TBAG. "We feel this waste is associated with Monsanto.
Analysis of this soil would produce even further
questions or confirm some of our suspicions that
Monsanto's involvement is being covered up.