epa region 7

HURRY UP AND WAIT

After quickly identifying two new dioxin sites in St. Louis County last year, the EPA has lagged on the clean ups

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), March 25, 1998

BY C.D. STELZER

From the picture window of her ranch-style home, Lorraine Jordan has a view of James S. McDonnell Park across Adie Road, where an eight-foot tall cyclone fence is now being constructed.

During the past few months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken more than 2,000 soil samples from the park, which is located near the North St. Louis County municipality of St. Ann. Surveyors have also staked out a section of the park near Jordan’s residence with bright orange flags. But nobody from the federal agency has bothered to walk across the street and inform her about the purpose of these actions. Instead, she has learned the little she knows from the scant newspaper coverage afforded the subject.

McDonnell Park, which is part of the St. Louis County Parks system, is the most recent dioxin site discovered in the metropolitan area. Regulatory authorities became aware of the contamination in October. The discovery followed an announcement earlier last year of another suburban dioxin site in Ellisville on Lemar Drive. Clean ups at both places have remained at a standstill for several months now. However, the EPA is expected to release its Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis (EE/CA) for the two projects this month. After a 30-day public comment period, the agency will then decide which means of remediation to pursue.

The discovery of the Lemar and McDonnell sites came after the closing of the controversial Times Beach dioxin incinerator in June, which precluded burning the waste locally. Another possible alternative was eliminated in December, when the only available commercial incinerator licensed to accept dioxin-contaminated waste was shuttered in Coffeyville, Kan.

Shipping the waste to Coffeyville would have been prohibitively expensive even if it had remained an option, according to one local official. In the short term, the federal agency has settled for containment and fencing off the contaminated areas. Due to budgetary constraints, long-range solutions now under consideration include alternative technologies shunned by the EPA during the Times Beach clean up. The EPA has refused to reveal the list of alternatives prior to the publication of its EE/CAs, but according to Ellisville city manager Jeff LaGarce, the choices will likely include a technique called “thermal desorption,” an unproven process that allows the waste to be detoxified on site.

Although the LaGarce lauds the EPA for its quick initial response, he expresses concerns about any further delay in cleaning up the Lemar site. “Our city adopted a resolution asking them to remedy this problem as quickly and efficiently as possible,” says LaGarce. “For four or five months, that site has been standing there idle. It has caused a great deal of concern for people. It’s good to put a lot of thought into a process such as this, but when are we going to see some outcome? We feel that our residents should not be subjected to having that site next to them for an excessive period of time.”

On the other hand, the director of the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department, expressed unqualified satisfaction with the EPA’s handling of the McDonnell Park site. “I’ve felt that the steps that we’ve taken and the timeliness of those steps have been appropriate,” says Hall. “The EPA has taken all those necessary steps and there are no problems relative to any exposures to the public at this point. You want to make sure you do it right, and, in the process of doing it, safeguard the public. My (goal) is to have a park that is presentable to the public and that is safe to the public and doesn’t put them at any risk. I think they’ve done that.”

Essentially, Hall is asserting confidence in the clean up before it has started.

The highest measure of contamination found at McDonnell Park is 275 parts per billion (ppb). Remedial action is mandated by the EPA in a residential setting at one ppb or higher. In this instance, however, because the highest level of dioxin is believed to be buried more than a foot deep, it has been deemed safe by the EPA. The greatest surface concentrations, 169 ppb, are present in a wooded ravine, which is currently being fenced off. Adjacent to the ravine, in a playing field, dioxin has been found at more than 9.5 ppb. The EPA intends to cap that area with soil and sod to limit human exposure and soil erosion.

At the Lemar site, the dioxin levels are even higher. The top level found beneath the surface in Ellisville was 1,173 ppb, according to the EPA. One residence has had to be evacuated because of interior contamination. The area has been fenced off and excavated. Additional dioxin that migrated off-site has been removed from the roadside and an area next to a nearby pedestrian walk. The contaminated soil is being stored in a pile at the site and covered with a tarp.

“The fencing is certainly just an interim measure, while we are preparing the final alternative,” says Bob Feild of the EPA. “Once we receive the public comment then we’ll be in the position to move forward with remedy selection. But at this point, I can’t really discuss the alternatives.

Both locations are suspected to have been contaminated by waste-oil operator Russell Bliss sometime in the early 1970s, according to the EPA. Bliss sprayed dioxin-contaminated oil on unpaved roads, parking lots, truck terminals and horse arenas as a dust suppressant.
Jordan, who has lived in her home for 43 years, recalls the late Odie Greenspon, once operated a breeding farm for trotters at the location of the present park.. Her children helped walk the horses and worked in the stables, she says. One of her adult sons has since contracted a lupus-like disease, says Jordan. Dioxin is known to cause damage to the human reproductive and immunological systems. It is also a probable carcinogen.

“I’ve been looking for answers, and I don’t know what direction to go in,” says Jordan, who was belatedly informed by a neighbor of an EPA informational meeting held on March 12. “There are probably a lot of people who are unaware,” she adds.

Across the street in the park, a family of four walks with their two dogs along the asphalt trail that skirts the dioxin-contaminated site. A trio joggers run past them. There are no signs to warn these park users that they are trekking through a hazardous waste site.

For information about the McDonnell Park and Lemar Drive dioxin sites, call Hattie Thomas, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, at 1-800 223-0425.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

The EPA belatedly calls for a retest of stack emissions at the Times Beach incinerator

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Jan. 1, 1997

On Christmas Eve, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator Elliott P. Laws ordered a retest of stack emissions at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator to determine whether the facility is operating safely. The test results are due by the end of January, according to an internal EPA memorandum released by the agency.

Robert Martin, the EPA national ombudsman, recommended the new test based on irrefutable documentary evidence showing samples from the original 1995 stack test were mishandled. The ombudsman — who represents citizens’ interests — began investigating the Superfund project last spring, after local residents complained of unsafe conditions at the cleanup near Eureka.

The Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) and other incinerator opponents later charged that a conflict of interest existed at the time of the original stack test because International Technology Inc. (IT), the incinerator operator, then owned half of Quanterra Environmental Services, the laboratory that mishandled the test samples.

In his final report on Dec. 21, Martin stated a new stack test and corresponding analysis would take under two week to complete. No shut down of the facility is anticipated, according to the report. The ombudsman estimated the test would cost approximately $100,000. The report recommends that the federal agency’s Environmental Response Team along with EPA Region VII, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) oversee the new test. The report further recommends that the St. Louis County Dioxin Monitoring Committee, a citizens watchdog group, select a technical advisor to independently access the new test. Last Friday, an EPA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. said the agency was unprepared to release the names of possible laboratories that may analyze the new test samples.
Martin’s final report roundly criticized a separate DNR inquiry, which had concluded earlier this year that problems with the original test were insignificant.”The findings of the DNR investigation are troubling,” Martin wrote. “The explanations offered by ATI (Agribusiness Technologies Inc., the company responsible for the clean up) and thus far readily accepted by DNR and EPA are grossly inadequate. Clearly, there are significant problems with the original test.”

The ombudsman’s report repeatedly relies on the opinion of Michael Bollinger, who is cited as an expert in environmental chemistry and public health. Bollinger is quoted as saying that inconsistencies in the original test “indicate either incompetence, blatant carelessness, or potentially criminal deception on behalf of the sampling and analytical contractors.” The Martin report goes on to list a litany of snafus during the original stack test, including: “modified quality assurance records, missing time periods, unaccounted for sample traps, and a lack of documentation on possession and transfer of samples.”

None of the state or federal officials responsible for overseeing the Times Beach clean up were available for comment last week. But spokeswomen for the EPA and DNR vowed that both agencies would cooperate fully in carrying out whatever measures necessary to assure future protection of public health and the environment.

Those promises may be a little too late, however.

More than 177,480 tons of dioxin-contaminated waste have already been burned at the incinerator, according to the latest estimates by the DNR. Moreover, despite the order for a retest, plumes of smoke continue to roil from the incinerator stacks. During the week preceding the issuance of the ombudsman’s final report, the incinerator burned 6,351 tons of toxic materials. At this late stage, only five of the 27 Eastern Missouri dioxin sites remain to be cleaned up, and the EPA has projected the burn itself could be completed as soon as March.

Although the federal regulatory agency is ostensibly accepting the ombudsman’s recommendation for a retest, the rush to burn the remaining dioxin-tainted soil is obvious. As a result, two traffic accidents have occurred in the past month. In the first case, a truck hauling dioxin contaminated waste from Timberline Stable overturned on Highway J in Callaway County. On Dec. 21, another dump truck crashed on Rock Creek Road near Highway 21 in Jefferson County.

In his Christmas Eve edict, Laws, the assistant EPA administrator, recommended the new stack test be conducted in a manner that creates only “minimal interference with ongoing incinerator operations.” In addition, the EPA official stated the agency has “an obligation to ensure that a protective cleanup is conducted in an efficient and expeditious manner.” The assistant administrator defends this hellbent policy by citing available air monitoring data, which he claims proves the incinerator is operating safely.

Bill Elmore, a member of the St. Louis County Dioxin Monitoring Committee, isn’t buying the agency’s latest line. “What they’ve done is shift the burden of proof to residents,” says Elmore. “They should have to prove to us that this is not harmful — and they cannot do that. In fact, every time you take a close look at the data you find even more reason to not believe what they say.”

Although the EPA now claims there has been a 1.1 percent average decrease in airborne dioxin levels in the vicinity of the incinerator from March through November, the data actually show significant increases at three of seven air-monitoring sites. Elmore attributes the increases — including a whopping 22.5 percent jump at one location — to prevailing seasonal wind patterns. The EPA “should cross reference the direction of the wind where these increases in average airborne dioxin concentrations occurred,” asserts Elmore.

Laws doesn’t appear to have the time to authorize such prudent calculations. Instead, the assistant administrator busied himself last week accusing incinerator opponents of promulgating “irresponsible allegations of conspiracy and criminal activity.” Laws’ shrill denunciations of EPA critics were laid out in his Dec. 24 memo, which almost as an aside called for the retest of stack emissions. The three page screed also attacks ombudsman Martin for implying criminal misconduct may have occurred in relation to the Times Beach cleanup.

Steve Taylor of TBAG finds the official protestations mildly ironic, but he is more concerned about the possibility of history repeating itself. “For the EPA and the DNR to handle a retest without an investigation into those who allowed contractor (wrongdoing) to occur in the first place is like allowing a convicted child molester to do community service in a daycare center,” says Taylor. “It is irresponsible of Elliott Laws to refer to our allegations of wrongdoing as unfounded. There is no validity to the stack test. The incinerator should be immediately shut down given the fact there is no evidence that it is operating appropriately. They (the EPA and DNR) have violated the law. They have permitted an incinerator (to operate) with no evidence of it meeting its permit requirements. We will not be satisfied with a new stack test until the DNR and EPA are investigated by an independent arm of the government, possibly the Department of Justice or the FBI or a congressional subcommittee to determine why contract (improprieties) are being embraced by these agencies.”

TAKING A NEW STACK

An interim EPA report recommends a new stack-emissions test at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator but mutes its call for a shutdown

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Nov. 27, 1996

On Nov. 20, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) interim report recommended that a stack-emissions test at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator may need to be redone to restore public confidence in the project. Such a retest would require snuffing the flames at the incinerator at least temporarily (“Why the Times Beach Incinerator Should be Shut Down, RFT, Nov. 20).

Despite the recommendation, the EPA had by late last Friday taken no action to address the potential public health hazard posed by the incinerator emissions.

“I have absolutely no idea what is going to take place. We have not met on this subject. I am not in any position to comment in any way,” says Rowena Michaels, a spokeswoman for EPA Region VII in Kansas City. Region VII and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are responsible for overseeing the dioxin cleanup in Eastern Missouri, including Times Beach. The results from last year’s flawed test were used as a basis for the DNR to grant a permit for the incinerator to operate.

EPA national ombudsman Robert J. Martin submitted the interim report to Elliott P. Laws, assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) in Washington, D.C. As ombudsman, Martin was assigned in May to represent the interests of citizens opposed to the Times Beach incinerator. His final report on the subject is now tentatively scheduled for completion by Dec. 9.

As it stands, Martin’s interim report recommends “establishing a panel of technical and legal experts to consult with the national ombudsman on how to address the issues raised in this case in a final report.” But no such panel has been formed as of yet by the EPA. Moreover, Martin, now speculates that the panel won’t be formed before he completes his findings next month.

“I don’t have the ability to convene the panel,” Martin told The Riverfront Times in a phone interview last Friday. “I have no decision making power. I only have the power to recommend. So whether this panel happens is up to the agency. The agency hasn’t said whether they’ll do it or not.”

Martin’s interim report to Laws concludes that “another dioxin stack test may be essential to restore public confidence in the project.” The report supports that position by citing gross errors in last year’s stack test. “There are salient inconsistencies in the chain-of-custody (of test samples) along with multiple alterations in the supporting documents,” according the EPA interim report. Assistant administrator Laws has not responded to repeated requests by the RFT for an interview.

Martin told the RFT that he is concerned about his inability to put his hands on a copy of the project’s work plans, which lay out the protocols supposedly used during the now unreliable stack test. I have not seen the plans. Apparently, a lot of people have not,” says Martin. “The real question (then) becomes what in fact did they use for a chain-of custody-procedure. We don’t know the answer to that question until we get the work plans. To date, I’ve seen abstracts from the documents, but not the documents in their entirety.

However, the integrity of the interim report itself is now being questioned. Environmental opponents of the incinerator had anticipated that Martin’s review would more strongly advocate a shut down pending a retest.

“It is obvious that the ombudsman lost the courage of his convictions sometime after submitting his report to Elliott Laws for review,” says Steve Taylor of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG). “We believe that the recommendations in his report were softened. The release of this report is completely inconsistent with the guidance given to us by the national ombudsman.”

As recently as the first week of November, Taylor says Martin told him that the long-awaited interim report would call for a direct and unqualified shut down of the incinerator, pending a retest. Taylor has provided the RFT with taped-recorded telephone conversations to back up his claims. In one conversation, a voice that sounds like Martin’s can be heard saying: “Whatever they need to do to do in the way of a shut down to accommodate a retest is what they should do.”

When confronted with Taylor’s allegations, Martin responded indirectly by saying that his call for a shut down and retest must now be predicated on a loss of “public confidence and not one of legal impropriety.” Taylor contends Martin has waffled on this point, too. In another tape-recorded telephone conversation, a voice presumed to be Martin’s says: “I got to tell you that it wasn’t until this week, going through these documents and then having these discussions with you that I’ve moved from `we have problems’ to `we have potential criminal activities.'”

In the phone conversation, the presumed voice of the ombudsman ruminates over difficulties that his inquiry may soon encounter because of a parallel investigation by the DNR. “The state is likely going to weigh in and say, `no problem,” says the voice on the other end of the line. Then you get into double-jeopardy kinds of issues. I may talk to the FBI. …”

Last week, during his interview with the RFT, Martin denied knowledge of information contained in a key document that is allegedly already in his the possession, according to Taylor. The content of the document, of which Martin now says he is unaware, includes a “Chronology of Events” prepared by the incinerator operator. The chronology indicates that five sample tubes disappeared from the site shortly after the stack test was completed last year. Martin also denied knowledge of a custody sheet from an analytical laboratory showing that sample seals were absent upon arrival. Taylor alleges that he had discussed that issue with the ombudsman as well.

With the release of the watered-down interim report, Taylor has become even more distrustful of the EPA. “It is shocking that the ombudsman had asked the TBAG to sit on information of potential criminal activity pending the release of his interim report,” says Taylor. “In our conversations, Bob Martin gave specific guidance to me to withhold evidence of possible fraud to better facilitate future criminal investigations.”

 

WHY THE TIMES BEACH INCINERATOR SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN

BY C.D. STELZER

First published by the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Nov. 20,1996

Some of the toxic shipments hail from the hinterlands, forgotten places in rural Missouri with strange names like Bull Moose Tube, Moscow Mills and Piazza Road. But the bulk of the dioxin-contaminated soils now being hauled to the Times Beach dioxin incinerator near Eureka comes from nearby sites in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis. It is a mammoth Superfund project being conducted with little fanfare, and it would now seem little regulatory oversight.

Federal and state regulators have went to great lengths to assure the public that the incinerator is operating safely; that igniting an estimated 228,000 tons of hazardous waste is not a risk to human health or the environment. Since deciding to burn the waste, the government agencies responsible for the project have encountered the resistance of citizens and locally elected officials. Public concerns, which were dismissed as unwarranted, have since been borne out. Accidents have occurred. Lies have been told. Nevertheless, those in control remain unrepentant and the project has proceeded under the arbitrary terms of the 1990 federally-court-ordered consent decree.

For now, the 80,000-pound dump trucks laden with dioxin-tainted dirt continue to trundle down city streets, county roads and Interstate highways, as they have for the past year. Sometime in 1997, the last shovelful of poisoned earth is expected to be burned. The incinerator is then scheduled for disassembly. After the project is completed, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has promised to transform the location of the former town of Times Beach into a park. It would seem a noble end for an ignoble legacy wrought more than a quarter-of-a-century ago by the misdeeds of Russell Bliss, the waste oil hauler responsible for dispersing dioxin across the region.

Unfortunately, serious questions about the safety of the dioxin incinerator still remain unanswered. Internal corporate memos from the incinerator operator and scientific data obtained by the Riverfront Times show numerous omissions and inconsistencies in documenting the handling of last year’s dioxin stack test samples. The laboratory analysis of those emissions samples prompted the state to issue the requisite permit for the incinerator to operate.

In recent weeks, separate DNR and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inquiries have also noted serious lapses in scientific protocol during the November 1995 dioxin stack test, lapses that cast doubt on whether the incinerator can be legally considered protective of human health. In this regard, the RFT has learned of a recommendation at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C to shutdown the incinerator pending a retest.

Much of the impetus for the reexaminations of the stack test can be traced back to environmental opponents of the project, who have doggedly sifted through mounds of technical data. Based on their research, they now allege that the original stack test results are fraudulent.

“Documents have been doctored,” says Steve Taylor an organizer for the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG). “Samples were mixed and matched to give optimal results. Massive inconsistencies exist between the log book … and the final report presented to the DNR and EPA.” Taylor’s latest charges are an extension of his previous objections to the relationship between International Technology Corp. (IT), the incinerator operator, and Quanterra Environmental Services, a partially-owned subsidiary that handled the samples (“Twice Burned,” RFT, Aug. 28).

Although all sides in the controversy now recognize that test documents are flawed, they disagree on the ramifications. In a report published earlier this month, the DNR, for example, declares that “chain of-custody documentation procedures were less than satisfactory.” The state agency, nevertheless, has expressed renewed public confidence in the analytical results of that same test.,

By releasing its vacillating findings in advance of an imminent EPA ruling on the same subject, the DNR has undercut the bargaining position of the EPA official who most favors shutting down the incinerator until the stack test can be redone. The call for a shutdown and retest has also been potentially muted by the well-timed release of a Missouri Department of Health (DOH) blood study that claims dioxin levels have actually fallen among residents who live near the incinerator. A chemist for the environmental group Greenpeace has disputed those findings (“Blood Feud,” RFT, Nov. 13). Last week, the St. Louis County Council asked that DOH for raw data pertaining to the blood study that has been withheld from the public. Meanwhile, the EPA recommendation for a shutdown is expected to be released in an interim report to EPA assistant administrator Elliot Laws this week, according to a source close to the investigation.

Whether the recommendation will be quashed or accepted is uncertain. One obstacle working against the approval of a retest is money. In an Oct. 16 letter, Syntex Agribusiness Technologies Inc. (ATI) — the company liable for the cleanup — threatened to pull out if there were costly delays due to retesting. The letter, from ATI project coordinator Gary Pendergrass, presented DNR and EPA officials with an ultimatum: ” … (W)e feel strongly that it would be imprudent to set a precedent of requiring additional testing based exclusively upon allegations that are without merit. Any interruptions will be costly to the project and to the community, and may jeopardize the continuing availability of all of the thermal treatment team.”

Less than a month after the Pendergrass letter arrived on his desk, DNR director David Shorr exonerated the incinerator operator of any wrongdoing.”There is no evidence of criminal misconduct,” said Shorr. “However, International Technology (IT) would have been better served by hiring a financially independent contractor, especially on a project this sensitive to the community.”

“The state and maybe the feds, too, are doing everything they can to keep this thing on track without admitting anything serious enough to cause a shutdown,” says R. Roger Pryor, exectutive director of the Coaliton for the Environment. “(But) if the EPA releases this recommendation, I don’t see how Shorr and DNR can pooh-pooh that. One of the guarantees that we were given since that day one was that if any irregularities showed up that were contrary to the original specifications they wouldn’t hesitate to shut the thing down to make sure corrections were made. Now it’s time for them to live up to their word.”

Despite its waffling, the DNR report does conclude that IT, the incinerator operator, and its partially-owned subsidiary, Quanterra Environmental Services, violated their own chain-of-custody requirements pertaining to test samples. In addition, IT’s lax documentation also skirted the state’s specified custodial procedures, according to the DNR report.

In the absence adequate chain-of-custody documents, DNR investigators scrambled to gather verbal accounts that allegedly confirmed the collection and transfer of the test samples from Times Beach to a North Carolina analytical laboratory.

With alibis in hand, The DNR then ruled out the possibility of any sample switching, because the lab involved in the test marked each tube with a distinctive resin that acts as a fingerprint. A chemist for the laboratory that analyzed the samples explains it this way: “Dioxins and furans are highly stable compounds and can only be removed from the resin by extraction. It would have been apparent by the appearance of the … resin if it had been extracted and placed back into the modules.”

“Any attempt to modify the dioxin samples would have disturbed the resins and invalidated the samples,” explains Shorr of the DNR. “The sample handling documentation employed by Quanterra was not the best, but it has not affected the validity of the dioxin stack test data.”

On the surface, the test was based on a fail-safe system then. However, the DNR report is itself fails to even mention certain key documents known to have been turned over to the state agency. “These documents show unaccounted resin (sample) tubes shipped in the middle of the night directly from Triangle (Laboratories) to Times Beach,” says Taylor. “There is compelling evidence that tubes and samples have been switched to falsify test results. “The withholding of these documents by David Shorr is an obstruction of justice and a coverup.”

Shorr responded to the charge by saying: “I did not do the investigation. But as far as I’m concerned our report was complete.” He says he provided the Pendergrass letter and all of its attachments to the appropriate quarters. “They were conveyed down to the portion of the agency that did the investigation. … As far as I’m concerned … it’s another piece of paper in the file. (TBAG) raised allegations that we felt merited our spending resources in order to do a thorough investigation. We did that investigation. We responded to each of the allegations, and found issues, certainly, of poor judgment. But there was nothing that we could find that represented an illegal act or an act that compromised the sample integrity.”

As the behind-the-scenes debate rages on, so too do the dioxin fueled fires at the incinerator; fires that continue to destroy public trust.

A litany of sources could not be reached for comment on this story. Their silence hints at what the paper trail has already confirmed. The narrative that follows chronicles the botched dioxin stack test of last year and the recent efforts to defend it. This explanation of events is based on copies of documents, scientific data and a voice mail message obtained by the RFT.

Just before noon on Aug. 29, Rob Kain of ATI made what sounded like an urgent call to William C. Anderson at Quanterra Environmental Services in Knoxville, Tenn. But Anderson, the quality assurance officer for the Times Beach project, never received the message. That’s because Kain confused a local telephone prefix with the Knoxville area code. Thinking he had reached Anderson’s voice mail, the ATI official left this stuttering message:

“This is a message for Billy Anderson. This is Rob Kain with ATI. Billy, we’re going to have a conference call at one o’clock, and Con Murphy (an IT employee) has-the-ah-has-the-ah-has a good part of the information on the questions that are going to be discussed. If you get this call before one o’clock, you’ll probably want to check with him. In particular we’re going to want to know more information on what happened exactly with the samples between Times Beach and Knoxville (Tenn.). It took two days for that to transport so the people want to know where they stopped overnight (and) any additional information we might have. So we’ll talk to you at one o’clock. Bye-bye.”

The telephone message shows that ATI, the company liable for the cleanup, and its subcontractors, IT and Quanterra, quickly moved to get their version of events straight one day after the publication of an RFT story that raised questions about the stack test. The message also makes clear that there was uncertainty among the participating parties as to the exact whereabouts of certain Quanterra employees during the transport of the test samples.

It eventually took a week for Quanterra to ship the test samples from Times Beach to Triangle Laboratories in North Carolina. According to a chronology of events prepared by ATI, two Quanterra employees departed from Times Beach with the samples on Tuesday morning November 21. They arrived in Knoxville late in the evening on the same day.

No chain-of-custody documents exist for this leg of the journey, or of the subsequent transfer of the samples in Tennessee. Once in Knoxville, the Quanterra employees are supposed to have turned over the samples to Anderson, who was in charge of quality assurance for the project. Instead of transporting the samples to Triangle Laboratories the next day, Anderson took them home for the Thanksgiving holiday. The samples stayed in his possession until Monday Nov. 27, when he finally signed them over to a Triangle Laboratories representative.

The seven day gap between completion of the test and the arrival of the test samples at the analytical laboratory is enough to give pause. But more snafus have now come to light.

The dioxin stack test purportedly consisted of three runs in which test samples were taken from each. But the project logbook shows a fourth run. Two pages dedicated to the fourth run have dates either missing or changed. A diagonal line runs across each of these pages with the words “not collected” written above it.

Although the testing reportedly ended on Nov. 20, test work appears to have extended beyond that deadline. An internal IT memorandum provided to the DNR and EPA shows that a second shipments of sample containers arrived at Times Beach on Nov 21 — the day after the documented completion of the test. The new batch of sample containers, referred to as XAD-2 resin traps or tubes, were ostensively requested on short notice in case a fourth run was needed. A custody sheet shows the sample containers being released by a Triangle Laboratory representative — but there is no signature showing who accepted the order.

However implausible a secret fourth run may seem, it is obvious that proper controls were not being used to assure the validity of the test findings. In short, quality assurance had run amok. The simple act of keeping track of laboratory materials became an impossible chore. According to the internal IT memo: “The 5 unused resin traps, which are not part of the stack samples and not stored in the stack sample cooler, are left at the site in the sample recovery trailer. The trailer is removed from the site approximately one week after the completion of the dioxin stack test.”

In other words, the incinerator operator is admitting that five sample containers mysteriously disappeared . And no one from IT or Quanterra signed for the last shipment of four.

None of this adds up, of course.

By its own account, IT used a total of nine sample containers during the course of the entire test. The incinerator operator had ten sample containers on hand to begin with — more than enough for the task. No indication is given in the test documents that any of the original containers were either lost or broken. There would then seem to be no need to use any of the late-arriving containers for a test that had already been completed. Nevertheless, samples D-1208 and D-1209, which are a part of the last batch, are listed as being used as “spiked resin blanks” for run #3 on Nov. 20. The IT chronology, however, shows D-1208 and D 1209 arriving on Nov. 21, after the test had been allegedly finished.

Another irregularity relates to sample D-1182. In Anderson’s final report, D-1182 is listed as being collected from run #2 on Nov. 20. But according to his request for analysis, D-1182 appears as part of run #1 on Nov. 19. In addition, the date on a D-1182 sample label is missing. This particular omission did not become apparent until last month, when Triangle Laboratories turned over a missing data page to IT. In an Oct. 3 letter to an IT official, a Triangle Laboratories vice-president wrote: “While doing our cross-reference check, we discovered that one page was inadvertently omitted from the data package.”

A missing page, a missing date, a missing signature. Most of all missing accountability. In his final report, Anderson states: “No significant problems were observed that would adversely affect the application of these analytical data as being completely indicative of the TTU (thermal treatment unit) dioxin emission performance.”

If this seems to be drifting into a tedious hair-splitting analysis, keep in mind that there are more inconsistencies in the stack test than can ever reasonably be expected to be explained in one newspaper story. Proponents of the incinerator, on the other hand, have been nothing short of verbose in their defense of the project. The ATI letter, for instance, measures 16-pages in length, minus sundry attachments. The DNR report, which for the most part absolves IT and Quanterra of wrongdoing, is 188 pages long.

“What’s significant about the state’s report is not what’s in it, but what’s not in it,” says Taylor. “Shorr is giving partial truth, and withholding information from the public in order to conclude that the samples are valid. The missing shipment of tubes is never mentioned nowhere other than in attachments to the letter sent to David Shorr by Gary Pendergrass,” says Taylor. “The presence of extra traps and resin completely invalidates the state’s conclusion that samples could not have been tampered with.”

Again, DNR director Shorr takes issue with Taylor’s assertion. “You’re working on the switcheroo theory. Well, the part that I would question in your theory is the fact that sample casings and the samples that were sealed were the ones that made it Research Triangle Park. Those were sealed in front of DNR inspectors. And that was included in the report.”

In contrast to Shorr’s reassurances, a document obtained by the RFT casts doubt on the integrity of the sealed sample. The page — from a Triangle Laboratories data report — clearly indicates sample seals absent on arrival at the lab. The carrier is listed as Bill Anderson. The inventory sheet is signed by Triangle sample custodian John Guenther. When state investigators recently questioned Guenther about the transfer of samples, however, he “recall(ed) that all samples were properly packagted and di not appear to be tampered with.”

It is difficult to conceive of the toxic-nature of one molecule of dioxin. Scientists still debate its dangers. But most, including those at the EPA, assume dioxin is a carcinogen and they are even more certain that it causes damage to the immune and reproductive system in humans. The sources of dioxin, although now on the decline, are. nevertheless, ubiquitous in the environment. It has long been established that Incineration is one of those sources. And so it would seem more than a little ironic that the EPA would choose to dispose of dioxin in a manner that would at the same time create it. Those who favor hazardous waste incinerators point out the presumed state-of-the-art efficiency of thermal technology.

That kind of hard-nosed attitude is often trotted out and displayed as expedient pragmatism. At the same time, it is a convenient means of defending lucrative government contracts between the hazardous waste disposal industry and the federal government. William C. Anderson is no stranger to that largesse. His resume shows that in the past he has worked on a PCB cleanup in Utah for the Army. IT, the incinerator operator, also has longstanding ties to federal coffers. A Standard &;Poor’s report from August indicates that 63 percent of IT sales in 1995 involved U.S. government agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Energy. In 1994, when congressional legislation threatened stronger oversight of hazardous waste incinerators, including the Times Beach incinerator, IT complained to the Security and Exchange Commission that the plan would jeopardize millions of dollars of its assets and “could (have a) material adverse effect to the company’s consolidated financial condition.”

Obviously, somebody listened. The adverse effects of the incinerator’s emissions on human health be damned.

TALENT TO BURN

U.S. Rep. Jim Talent requests a shutdown of the Times Beach of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator

BY C.D. STELZER

first published by the Riverfront Times (St. Louis),Oct. 2, 1996

Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R-2nd Dist.) requested an immediate shut down of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator pending an investigation into the mishandling of stack emissions samples at the controversial Superfund cleanup.

The congressman made the request in a letter to Elliot Laws, assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. The letter also asked the agency to re-conduct the trial burn at the incinerator near Eureka to assure it is operating safely.

Talent, who is running for re-election against former Democratic Congresswoman Joan Kelly Horn, has long voiced opposition to the dioxin incinerator. His intermittent efforts to halt the project, however, have failed to bring about any change in plans. Talent’s latest attempt to put out the fire follows a copyrighted story in the Riverfront Times (“Twice Burned,”Aug. 28).

The RFT story revealed that International Technologies (IT), the incinerator operator, partially owns Quanterra Environmental Services, the laboratory that handled emissions samples from critical stack tests conducted at the incinerator in November 1995. After Quanterra received the samples, it took seven to eight days for them to reach Triangle Laboratories in North Carolina, according to EPA documents. Environmentalists suspect that improper handling of the samples during that time may have invalidated the test results. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued the requisite operating permit based in part on the results of the laboratory analysis.

Although Talent referred indirectly to the RFT’s continuing investigation of the Times Beach project in his letter to the EPA, the congressman refused to be interviewed for this story. Talent’s reticence is not unique. Calls placed to the DNR last week also went unreturned. The EPA has had little to say either.

After the RFT filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request to obtain information on Quanterra’s involvement in the project, the agency’s regional headquarters in Kansas City claimed no such records existed and denied any association with the laboratory. “Please be advised that EPA has no documents responsive to this request. Quanterra has no official relationship with EPA regarding the Eastern Missouri Dioxin Sites Cleanup, including Times Beach,” an EPA offcial stated.

The denial contradicts a clause in the 1990 consent decree signed jointly by representatives of the EPA, DNR and Syntex, the corporation liable for the cleanup. The consent decree states: “…Settling Defendants shall notify EPA and the State, in writing, of the name, title, and qulaifications of any supervising contractor, and the names of principal contractors and/or subcontractors proposed to be used in carrying out the Work. Selection of any such contractor shall be subject to approval by EPA, after consultation with the State, which shall not be unreasonably withheld. EPA shall notify the Settling Defendants in writing of its approval or disapproval within 14 calendar days of receipt of the notice.”

KEEPING A SAFE DISTANCE

Last year, EPA boss Carol Browner withdrew from decision-making about Times Beach. Meanwhile, inquiries about the dioxin incinerator continue to rage

BY C.D. STELZER

First published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Sept. 11, 1996

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)administrator Carol M. Browner has withdrawn from all decision-making responsibilities concerning the Times Beach cleanup, The Riverfront Times has learned.

Browner recused herself from addressing any aspects of the controversial Superfund project in an internal agency memorandum dated April 5, 1995. The administrator’s office in Washington, D.C. provided the RFT with a copy of Browner’s statement last week upon request.

The recusal statement does not specify why Browner bowed out of the case. An EPA spokeswoman now says Browner relinquished oversight because the administrator’s sister works for the corporation liable for the cleanup. Michelle Browner, the EPA chief’s sibling, is a research scientist for Roche Bio-Science in Palo Alto, Calif. Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical conglomerate, purchased Syntex Corp. in 1994. Syntex, the responsible party, must burn the dioxin-contaminated soil at Times Beach and 26 other sites in Eastern Missouri, according to the to the 1990 federal consent decree with the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A subsidiary of Syntex, Agribusiness Technologies Inc., is carrying out the plan.

News of Browner’s withdrawal follows the initiation of a DNR inquiry into whether stack emissions samples were handled properly last November, after a trial burn at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator near Eureka. Earlier this year, the DNR issued a permit for the burner based in part on the results of those tests. Opponents of the incinerator, including the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG), raised concerns last month about a potential conflict of interest, after they discovered International Technology Corp. (IT), the incinerator operator, partially owns Quanterra Environmental Services, the lab that handled the samples (Twice Burned, the RFT, Aug. 28) .

“I am aware of the allegations by TBAG, and we are checking on those allegations,” says DNR director David Shorr. “I don’t believe there were any shenanigans here. The only question that I am looking into is whether there was a prospect of a breach in the chain of custody (of the stack emissions samples). … It’s not that we believe that there was a breach in the chain of custody, but we’ve have had that inquiry made to us.”
Shorr expresses equal confidence in Browner’s hands-off policy. “I am not aware of her ever being involved in Times Beach during her tenure,” says Shorr. “She has properly recused herself. All decisions from EPA, at least that we have had, have been through either Elliott Laws, the assistant administrator for waste or deputy (administrator) Fred Hansen.”

Martha Steincamp, chief counsel for Region VII of the EPA in Kansas City, views Browner’s recusal as insignificant. “Frankly, there have been no decisions that would be made at the administrator’s level on this case, anyway,” says Steincamp. “The decisions are made out here in the Region.

“The really important thing to remember is this is what one does, when one wants to take one’s self out of the decision making process — you recuse yourself,” says Steincamp. “She didn’t consult with me when she did it. Until you told me, I didn’t know that it was her sister or what this person’s name was. That’s not what I need to know to do my job. What I need to know to do my job is don’t go looking to Carol Browner on decision making on Times Beach.”

The EPA administrator, however, does wield statutory power over the Times Beach Superfund project. According to the consent decree:

EPA shall review the remedial action at the Facilities at least every five (5) years after the entry of this Decree to assure that human health and the environment are being protected by the remedial action being implemented. … Settling Defendants shall be provided with an opportunity to confer with EPA on any response action proposed during the EPA’s 5 year review process and to submit written comments for the record during the public comment period. After the period for submission of written comments is closed, the Administrator shall, in writing, determine if further response action is appropriate. …

In other words, the EPA could have reviewed the safety of the project and implemented changes to the plan at any time since the 1990 decree was signed, but the agency was required to do so within five years. The decree mandates that based on that review the EPA administrator take appropriate steps to protect public health and the environment, if necessary.

It didn’t happen. The five-year deadline expired July 19, 1995. According to the EPA internal memo, Browner recused herself on April 5, 1995.

Steincamp, whose signature appears on the consent decree, says the Times Beach agreement is superseded by a clause in the Superfund law, which requires that the “remedial action” (in this case incineration) be completed before the review takes place.

A high-ranking official at EPA headquarters in Washington, on the other hand, says the Superfund provision means the Times Beach project can’t be reviewed because the incinerator hasn’t been operating for five years. The cleanups at Times Beach and other Eastern Missouri dioxin sites, however, have been going on for well over five years.
The two interpretations of the law share one thing in common — they thwart any review of the project until after the incineration is completed. Here is how the pertinent Superfund clause actually reads:

If the President selects a remedial action that results in any hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants remaining at the site, the President shall review such remedial action no less often than each 5 years after the initiation of such remedial action to assure that human health and the environment are being protected by the remedial action being implemented. …

Hugh Kaufman, an EPA whistleblower, is candid in his opinion as to why Browner chose to distance herself from the project. “Well, Times Beach is getting hot now,” says Kaufman. “Carol Browner tries to find a reason to recuse herself from any sticky wicket case,” he adds. “She did that with the WTI (Waste Technologies Industries) incinerator. Apparently, her husband works for a group called Citizen Action, where she used to work. Citizen Action, at one time, … signed a letter asking the state of Ohio to relook at this mess. … The real reason she recused herself is because it’s a big sticky wicket issue involving Jackson Stephens … and the Clinton/Arkansas connection.”

Kaufman is referring to the WTI commercial hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. Stephens, who founded WTI in 1980, is a Little Rock financier who has padded the campaign coffers of both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the past. Stephens and WTI have also been linked to the Union Bank of Switzerland, which has been implicated along with the CIA in the BCCI and Nugan-Hand banking scandals. The WTI incinerator was permitted to operate even though it emitted despite unsafe levels of dioxin.

In 1983, Kaufman felt the heat from Times Beach himself. The whistleblower then appeared on the Phil Donahue TV talk show and alleged that U.S. Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) had received a list of potential dioxin sites in Missouri, while state attorney general, and had failed to do anything about it. During that period, Kaufman was the EPA’s chief hazardous waste investigator. His inquiry here led him to suspect that Russell Bliss, the waste hauler responsible spreading the dioxin, had connections to the “power-elite culture” in Missouri. “When I raised the issue of him being part of the old boy network of which Danforth was a member, Danforth screamed bloody murder,” says Kaufman.

The current dilemma with the incinerator has parallels with the past, according to Kaufman. He compares the political and social climate in Missouri to a banana republic. “Nothing changes, ” he says. “Especially, when you’ve got Ralston Purina and Monsanto. You’ve got an elite club, and the disposal boys are a part of that club. It’s like Arkansas — you’ve got an aristocracy — and then you’ve got everybody else.”

Confirmation of Kaufman’s jaded view can now be seen billowing from the stacks at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, where state and federal regulators continue to turn a blind eye to an obvious public health risk. Studies by the EPA itself indicate dioxin is a probable human carcinogen and the cause of immunological and reproductive problems. The agency also acknowledges that incineration is one of the means by which dioxin is created.

Nevertheless, the EPA and DNR claim the Times Beach incinerator is safe. These assurances have continued despite a series of toxic releases at the incinerator this spring that bypassed pollution control devices and dispersed contaminants into the air. The odds of similar accidents occurring increased in July, when Syntex pushed back the completion date of the burn until next year because an estimated 70 tons of additional dioxin-tainted dirt will need to be destroyed.

Prior to firing up the incinerator, federal Judge John F. Nangle, the jurist responsible for the consent decree, ruled in the EPA’s favor, outlawing a St. Louis County ordinance that would have required that stack emissions meet the agency’s own stringent standard of 99.9999 percent destruction efficiency.

BLOWING IN THE WIND

Studies show airborne dioxin vapors travels great distances from their source

BY C.D. STELZER

(first published in the Riverfront Times, June 19, 1996)

Dioxin found in the Great Lakes region originated at incinerators located as far as 1,500 miles away from the affected area, according to recent scientific studies conducted by the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems (CBNS) at Queens College in New York City.

The findings draw into question the reliability of long-established risk assessment guidelines used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for rating incinerator safety, including the current Times Beach Superfund project. The research also contradicts assurances issued here last week by Linda Birnbaum, head of the EPA’s reassessment on the dangers of dioxin. Birnbaum was in St. Louis to address a conference of the Society of Toxicologic Pathologists. In an interview following her speech, she cited the dangers of allowing dioxin-contaminated soil from 27 sites in Eastern Missouri to be further distributed by the wind.

Blaming potential dust storms, however, is not an accurate representation of how dioxin enters the environment, says former Washington University professor Barry Commoner, the biologist who heads the CBNS.

“What Birnbaum was forgetting is that we now know exactly how dioxin gets into crops, which is the key thing for human exposure. It penetrates the leaves of the crops as vapor — not as dust,” says Commoner. “Any time you burn dioxin or any other chlorinated material, you are going to get some airborne dioxin that contributes to the health hazard.”

Commoner’s warnings are partially based on the EPA’s own research showing the average person is already exposed to dioxin levels that can result in health problems, including cancer and reproductive and immunological disorders. Birnbaum was out of the country last Friday and unavailable for comment.

“Our study, … released a year ago — (which) she must know about — shows that the stuff travels all over the country,” Commoner says. The CBNS Great Lakes data tracks dioxin from incinerators as far away as Florida. Typically, dioxin enters the food chain through crops and is passed to humans through dairy products and meat.
Standard EPA site risk assessments, such as the one at Times Beach, are flawed because they misrepresent dioxin dangers by limiting their focus to a very small geographic area, Commoner says. “The risk doesn’t come from any one incinerator, it comes from all the incinerators.”

Burning the dioxin-contaminated soil at Times Beach is actually contributing to the problem not solving it, according to Commoner. “The way you get dioxin vapor is out of an incinerator,” he says. “If you keep dioxin attached to the soil particles and not able to get into the air it’s safe.” The biologist recommends paving over the contaminated soil or confining it in concrete bunkers.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall has refused to meet with opponents of the Times Beach incinerator, citing a revised EPA risk assessment that again claims the project is safe. In a June 10 letter to incinerator opponents, Westfall called their concerns “alarmist attacks.”

Opponents had requested the meeting to explain factors that have been omitted from the latest EPA report, including data on incomplete combustion, fugitive emissions and food chain exposure. The renewed assurances from the EPA come after repeated electrical outages at the incinerator, which allowed unknown quantities of dioxin to escape into the atmosphere.
The burn continues.

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."

TRYING TIMES

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Sept. 20, 1995

Fifteen environmental activists are charged with trespassing for their Times Beach protest

“It’s kind of easier to just close your eyes to what’s going, on” says Jillian Borchard. The thought causes her to do just that. She shakes her head, unfurling hanks of tousled brown hair. Traffic noise envelopes her laugh, which is lost in the chatter at the sidewalk cafe on Delmar.

The levity of the moment masks serious concerns the young woman has about her future. Brochard is a 22-year-old art student at Washington University . She is also a criminal in the myopic vision of the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office.

Last Friday, Borchard and 14 other environmental activists were formally charged with first-degree trespassing for their involvement in a protest that took place at the site of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator on July 27. On that day, St. Louis County police arrested the demonstrators who stepped past a gate at the Superfund site entrance. The maximum sentence for the offense is six months in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

Opponents of the incinerator say stack emissions will endanger public health by dispersing dioxin into the air. Officials for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contend that the plan is safe. Test burns may begin as soon as November, with the incineration of some 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated soil from 27 sites in Eastern Missouri scheduled to begin early next year.

Borchard and Sarah Bantz, another of the protestors who was charged, are members of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) at Washington University. Both suspect that the timing of the issuance of the charges was more than coincidental. In their opinion, the legal hurdles are being used to diffuse opposition to the project as the date of the test burn approaches.

Efforts to stop the incinerator continued last Tuesday, when more than two dozen opponents took over the agenda of the monthly Dioxin Monitoring Committee meeting. In addition, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R Chesterfield) met with four West St. Louis County mayors the preceding day. The elected officials discussed seeking a delay in the project. In the past, Talent has asked that the incineration be halted at least until the completion of a congressionally-sponsored study.

Neither Brochard nor Bantz have been informed by the county of the charges against them. Instead, they learned of their legal situation from a news account. “I don’t understand why the public knows about this before the person involved,” says Bantz.

Both women say they felt compelled to commit civil disobedience after other means failed. “Nobody wants this,” says Bantz. “It just seems like everything has been tried, and nothing works. It is not easy to get involved. You’re not expected to do anything except maybe vote,” says Bantz. “You reach this point,” she says, “where you have no option other than throw yourself at the authorities and say, `I am willing to put my body on the line to stop this.'”

Ten of the 15 defendants charged with trespassing at Times Beach are women. Organo-chlorines — including dioxin — have been blamed for increased levels of breast cancer. There is evidence women are at higher risk because dioxin-like chemicals are absorbed by fat and females naturally have a higher percentage in their bodies.

Bantz and Borchard have begun to decorate a wall of their apartment with the responses that they have received from elected officials, all of whom are males, incidentally. There are letters from the governor, the congressman and the county executive. “They’re just all the same,” says Bantz. “I’ve gotten so many responses saying it’s going to be safe — don’t worry about it.”

A benefit concert for the Times Beach 15 is tentatively scheduled for Oct 7 at Washington University. For more information on how to contribute to the legal defense fund call 458-5026, or write: P.O. Box 50, Clarkson Center, Suite 493, Chesterfield, Mo., 63017.