hazardous waste

WASTED IN WEST COUNTY

As a prelude to snuffing the flames at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, the EPA moved more than 4,000 tons of “special” waste from the clean-up site to a controversial landfill in St. Louis County

published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) July 9, 1997

BY C.D. STELZER

In late May, when the dump trucks began rumbling down Vance and Sulphur Springs Roads in southwest St. Louis County, residents along the route had no way of knowing that the vehicles were hauling chemically- contaminated soil from Times Beach. That’s because no one from the federal, state or local government bothered to tell them.

Ultimately, over a two-week period, a total of 4,466 tons of non- dioxin-contaminated waste, which had been excavated from the site of the former Times Beach city park, wound up at the nearby Superior Oak Ridge Landfill. The soils contained dangerous volatile organic chemicals, including ethylbenzine, toluene, xylene, tetrocholorethylene and trichloroethylene.

No less than three sources reached for this story refused to comment on the transfer of the waste, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA — an agreement the EPA doesn’t even acknowledge exists. An EPA attorney, who did go on the record, said she had no idea how much the city park clean up cost. A public affairs spokeswoman for the agency asked that all questions pertaining to landfill shipments be placed in writing. Although a Freedom of Information Act request was submitted, there have been no answers yet.

The stealthy manner in which the tainted dirt was relocated and the silence since then has led opponents of the Superfund cleanup to further criticize the project, which is now near completion. In advance of a media event to publicize the final snuffing of the flames at the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, the public affairs office at the site disconnected its phone. (park here)
Officials who have been contacted have attempted to diffuse the issue. The word from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the St. Louis County Health Department is that there is nothing to worry about because the soil that went to the landfill contains only low-levels of contamination. Indeed, they emphasize that the latest tests show negligible amounts of toxic chemicals at the city park site. By contrast, the EPA’s own 1986 draft feasibility study claimed that soil contamination at the park went20 feet deep and ground water was contaminated with 13 different chemicals.

In the latest tests, the EPA didn’t search for highly-toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) because none were recorded to have been found in tests conducted in 1991. But earlier tests conducted in 1982 showed PCBs present at the same location, according to sources close to the Times Beach clean up. This apparent discrepancy may be explained to a degree by the natural breakdown of the chemicals over time. Public confidence in the reliability of EPA data has also broken down over time, however, and PCBs are known to be persistent in the environment. Aside from not informing the public in a timely manner, the transfer of the waste to the landfill raises other concerns. The Riverfront Times has learned the following:

* The landfill that accepted the waste from the Times Beach city park has repeatedly been cited for operating violations by the DNR. Superior Services Inc. of Wisconsin, the new landfill owner, has yet to fully rectify the latest problem, according to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Interestingly, Superior also controls a subsidiary specializing in hazardous waste cleanups. That company has done work for the EPA in the past.

* James B. Becker, who owned the landfill until last year, headed a consulting engineering firm that did survey work at the Times Beach clean up, according to the DNR. Records show his son is still the managing operator for the landfill. The elder Becker, a heavy campaign contributor to County Democrats, has been involved in past political controversies.
* The former mayor of Times Beach and a civil attorney with knowledge of the case both say the city park tested positive for highly- toxic PCBs in 1982. Sampling at that time also found other hazardous chemicals. Tests conducted nine years later, however, somehow failed to find any PCBs In May, the EPA chose not to sample again for the persistent chemical and claims to have found only insignificant levels of other contaminants.

* A driver for Russell Bliss, the waste hauler who sprayed Times Beach with dioxin-contaminated oil, admitted dumping liquid chemical waste at the same site (then called West County Landfill) in the early 1970s, according to copies of government documents obtained by the RFT.

“What’s really strange about this whole thing is they took Superfund money to take material they were afraid was going to leach into the ground water at Times Beach, and dumped it into a municipal waste landfill in West County that has been out of compliance for the lastdecade,” says Steve Taylor of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG).

Taylor and other local environmental activists have long charged that incineration — the mandated method of disposing of dioxin- contaminated waste in Eastern Missouri — falls short of meeting the EPA’s own stringent emissions standards and thereby endangers human health and the environment. Evidence uncovered by TBAG late last year cast doubt on the reliability of a crucial 1995 stack emissions test, which was conducted to verify the operational safety of the incinerator.

Now that Syntex, the liable party in the dioxin clean up, has finished burning 265,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated soil (more than twice the amount originally estimated), TBAG is concerned about the remaining waste. This separate phase of the remediation has until now received little or no attention. Under the terms of the 1990 consent decree, non- dioxin contaminated materials could not be burned at the Times Beach incinerator. In some cases, barrels of hazardous waste have been shipped out of state for disposal. Soil deemed to contain only low levels of contamination, however, could be legally moved to an ordinary sanitary landfill for disposal.

In the case of the Times Beach city park, the EPA sought and received permits from both the state and county to haul “special waste” to the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill. To move the waste, the EPA circumvented its own strict regulations by deferring to more lenient guidelines imposed by the DNR, according to Martha Steincamp, an EPA attorney. Steincamp referred to the city park clean up as a “removal action not a remedial action.” She compared the landfill shipments to the disposal of other non-hazardous waste at the site such as flood debris and abandoned household goods. When asked why such seemingly benign materials needed to be disposed of at all, Steincamp replied: “Because Times Beach is going to be a park and we want to clean it all up.”
Unlike the high-profile incineration project, shipments of the contaminants to the landfill went virtually unnoticed. The press release relating to the project failed to mention the destination of the waste other than to say, “the contaminated soil will be transported off-site to a licensed disposal facility.”

A spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Health Department doesn’t see why local government should have been any more vigilant in alerting citizens than the EPA has been. “If we put out a news release every time somebody shipped properly handled waste, that’s not news, says Ellen Waters. “What benefit would it be to the citizens to know the waste is being properly handled? It’s good to know, but it almost goes withoutsaying. The assumption is always there — that’s what we do day in and day out.”

If the current name of the landfill — Superior Oak Ridge — seems unfamiliar that’s because up until September of last year the facility was formally known as West County Disposal Ltd. Among area residents it is still simply referred to as West County Landfill. Superior Services Inc., the new owner, is a Wisconsin-based solid waste management firm.
The current violation at the landfill dates back to November 1991, when the Missouri Attorney General’s office filed suit on behalf of the DNR. The DNR had cited the landfill for exceeding its vertical limits because trash had piled up 680 feet high, 40 feet over the limit. Last year, a $30,000 fine was imposed on the prior landfill operator. Since acquiring the landfill in September, Superior Services has not brought the facility into compliance with state requirements, according to Joseph P. Bindbeutel, chief counsel of the environmental division of the Missouri Attorney General’s office.

“From our standpoint as enforcers, … they bought a pig in a poke,” say Bindbeutel. “And they are continuing to sort of pay the dues of operational confusion out at that landfill. There are so many plans, and so many intentions, and so many maps, and so many management techniques out there nobody knew how they were going to operate. … Becker (the prior owner) actually committed the violation,” says Bindbeutel. “But we will be demanding remediation and penalties from the new operator. They bought the overfill. They’re responsible for it.”

Despite the tough talk, Bindbeutel indicates the state appreciates what Superior has contributed — namely a $4 million assurance bond to cover any emergencies or future closure. Bindbuetel also credits Superior for actively seeking to make improvements at the site. “They redesigned the active part of the landfill completely, including a methane recovery system that will very much benefit the environment.”

Peter J. Ruud, vice president and chief counsel for Superior, refused to discuss the sale terms, and cited a confidentiality agreement with the EPA concerning the contaminated waste from Times Beach. But it’s no secret the company has expanded lately through a series of acquisitions in the Midwest. The solid waste management firm also owns a subsidiary, Superior Specialty Services that handles hazardous waste cleanups, including contracts with the EPA

In essence, Superior bought the former West County Disposal Ltd., changed it name and acquired the same operating permit held by the previous owner. The Wisconsin company acquired all potential liability associated with the landfill, too. Mitch Stepro, the special waste coordinator for the landfill, also refused to discuss the Times Beach waste, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA. Because both sides are remaining mum, it is unclear why the out-of-state company would buy into a landfill that faces possible further sanctions by the state.

Becker, the former landfill owner, referred all questions to his attorney, Brian McGovern, who accused the DNR of dragging its bureaucratic feet. “There was an exceedence of the vertical elevations, but they’re was also a counter claim alleged,” says McGovern. “Plans had been submitted at the landfill that would have allowed access to additional areas.” But the DNR put off looking at the landfill’s expansion plans for four years, according to McGovern, thus stymieing the operator’s ability to contain the waste in a more appropriate manner.
Problems at the landfill go back more than four years, however.

West County Landfill acquired its first operating permit in December 1972, and public protests started immediately. One early critic, geologist Charles Felt of St. Louis University, told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat : “My research indicates that the area is not suitable for a landfill. In the first place, rocks underneath the area would allow water to pass through.” In 1973, Martin D. Baron of the Coalition for the Environment voiced more opposition, telling the County Council the water quality of the nearby Meramec River needed to be protected.

The pleas fell on deaf ears. The County approved the license for the 129-acre landfill and problems at the site began to mount. In 1983, the state ordered the landfill closed, alleging Becker had failed to take adequate steps to protect ground and surface water from pollution. But West County continued to operate while it appealed the case. Two years later, DNR finally reached a settlement agreement that imposed strict guidelines on the landfill. A DNR official then said the stiff requirements had been imposed because soil conditions at the facility allowed waste to seep into the ground.

In recent years, neighbors of the landfill complained to the St. Louis County Council about odors. Other residents notified authorities of dumping late a night. But the County did little. Perhaps the most telling evidence of official disdain for citizens’ concerns is found in complaint log #8071 on file at the St. Louis County Health Department. In a letterdated May 11, 1996, residents of Greenfield Crossing Court asked for help to stem “the pollution, strong unpleasant odors, noise and traffic caused by the operators of the landfill.” In response, an unknown official jotted in the margin, “What pollution? (These are) all conditions associated with normal landfill operations. Why did they buy property next to a landfill, if they did not like these conditions?”

In 1991, when West County community activist Angela Dillmon started checking out local candidates, she found Becker had contributed heavily to Democrats on the County Council, particularly, the campaign of County Executive Buzz Westfall. By Dillmon’s tally, Becker and individuals and companies connected to him gave Westfall tens of thousands of dollars. “It was serious money,” says Dillmon.

It wasn’t the first time Becker had become involved in local politics. In 1974, he pled the Fifth Amendment 58 times in the perjury trial of then-St. Louis Building Commissioner Kenneth O. Brown. Brown was charged with lying to a grand jury about a $1,500 check he had received from Becker. The prosecution alleged the money was paid to Brown for steering work to Becker’s consulting engineering firm.

Later, from 1984 to 1987, the late St. Louis County highway director Richard F. Daykin got the County Council to give more than $800,000 in no- bid contracts to James B. Becker Consulting Engineers, according to press accounts. At that time, Daykin’s son, Richard J. Daykin, worked for Becker’s engineering firm. While employed by Becker, the younger Daykin helped survey the Times Beach site.

After his father’s death, Daykin befriended Taylor, the TBAG activist. He then told Taylor of irregularities in soil sampling he had observed at Times Beach. He also mentioned safety violations at the site. Daykin repeated his allegations in an interview with an environmental attorney who was preparing a federal suit to try and halt incinerator operations.

But Daykin never got a chance to go on the record. In August 1995, Federal Judge John F. Nangle reaffirmed Superfund clean ups can’t be sued until after they are completed. That judicial ruling is not what permanently silenced Daykin, however. He died of injuries received in a one-car accident early last year.

Taylor is hesitant to broach the subject of his friend’s death. “There was no indications of foul play,” he says. “It is presumed by friends and family to have been an accident. We don’t really know because there weren’t many questions asked. Rich was always hesitant about bringing up things,” says Taylor. “But he came to his own realization things weren’ton the up and up at Times Beach. He thought a lot of things that happened down there were suspicious.”

For its part, the EPA claims ignorance of all these details. “I don’t keep up on St. Louis politics that much,” says Martha Steincamp, the regional counsel for the EPA. “The most important thing to us, of course, is that we are selecting a location that is properly licensed and approved by whomever the licensing authorities are to receive this waste. In this case, there were discussions with the county officials and it was a properly licensed landfill to receive special waste and they did have the conditional use permit.”

In 1995, Marilyn Leisner, the former mayor of Times Beach, told the RFT the city park site contained PCBs, albeit low levels. Her recollection is based on private testing done in 1982 prior to the evacuation of the dioxin-contaminated town. “When the testing was completed, it was determined the PCBs were only at the city park,” said Leisner. “In the cleanup at Times Beach, Syntex is not responsible for the PCBs. So the park cleanup is not being done by Syntex; it is being done separately by the EPA.”

As Leisner and Steincamp both explain it, dioxin at Times Beach fell under Superfund regulation, which made Syntex, the liable party, responsible for its clean up. But the PCB contamination at the city park came under the auspices of another federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA regulations allow the states to set the contamination guidelines.

Gerson Smoger, an attorney who represented former Times Beach residents, couldn’t corroborate Leisner’s recollection exactly, but he did remember the presence of PCBs at the city park, as well as, elsewhere in Times Beach. “When they were doing the testing, the assumption made in the early 1980s was that dioxin was of such extreme harm that anything else was irrelevant.” Nevertheless, according to Smoger, the concentrations of PCBs alone were high enough to declare Times Beach a hazardous waste site. “One would assume there would still be PCBs there, ” says Smoger. But, according to sampling conducted in 1991, the PCBs — a persistent environmental pollutant — had somehow vanished.

PCBs or no PCBs, significant levels of volatile organic chemicals were indisputably detected at the city park as early as 1982. Private tests conducted at that time for the city of Times Beach showed thepresence of toluene at 120,000 part per billion (ppb), ethyl benzene at 170,000 ppb, acetone at 82,000 ppb and xylenes at up to 510,000 ppb. A Centers for Disease Control spokesman commented then that the contaminants were “of concern, ” but pronounced there was no emergency response necessary. As a result, the chemicals continued to leach into the ground water for another 15 years before they were transported to the Superior Oak Ridge Landfill in late May and early June. Although the landfill now uses pumps and liners to prevent seepage, there is still a chance some of the remaining contaminants could potentially pollute water entering the Meramec River.

Of course, if the waste isn’t hazardous, as the EPA contends, there would be no reasonable cause to move it in the first place. On the other hand, if it does warrant disposal, there seems little logic in shipping it to a landfill in the same ecologically sensitive watershed.
Anne McCauley, the EPA on-site coordinator for the city park clean up says several factors weighed into the decision to send the waste to Superior Oak Ridge. “One was the location relative to the site we were cleaning up,” says McCauley. “It was very close to the city park site. The transportation route was very short in addition to the fact that the facility is permitted to accept this kind of waste.”

Not surprisingly Taylor of TBAG has a diametrically opposed view. “We believe this is more of a toxic-waste shell game than a clean up,” he says. “We feel there’s a lot of secrets. That this whole incineration project was about preserving secrets and protecting commercial interests more than protecting public health.”

One well-kept secret is contained in the files of the Collinsville office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). In late 1982, after the extent of Bliss’s toxic spraying binge became known, the IEPA asked its federal counterpart for information on sites in Illinois that Bliss may have contaminated a decade earlier.

In one document handed over by the EPA, there is a reference to the West County Landfill. At the time, there seemed to be some confusion by state officials as to whether the landfill was in Missouri or Illinois. The IEPA summary lists the source of the information as Stephen P. Krchma of the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Krchma had in turn based his report on an interview with David Covert, one of Bliss’s drivers. The summary citation reads:

Wastes were also reported by Covert to be hauled to the West County landfill in Sulphur Springs (IL or MO?) where the operators were paid off to accept the wastes.”
The reference to Sulphur Springs most likely denotes the St. Louis County road on which West County Landfill (now Superior Oak Ridge Landfill) is located.

On December 23, 1982, IEPA officials interviewed Covert themselves. During the interview, Covert talked about picking up ink from a company in St. Louis County. “It smells terrible and I don’t think it burns,” said Covert. “You just haul that stuff into the west county landfill and open the valve and let it run out.” Before they were banned, PCBs were used in the manufacture of ink.
The reason the EPA and DNR passed over the West County Landfill in their own search appear to be twofold. For one, another Bliss driver changed his story. According to the EPA’s dioxin site tracking list, Gary Lambarth “indicated he had oiled the road in the landfill around 1972.”

Lambarth made that statement in the spring of 1983. By fall, however, he reversed himself, claiming he had confused West County with another landfill. In addition, the EPA dioxin tracking list states that DNR was “deferring action until (the) relationship with ongoing litigation is determined.” As already mentioned, the state agency had attempted to close the landfill in 1983 because Becker had failed to adequately protect ground and surface water from pollution.
In a sense, the waste from the city park completes the contamination circle. Two Bliss drivers initially confessed to dumping waste at West County Landfill in the early 1970s. Only one is known to have retracted the admission. The state cited the landfill for water pollution violations in 1983, but has continued to allow the landfill to operate. Complaints by citizens have been dismissed by the County. Meanwhile, those involved in accepting contaminated waste from Times Beach refuse to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the EPA. The silence extends to the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis. “We don’t confirm or deny the possible existence of an investigation,” says Jan Diltz, a local Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman. She declined to comment further on whether there is a current federal inquiry into activities at Time Beach.

In 1982, the DOJ — acting on behalf of the EPA and the White House — withheld documents from a congressional investigation, citing executive privilege. Among the documents the DOJ refused to hand over were handwritten notes of EPA attorney James Kohanek, pertaining toproposed activity on Missouri dioxin sites. In a published account, then- U.S. Rep. Elliott Levitas, D-Ga., who sat on House Public Works Committee, remembered exactly when the stonewalling began. “As far as I was concerned, it was just a routine exercise in oversight,” said Levitas of the congressional inquiry. “Right in the middle of it there was a decision made by the EPA … permitting sanitary landfills to be used to receive liquid waste. … Then boom — the door got shut.”

DANGEROUS GROUND

Doxins aren’t the only problem in Missouri. PCB contamination continues to be overlooked or denied by both public regulators and Monsanto

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Feb. 14, 1996

First, hundreds of birds started dropping from the
rafters like so many miners' canaries. Then dogs and
cats began to die. By September 1971, seven horses had
perished at the Shenandoah Stables in Moscow Mills, Mo.
Before the scourge abated, scores more would die. 
     Humans also succumbed, developing flu-like symptoms
and skin rashes. On August 22, Judy Piatt, the co-owner
of the stable, admitted her 6-year-old daughter to St.
Louis Children's Hospital. The girl, who played
frequently inside the equestrian arena that summer, had
lost 50 percent of her body weight and was hemorrhaging
from the bladder. On a hunch, her mother filled an empty
Miracle Whip jar with dirt from the arena floor. That
soil ended up at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
in Atlanta, where in 1974 scientists confirmed it
contained trichlorophenol and a related waste byproduct
-- 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) -- commonly
known as dioxin. 
     After the CDC announced its find, dioxin became the
buzzword that grabbed headlines, spurred by its links to
Agent Orange and the Vietnam War. The resulting clamor
allowed the additional discovery of highly-toxic
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the same soil to
escape the media's attention.
     This single detail is a clue in a mystery that
challenges the conventional history of Missouri's long
sordid affair with hazardous waste. It also raises
doubts about soil characteristics at other sites, the
origins of the toxins and the consequences of the
Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plans to burn
them soon at Times Beach.
     The legal authority for the EPA and the Missouri
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to mandate
incineration hinges on protecting public health. But
test burns conducted in November show problems 
foreshadowing their plans, including the malfunctioning
of an important anti-pollution device. The EPA's
inability to fully account for PCBs and other pollutants
at nearly one third of the designated cleanup sites adds
another potential danger to  an already uncertain
combustion equation. 
     These are among the reasons the Times Beach Action
Group (TBAG), a group opposed to the
incinerator,contends the consent decree authorizing the
Eastern Missouri Superfund cleanup is void. TBAG also
asserts the EPA failed to address PCBs in its 1994 risk
assessment.The activists' position is supported by a
recent report prepared by the Environmental Compliance
Organization (ECO), the firm hired through an EPA grant
to represent citizens interests. In addition,  Rep. Jim
Talent (R-Chesterfield) has raised questions about PCBs
at Times Beach, and again asked the EPA to delay
incineration so alternative technologies can be given
more consideration.      Last week, the congressman's voice
was muted, however, by the release of a General
Accounting Office study favoring incineration. The
decision corresponds with the deregulatory mood of the
Republican-controlled Congress, and the trend of
delisting Superfund sites. 
    Turning a blind eye on the environment may be in
vogue  among certain special interests, but an
investigation by the Riverfront Times has turned up
long-neglected facts that warrant consideration.
     * No PCBs were found at the facility in Southwest
Missouri, where the dioxin in the St. Louis area
supposedly originated. This means PCBs that are present
came from another source or sources. Monsanto
exclusively manufactured PCBs in the United States until
1977. 
     * As early as 1972, an EPA official informed
Monsanto about PCB levels at the Bliss Waste Oil
Co.tanks in Sauget, Ill., according to a copy of a
correspondence obtained by the RFT. This contradicts the
EPA's  own chronology. 
     *Russell Bliss, the owner of the company blamed for
the dioxin contamination in Eastern Missouri, signed at
least two contracts to haul hazardous waste from
Monsanto facilities in the mid-1970s. In 1977, a Bliss
driver dumped hazardous waste at a site in Jefferson
County. The sludge included PCBs that state officials
suspected came from Monsanto's research lab here. The
cleanup took six weeks and cost taxpayers approximately
$515,000.
    * More recently, the EPA failed to provide relevant
information to the independent laboratory hired to
analyze soils from the Eastern Missouri dioxin sites. In
an appendix to the federal agency's 1994 risk
assessment, the lab cites multiple instances of missing
data, and states  PCBs were found at four locations that
had not previously been listed by the EPA. 

The predisposition of federal and state regulators to
underplay PCB contamination has led some local
environmentalists to muse that governmental concerns lie
not so much in protecting the environment as in
destroying evidence. 
     The Times Beach dioxin incinerator near Eureka is
scheduled to begin burning some 100,000 cubic yards of
dioxin-contaminated soil from 27 sites in Eastern
Missouri perhaps as soon as March. Plans for the burn
are proceeding despite the independent ECO report, which
questions whether current EPA methodology for measuring
stack emissions "leads to a vast underestimation of
risk." The citizens watchdog group also warns that
because of ambient levels already found in the
environment "further exposure by populations to any
dioxin should be avoided."  ECO concludes that "(EPA)
data ... is insufficient to demonstrate that the sites
have been adequately characterized to all potential
constituents and the various congeners of dioxin."
     In a pointed 3-page letter sent to the EPA regional
administrator Dennis Grams on Dec. 27, Rep. Talent takes
issue with the legality of burning PCBs without a proper
permit. In addition, he asks why sampling data for some
of the sites is missing. 
     These are all legitimate concerns. Incinerating
PCBs can actually create dangerous dioxins and furans.
Nevertheless, the EPA and the Missouri Department of
Natural Resources (DNR), say the project poses
absolutely no threat to human health. 
      "We're not saying that PCBs are not dangerous, but
it's an issue of risk, and the risk associated with very
low levels of PCBs is not significant," says Feild.
"It's not like PCBs are not suitable for incineration,
that's the way you deal with them." 
     For its part, Monsanto denies any poisonous past
relationship with Bliss, the man responsible for
spreading the waste. "To the best of our knowledge
Bliss's company did not haul PCB or dioxin-contaminated
material from any of our St. Louis area facilities,"
says Monsanto spokeswoman Diane Herndon. "We're not
saying that we didn't use him, but to the best of our
knowledge, we don't believe that he hauled any PCB or
dioxin-contaminated material." 
    Nevertheless, PCBs are undeniably present in some of
the contaminated soils. There existence is a toxic
subject that remained buried until the environmentalists
uncovered it. "It wasn't until we discovered the
Kimbrough report, which showed very high levels of PCBs
in the arena soils, that they (the EPA) gave us any site
specific data at all," says Steve Taylor, an organizer
for TBAG.     
     Taylor is alluding to a scientific article by
Renate D. Kimbrough, a physician for CDC. She first
wrote about dioxin and PCB contamination at Shenandoah
Stables in 1975. Kimbrough then cited dioxin as the
cause of the Shenandoah Stables catastrophe -- but she
also said the contaminated soil contained up to 1,590
parts per million (ppm) of PCBs. The federal cleanup
standard for PCBs has been set at 50 ppm. 
     Earlier this month, Feild of the EPA admitted that
priority pollutant data was missing on six of the 27
sites that are a part of the Times Beach cleanup, nearly
one third of the total. This revelation follows the
release of EPA data sheets to environmentalists that
were missing PCB test results. The gaps in PCB data
raises serious doubts about the status of hundreds of
other locations in Eastern Missouri that are known or
suspected to have been sprayed by the Bliss Waste Oil
Co.       
     "If they (EPA) are saying they didn't test for
those (pollutants) or a percentage of the them are lost,
I find that hard to believe," says Nina Thompson, a
spokeswoman for the DNR. But when asked if the DNR is
aware of all the sites that Bliss may have sprayed with
PCBs, the department spokeswoman replied: "Have we gone
out and tested every site in Missouri? No, we didn't do
that." Instead, the state agency depended on the EPA.
But despite the EPA's missing data, Thompson is
confident regulators followed  proper protocol and
tested for required priority pollutants other than
dioxin. 
     Nevertheless, there is a chance contaminated sites
may have been overlooked. According to research by
former DNR official Linda Elaine James: "State and
federal officials ... investigated over 375 sites in the
St. Louis area based on information that Bliss may have
sprayed there. About 45 of these sites were never
sampled because the investigation could not substantiate
Bliss at the site. Thirty were ruled out without
sampling because they appeared to have been sprayed by
Bliss after 1972 or 1973, the assumption being that
Bliss had used up all of the (dioxin-contaminated)
wastes by this time. Over one hundred (other) sites were
sampled and dioxin was not discovered." But the PCB
levels at these locations remains, for the most part, an
enigma. 
     Interestingly, the environmentalists were not the
first to be denied information on PCB levels at the
Eastern Missouri dioxin sites. Mantech Environmental
Technology Inc., an independent laboratory that analyzes
soils for the EPA,  refers to missing data in an
appendix to The appendix also states that four different
Aroclors --  Monsanto's commercial name for PCBs -- were
found at sites, where the compounds had not been
originally indicated on spreadsheets. 
     "It's disturbing that these data are not available
given the amount of money that they (the EPA) spent in
the early 80s gathering samples," says Taylor.  "It's
rather like going to the moon and losing the rocks at
taxpayers' expense. It would appear that they were
trying to keep certain other sources of pollution from
public scrutiny."  

All Roads Lead to Verona, or do they?

When CDC officials began investigating at Shenandoah
Stables, they suspected either PCBs or nerve gas. After
finding dioxin, however, health officials turned their
attention toward Agent Orange, a defoliant used in 
Vietnam. Information from the Defense Department
narrowed the search to four sources, including Monsanto.
Syntex, the company ultimately held liable for the Times
Beach cleanup had purchased Hoffman-Taff Inc., one of
the suspected firms. Hoffman in turn implicated the
Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co. (NEPACCO),
which leased part of its Verona, Mo.plant. NEPACCO
created dioxin as a waste byproduct of hexachlorophene.
Hoffman-Taff had hired another responsible party,
Independent Petrochemical Co. (IPC) of St. Louis, to
dispose of the toxic material. IPC sub-contracted the
work to Russell Bliss.
     In six 1971 trips, Bliss hauled more than 18,000
gallons of dioxin-tainted sludge from Verona to his 
Frontenac storage tanks. His drivers then sprayed the
toxic mixture as a dust-suppressant on horse arenas,
unpaved roads, truck terminals, and parking lots.
     However, the CDC's  soil analysis from Shenandoah
Stables, raises questions about this standard version of
events. That's because tests conducted on contents of
the  "black tank" at Verona, where all of the
contaminants allegedly originated, indicated the
presence of dioxin -- but no PCBs. If PCBs found at
Shenandoah didn't come from Verona, then there had to
have been one or more other sources.
     One of the conclusions of the ECO report is "there
is insufficient data to support the contention that a
single tank in Verona, Mo. is the sole source for all
dioxin contamination." Besides Monsanto, Bliss collected
waste from:  Union Electric, Wagner Electric,  Signet
Graphic, Benjamin Moore (Paint Co.), Edwin Cooper,
White-Rogers, Jackes-Evans,  American Can, General Cable
, Carter Carburetor and the Orchard Corp, according to
court records. Some, if not all of these companies,
generated PCB-laden waste.
      In September 1971, after she had sued Bliss, 
Piatt, the co-owner of Shenandoah Stables, and her
partner Frank Hampel began tailing Bliss drivers on
their daily routes. Their surveillance would continue
for more than year.  During that time, the pair
sometimes disguised themselves: Hampel donning a woman's
wig and Piatt wearing a man's cowboy hat. 
     The undercover work paid off. The pair observed
Bliss' drivers wantonly dumping waste into streambeds,
and fields.  On one occasion, Piatt watched a Bliss
driver pick up a load at the Monsanto facility in St.
Peters, Mo. and dump it in a Mississippi River slough.
In another instance, she witnessed chemical wastes being
dumped at Times Beach.
     In late 1972, Piatt compiled an 18-page report on
her investigation. Her dossier cited 16 different
companies whose waste had been dumped by Bliss drivers.
Piatt's list also included 31 locations that had been
sprayed. She submitted the report to the EPA, DNR and
Missouri Department of Health (DOH).  
     Piatt's case would reveal that one of Bliss'
Frontenac tanks contained PCBs. A decade later, the
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found
trichloroethylene and PCBs in a Bliss storage tank in
Sauget. 
     Private tests conducted in Times Beach in late 1982
detected not only dioxin and PCBs, but ethyl benzene,
acetone,toluene, xylene and other hazardous substances.
Depositions from 1972 through 1988 also indicate Bliss
and his drivers picked up waste products at the Monsanto
research laboratories on North Lindbergh and the
company's silicon wafer plant in St. Peters. Bliss
claimed his company disposed of its toxic cargo at a
landfill in East St. Louis. But the loads didn't always
make it there.
     Most telling -- Bliss himself testified on Nov. 20,
1972  that he had sprayed the streets of Times Beach.
     Despite this early knowledge, nothing happened. It
would be 10 more years before any attempt would be made
to deal with the problems. Unfortunately, the CDC
informed state authorities erroneously that dioxin had
an estimated half-life of only one year. While officials
waited for the disaster to disappear on its own accord,
the dilemma would be compounded by the excavations and
movements of contaminated dirt to other sites, including
residential properties.
     "There's clearly PCBs everywhere," says Gerson
Smoger,an attorney who has been involved in Times Beach
litigation."They didn't test, because dioxin was the
chemical of concern. They weren't looking for it, but it
was there -- everybody knew it was there. So to say it's
not there is ludicrous." Originally,the Times Beach
personal injury suits included Monsanto as a defendant,
Smoger says, but the plaintiffs' attorneys later dropped
Monsanto because "it complicated the case too much."  
     Bliss' widespread activities also complicated
cleanup efforts.In 1983, Fred Lafser, then-director of
the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told
The New York Times: "The feeling is why go look for more
problems when we do not have the staff to solve what we
know about?" More revealing are comments Lafser made to
the RFT that same year. "Most of our hazardous waste
problems (in Missouri) can be traced back to him (Bliss)
-- including problems with PCBs, solvents and inks,you
name it." 
     The EPA now defends its inaction by claiming
ignorance. "We didn't even discover Times Beach or any
of the Eastern Missouri dioxin sites until after 1980,"
says Feild, the agency's current Times Beach project
manager. "There was no work being done except for the
Centers for Disease Control, who were investigating some
horse deaths starting in about 1974."
      But there is evidence that both the EPA and
Monsanto took an early interest in PCB contamination in
eastern Missouri relating to Bliss' activities. In one
letter dated Sept. 12, 1972, an EPA official provided
details to a Monsanto executive about testing for PCBs
at Bliss' oil storage tanks in Sauget, Ill. The letter
is from W.L. Banks, chief of the EPA's Oil and Hazardous
Substance Branch. It is addressed to W.B. Papageorge at
the Monsanto research labs on North Lindbergh. 
     When asked to comment on the Papageorge letter,
Herndon of Monsanto read this statement prepared by the
company's law department: "The 1972 letter to Papageorge
in no way implies that Bliss was hauling Monsanto PCBs.
Since PCBs had only recently been identified as an
environmental concern, it might be very likely that
Bliss and many waste haulers would have PCBs in their
storage containers at that stage."     
      The EPA letter to Papageorge is, nevertheless,
noteworthy given the Monsanto executive's background.
During  his more than 30-year-career with the company,
Papageorge managed a PCB plant. By 1972, he had moved up
the corporate ladder to become Monsanto's director of
environmental control. 

The Dittmer Incident     

A record of the fire is preserved in a routine report
filed away at the Cedar Hill Fire Protection District
headquarters in Jefferson County.  
     There is nothing ordinary, however, about the call
the rural department received at 5:21 p.m. on March 11,
1977. When firefighters arrived at the Albert Harris
property near the town of Dittmer, they were greeted by
a toxic maelstrom. Gusty 25 mph winds fanned flames that
licked the sides of a recently dug pit near a small
tributary of Calvey Creek. The searing heat inside the
10-foot-deep trench had caused toxic waste drums near
the edge of the excavation to explode. Investigators
later found 125 other  barrels scattered at the site.
Working in the rain, 20 firefighters battled the blaze
almost an hour before bringing it under control. 
      After receiving complaints about more pollution
problems at the same location, the DNR and EPA began
investigating lot number 21 of the Greenbriar
subdivision. Testing of the pit's contents revealed high
concentrations of PCBs  --  up to 20,000 ppm. The
agencies found other toxins at the site, including
bromophenol chlorophenol, a chemical produced only by
Monsanto in 1964, according to the EPA. 
     "It was a real chemical soup," recalls Robert
Zeman, a former DNR official who now works for the
Metropolitan Sewer District. "This pit was just about
every color of the rainbow from stuff that was in it.
The guy who was bringing the materials out there was an
employee of Russell Bliss. In the ensuing investigations
and discussions, (we determined) that Bliss was likely
involved in the activity." 
      Bliss later testified that bottles found in the
toxic pit came from Monsanto's research lab. When asked
from what major source he acquired his hazardous waste,
Bliss stated: "Oh, I would say Monsanto." The waste oil
hauler said that his company was regularly paid $200 to
pick up a 40-barrel load from Monsanto's research lab.
The cleanup of the Dittmer site cost the federal
government more than $500,000.
     Despite indications that much of the Dittmer waste
came from Monsanto, the chemical company is certain the
PCBs did not. "Monsanto's records indicate that PCBs
were not in the materials mishandled by Bliss," says
Herndon, the Monsanto spokeswoman. 
     The composition of the waste will never be known,
however, because Bliss took steps to literally coverup
the incident.After the DNR discovered the site, the
waste oil hauler pumped out an estimated 4,000 gallons
of sludge without the state agency's approval, and then
hired a contractor to fill in the pit. The nearby creek
continued to be polluted by runoff from the buried
wastes, however. So despite further warnings by the DNR
to leave the site alone, Bliss returned again before
dawn one morning. The same contractor opened the pit
back up. Bliss, his son and one employee then hauled
away contaminated soil and  barrels. When neighbors
tried to follow one of the trucks, another Bliss vehicle
blocked their way. 
     At a 1977 DNR hearing, Monsanto bills of lading
signed by a Bliss driver were entered as evidence. The
receipts identify the wastes from the Monsanto research
lab as "one truckload (of) organic non-toxic solvents."
"I just tell them I don't want nothing toxic; that's why
I have them put on the tickets non-toxic," Bliss
testified. 
     The transcript of a later hearing , however,  shows
that the "non-toxic" classification contradicted the
wording of legally binding agreements between Monsanto
and Bliss.
      In 1983,  the DNR's Hazardous Waste Management
Commission met to consider granting Russell Bliss's son
a hazardous waste hauler's permit. At the meeting, the
DNR brought up the Dittmer incident as a reason not to
issue the license. The agency also submitted two
contracts, from 1975 and 1976, between Russell Bliss and
Monsanto. According to one contract: 
     "...Organic solvents waste from the Research Center
consists of ... trace amounts of almost any conceivable
chemical (organic or inorganic). ... Contents of the
drum are accumulated from literally hundreds of
laboratory samples and organic and inorganic solvents
present in the drum are not known or controlled. Since
it is probable that the total content of any particular
drum is at least as toxic as the solvent mixture,
CONTRACTOR SHOULD EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION IN THE
HANDLING OF THE WASTE. CONTRACTOR IS HEREBY WARNED THAT
SUCH WASTE MAY BE TOXIC. ..." 
     In addition, the contracts stipulated Bliss
possessed necessary skills to perform his duties, that
he would abide by the law and dispose of the waste
properly. It is evident the waste hauler broke the terms
of the contract. It is also arguable that Monsanto's
actions were not above reproach. Even if the company
followed the letter of the law, it still made the
dubious assumption Bliss was qualified to handle such
hazardous materials in the first place. There is no
proof the chemical company asked the waste hauler about
his qualifications.  If Monsanto had inquired, Bliss
might have responded as candidly as he did later to the
DNR. The waste hauler told the agency his knowledge of
chemistry amounted to an understanding of BS&W --
"bullshit and water," a term he used to describe
adulterated waste oil.  Bliss also stated he had only
two methods of testing the contents of the waste he
hauled:  "I sometimes taste it, or put it on a napkin
and see if it will burn." 

The Politics of a Hazardous Waste Coverup

Rep. Talent is not the first congressman to sound the
alarm over PCBs. Rep. William F. Ryan (D-NY) raised the
issue in 1970. Monsanto officials responded to Ryan by
saying they were "well aware of the concern" over PCBs
(see sidebar). The company also said steps had been
taken to insure public safety, but denied knowledge of
whether any PCBs had been released from its Krummrich
plant in Sauget. The next year, Monsanto began burning
PCBs at a liquid injection incinerator at its Sauget
facility.The burning of the toxic waste continued for
most of the next decade.    
     The PCB controversy resurfaced again in 1980, when
Missouri Gov. Joseph P. Teasdale made a campaign stop
near Ellisville, at a place that is now one of the EPA's
27-designated dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri. With the
TV news cameras rolling, the top elected official in the
state railed against the hazardous waste dumped at the
location. Teasdale, however, directed his attack at PCBs
not dioxin, and his lambaste placed the onus for the
toxic contamination on Monsanto.
     "I request that you help pay the cost of the
sampling and analysis work, and that if PCBs are
discovered that you pay for the cleanup of the site,"
the governor told Monsanto. Newspaper coverage of the
event failed to divulge that the site in question was on
or near property owned by Bliss. Teasdale wanted
Monsanto to pay for the cleanup of three Bliss
Ellisville sites, and all other PCB-contaminated
locations in Missouri. Monsanto later claimed their own
analysis showed insignificant PCB levels at the
Ellisville sites. The company refused to consider
covering the cost of other PCB cleanups. 
     In 1981, the DNR paid to dispose of more than 100
barrels at the Ellisville/Bliss sites that contained
traces of PCBs. According to a report issued by the EPA
last summer, more waste is still buried there.   
     Teasdale was not alone in his attempt to make
political hay out Missouri's hazardous waste crisis. On
Oct. 31, 1982, while running for re-election,  Sen. John
Danforth (R-Mo.) announced a promising new method for
cleaning contaminated soils. The technique involved
spraying the effected areas with sodium hydroxide and
polyethylene glycol. The method had only been previously
successful in treating PCB contaminated soil -- not
dioxin. The idea to use the technique in Missouri had
been suggested to Danforth by Rita Lavelle, the
controversial EPA assistant administrator. 
     Prior to her dismissal, Lavelle allegedly used the
billion-dollar Superfund program for political ends. In
addition, congressional investigations in 1982 and 1983
revealed Lavelle had private discussions with officials
at Monsanto and other corporations concerning regulatory
matters. When Congress subpoenaed documents -- including
those related to Times Beach  -- the EPA initially
withheld the information on the advice of the White
House and  Department of Justice. The level of
stonewalling reached a crescendo when Congress
discovered EPA officials had ordered the wholesale
shredding of sensitive files. 
      The showdown with Congress ultimately forced
Reagan to replace EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch with
William D. Ruckelshaus, who had headed the agency at its
inception.  
     Ruckelshaus' resume, however, contains more than
one entry to that has received criticism.
Environmentalists point out that during his career,
Ruckelshaus has had many close ties to polluting
industries -- including a directorship at Monsanto.