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


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.”



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.


Another accidental release of dioxin at Times Beach heats up the debate over the incinerator’s safety


first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), May 15, 1996

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


Citizens join together to protest the Times Beach incinerator


first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 2, 1995

For George and Ida Klein, last Thursday afternoon was no picnic. The temperature that day reached a high of 94 degrees, and it felt much hotter standing in the middle of Lewis Road in West St. Louis County. The Kleins – who lived in Times Beach for 43 years — joined about 100 other people outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s project office to protest the construction of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator.

The rally had been organized by the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG). Members of other environmental groups such as the Gateway Green Alliance, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club also took part. Fifteen of the more militant protesters were arrested for trespassing, after they crossed behind a gate that blocks access to the old Meramec River bridge, leading to the incinerator site.

St. Louis County police officers escorted or carried those arrested to an awaiting police van, as the crowd continued to chant slogans, unfurl banners and wave placards. About half of those attending the rally were local residents from the nearby towns of Eureka and Crescent.

Kool-Aid provided by Syntex, the company liable for the Superfund clean up, did little to cool Ida Klein’s attitude toward the plan to burn 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated waste at the site of her former hometown. “I think it’s terrible. I think they ought to not do it,” says the 71-year-old Klein. “There are going to be so many people sick from it. We’ve got three in our family who got cancer. My daughter had to have a hysterectomy at 30. Two years ago she had to have a breast removed with cancer and have six months of chemo(-therapy),” she says. In addition, Klein says her 81-year-old husband had to have 14-inches of his colon removed, when he was 62-years-old. At the time, the family still lived in Times Beach, she says. More recently, the couple’s youngest daughter discovered at age 33 that she had cancer of the cervix,” Klein says.

It is those kinds of concerns that prompted Mary Derrick of Crescent to attend the rally. “Those people who got arrested, in my mind, they’re heroes,” says Derrick. Derrick was holding one corner of a banner inscribed with a verse from the Bible: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
Before the rally, TBAG members and their allies rendezvoused at an old farmstead in West County. Their preparations included dividing up the placards, banners, moon suits, bio-hazardous waste bags and smoke bombs, which would soon become part of the media event. Outside the 19th-century caretaker’s house, with its massive stone foundation, a portable radio was propped up on the hood of an old Plymouth Horizon. At noon, the voice of KMOX radio reporter Margie Manning could be heard announcing details of the protest, including a sound bite from TBAG organizer Steve Taylor. Then someone shut the radio off, and 20 people quietly held hands in a circle. Some of the veteran activists gave encouragement and advise to the others. Many in the circle would soon be arrested, manacled and held in an unventilated police van.

After the arrests, Rick LaMonica, a member of the Gateway Greens offered his view of the situation. “There are a lot of people who lived in Times Beach for 10 or 15 years who were getting a perpetual run-around from the EPA, DNR (Missouri Department of Natural Resources) and the state department of health. They just know that they’re constantly lied to, and one of the biggest lies is that this is a solution to the problem,” says LaMonica. “Incineration doesn’t so much destroy the waste as disperse the waste,” LaMonica says.

Burning organo-chlorines such as dioxin actually reforms other dioxins, and allows heavy metals to escape through the incinerator’s stack, LaMonica says. “Anytime you have compounds that have chlorine, you are going to be forming dioxins from burning. … EPA knows that. Their own reassessment shows that it’s more hazardous than they have been admitting.

“In the mid-80s, they knew that incineration was not a good technology. Our problem is that they don’t really want to consider any alternatives. There are better ways to clean up Superfund sites, but the EPA doesn’t want to consider them unless they’re forced. … It has nothing to do with science. The science says they’re wrong. The science and medical data have been telling that for decades.They just seem more interested in pushing contract deals with engineering companies that design and build incinerators then really trying to clean up Superfund (sites).”