missouri

The Mayor’s Partner

Gerhard J. Petzall, a former law partner of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, was a director of Spectrulite Consortium Inc., which owned and operated an Eastside plant contaminated with radioactive waste.  After the problem came to light, the company forced its union work force to strike, filed for bankruptcy, and then reorganized under a different name, selling half the business to a foreign conglomerate. 

I collared outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay at the Earth Day celebration in Forest Park back in 2013 and asked him for a spot interview. He  told me then that he didn’t have time to go on camera for even a few minutes to talk about St. Louis’ longstanding radioactive waste problem.  He was too busy that sunny Sunday afternoon promoting some other well-intentioned environmental cause. It might have been recycling. As a result, the mayor does not appear in our documentary, The First Secret City.

But Richard Callow, the mayor’s longtime political consultant, does make a cameo appearance in the film. Aside from representing the mayor, Callow has also been a local spokesman for Republic Services, the giant waste disposal company that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill Superfund site in North St. Louis County. In that role, Callow has acted to tamp down public concerns about the severity of the environmental and health problems related to the troubled landfill.

Callow, however,  is not the only link between the mayor and the radioactive waste that has plagued the region since it first began piling up as a byproduct of Mallinkcrodt Chemical’s work on the Manhattan Project.

As it turns out,  Gerhard J. Petzall — the mayor’s former law partner — has past ties to the now-defunct Spectrulite Consortium Inc., a company that owned a plant  in Madison, Illinois contaminated with radioactive waste from the Cold War.  Missouri incorporation records  show that Gerhard J. Petzall, a senior partner in the politically-connected law firm of Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake, sat on the board of directors of Spectrulite for years and continued  act as an attorney for the company until 2009.

By that time, Slay was in his second term as St. Louis mayor. Slay was a partner in Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake for 20 years prior to becoming mayor.

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The problems at Spectrulite began in 1957 when the foundry was owned by Dow Chemical Co. Dow processed uranium at the plant between 1957 and 1961 under a subcontract with St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., which was working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Dow’s work caused radioactive debris to accumulate on overhead girders — where it was ignored for decades. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw a partial radioactive cleanup at the Spectrulite plant.

The Department of Energy conducted the first radiological testing at the facility in March 1989, which showed elevated levels of Uranium-238 and Thorium-232. A story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the previous month had spurred the government to do the testing. The story was based  in part on the earlier research of Kay Drey. In 1979, the St. Louis environmental activist had interviewed a terminally-ill truck driver who had delivered uranium ingots from Mallinckrodt Chemical in North St. Louis to the Dow plant in Madison. The truck driver attributed his lung cancer to his occupational exposure to radiation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The plant at Weaver and College streets operates today as Magnesium Elektron of North America, a non-union company and a subsidiary of Luxfur Group of Great Britain. After going bankrupt in 2003,  Spectrulite’s owners sold the company, but continue to hold a stake in the operation and the property itself.

Oddly enough, Spectrulite  remained an active corporation in Missouri — with Petzall’s name appearing in its annual reports long after the business had filed for bankruptcy in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill.  The records show that Petzall continued to be listed as a director of the corporation until 2003, and his name still appeared as a counsel for the by-then non-existent company until 2009.  Spectrulite never operated its manufacturing plant in Missouri. The plant was located across the river in Illinois. But the bankrupt, Illinois-based company, which had been sold to a foreign concern, remained an active corporation in Missouri for six years after its apparent demise; proof that there is life after death at least in the legal world.

Mayor Slay leaves office next week, after serving an unprecedented four terms.  Petzall, the mayor’s legal mentor,  will celebrate his 86th birthday in June.

What You Don’t Know About the Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Cadmus Group, the private EPA contractor that hosted a series of meetings for MDNR related to planning the state’s future energy policies, is now a major national security consultant, and some of its execs have past ties to British Intelligence.    

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources hired Cadmus Group, a consulting firm with longstanding ties to the EPA, to hold a series of public meetings across the state in October and November 2011. The gatherings in Rolla, St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia  convened with little fanfare,  bringing together various energy sector stakeholders to establish the groundworks for future energy policy development in the state. The mix included representatives from utility companies, state and local government agencies and environmental groups.

At the time, attorney G. Tracy Meehan III, a former director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, served as a principal officer in Cadmus Group.  He is a graduate of Saint Louis University Law School. Meehan served as an assistant administrator for water at the EPA in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, and is currently an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law. He  also sits on the  Committee on the Mississippi River and Clean Water Act of the National Research Council.  Meehan was previously a member of the council’s Water Science Technology board. He headed the MDNR between 1989 to 1992 under Republican Gov. John Ashcroft, who later served as U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush.

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G. Tracy Meehan III

Cadmus Group, founded in 1983,  is  EPA’s prime climate change consultant with offices in Arlington, Va.  The company is named after the mythological Phoenician  prince who brought the alphabet to ancient Greece. Cadmus’ operations expanded over time and by 2012  boasted annual revenues of $69 million.

In 2016, Cadmus diversified by  buying Obsidian Analysis, a Washington, D.C.-based  national security consulting firm, which had an annual revenue of $29 million at the time of the sale.  A month before the merger was announced in February 2016 veteran CIA analyst Christopher Savos joined Obsidian Analysis’ management.

The co-founders of Obsidian Analysis are Kevin P. O’Prey and Matthew K. Travis, who formed the company in 2010. Travis was formerly president of Detica Inc., originally founded in 1971 as Smith Associates, a UK government research and defense contractor. The company now focuses on cyber intelligence gathering. It acquired DFI International, a U.S. homeland security consulting firm in 2007. DFI’s board of directors was stacked with  retired U.S. military brass and a its lawyer was formerly general counsel to the CIA. Oddly, The firm’s website appears to be an English translation based on German text.

O’Prey is former president of another branch of the same company, DFI Government Services. Detica was  purchased in 2008 by British defense giant BAE Systems and is now called  BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. 

Travis and O’Prey, the founders of Obsidian Analysis, are now vice-presidents of Cadmus Group — the EPA’s climate change consultant.

In 2006, DFI Government Services, the branch then headed by O’Prey, hired retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper to head its defense program. Prior to joining DFI, Clapper served as the director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which has its main headquarters in St. Louis. Earlier in his career he had been director of the Defense Intelligence Agency

In 2010, President Barrack Obama appointed Clapper to be the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all the spy agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency. Clapper resigned from that post in January.

In 2013, Clapper came under criticism for allegedly lying to Congress about whether the NSA tracked telephone data of millions of American citizens. The allegations against Clapper were raised after CIA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was engaged in wide-scale surveillance operations. Snowden is now living in exile in Russia.

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Lt. Gen. James Clapper

The lines between environmental regulation and espionage have blurred.  Internet and telephone snooping are being carried out under the guise of national security. The same companies involved in dealing with terrorism threats are also involved in water quality and climate-warming issues. It is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out where one field of interest begins and the other ends.  Cadmus Group, the same company that facilitated energy-related seminars for the state of Missouri,  employs intelligence specialists in its highest ranks.

It appears as if the so-called “deep state” is embedded in the “show-me” state.

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.

LETTER TO THE LAW

Rep. Jim Talent asks the Justice Department to come clean on its investigation of the EPA’s Times Beach cleanup

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Oct. 29, 1997

The U.S. Justice Department has quietly initiated a criminal inquiry into the controversial 1995 stack emissions test of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, The Riverfront Times has learned. In a letter dated Sept. 22, 1997, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R-2nd Dist.) asked U.S. attorney Edward Dowd about the status of the federal investigation.

An anonymous source provided a copy of the letter to the RFT last week. Spokespersons for the congressman and the U.S. Justice Department in St. Louis declined to comment on the matter. A representative at the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Kansas City said the agency was unaware of any probe. Talent represents the congressional district in west St. Louis County, which includes the site of the now-completed EPA Superfund project.

His written request to Dowd reads in part: “The purpose of this letter is to inquire about the status of the Justice Department investigation regarding the possibility of criminal behavior surrounding the dioxin stack test for the permitting of the Times Beach incinerator. I would like to confirm if the investigation started by your office is still underway or if it has concluded.”

Last year, the RFT reported that separate Missouri Department of Natural Resources and EPA reviews of stack test data had discovered serious lapses in scientific protocol — lapses that cast doubt on whether the incinerator could have been legally considered protective of human health (Why the Times Beach Incinerator Should be Shut Down, Nov. 20, 1996). Talent asked the EPA last October to shut down the incinerator pending a re-test. His request followed another RFT story that revealed International Technologies (IT), the incinerator operator, partially owned Quanterra Environmental Services, the laboratory that handled the stack test emissions samples (Twice Burned, RFT, Aug 28, 1996).

The close relationship between IT and Quanterra presented the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest. Moreover, documents obtained by the RFT showed numerous errors and omissions in the stack test data. In one instance, it took seven to eight days for test samples to reach Triangle Laboratories in North Carolina, according to the EPA. In another unexplained anomaly, five test sample containers disappeared. Members of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG), an organization that opposed the incinerator, sifted through mounds of technical data to uncover the inconsistencies in the stack emissions test.

When contacted last week, Steve Taylor, a TBAG organizer, was hesitant to talk about Talent’s letter to Dowd. Asked whether he was the source who leaked the letter to the RFT, Taylor says: I’ve been instructed not to comment about any FBI or Justice Department investigation. So I can neither confirm nor deny. … I have been told that if the media got hold of it, the investigation would end. I know that an investigation has been going on since January.”

Given the EPA’s questionable past practices, Taylor is disturbed that the agency is being allowed to proceed with the clean up of another recently discovered dioxin site on Lemar Drive in Ellisville with no public input into the process. The announcement of the toxic discovery in St. Louis County came shortly after the Times Beach project had been completed.

“The people on Lemar are getting pushed around,” says Taylor. “It’s just amazing that the EPA is allowed to move soil with all the inconsistencies and deceptions with the incineration.”

GETTING WASTED

TBAG locks horns with the EPA over possilby overlooked dioxin-contaminated sites

published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 20, 1997

BY C.D. STELZER

Last Saturday morning, Steve Taylor heard a tapping at his apartment door, a gentle rapping that he hopes to hear no more. By the time he answered the knock, the harried courier had already departed, leaving an unexpected Federal Express packet on his threshold.

The environmental activist, who is too young to remember the Selective Service System, and too poor to be concerned about the Internal Revenue Service, had, nevertheless, received a frightening message from a federal agency. After years of trying, Taylor had finally attracted the interest of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The missive from Martha Steincamp, the EPA regional counsel, instructed Taylor and other members of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) to turn over any information they may have concerning potential hazardous waste sites in the St. Louis area.

A copy of the written request obtained by the RFT shows the agency inquiry is specifically focused on the disposal of hazardous wastes generated by Monsanto and the now-defunct Wagner Electric Co. Taylor and the environmental group have until the end of the week to provide the agency with the information or be fined $25,000 a day until they comply.

That the provision of the Superfund law the EPA is using against the environmentalists is normally reserved for attacking corporate polluters hasn’t been overlooked. “This is the most ludicrous thing I’ve seen since I was given an arrest warrant for burning a log,” says Taylor, referring to one of his past acts of civil disobedience. Taylor says he is unsure whether he will cooperate with the EPA’s request. “We’re going to have to weigh out a lot of factors. The EPA is a potential defendant in litigation by citizens. We’re hesitant to give this information to an agency that we feel is corrupt. We have to determine what there motivation is.”

On Aug. 7, Taylor asked the St. Louis County Council to assist TBAG by forming a task force to independently investigate possible hazardous waste sites that may have been overlooked in the past by the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The activist’s appeal to the local governing body follows the public disclosure late last month of the existence of a previously undiscovered dioxin site in Ellisville.

The announcement of the new site came only weeks after the EPA and DNR had completed their controversial incineration project at
Times Beach, which involved burning over 265,000 tons of dioxin contaminated waste from more than two dozen sites in eastern Missouri. TBAG had opposed the project, saying it was unsafe to human health and the environment. Dioxin is considered a probable human carcinogen and is known to cause reproductive and immunological health problems in animals and humans. Ironically, one of the sources of dioxin is incineration itself.

Although state and federal regulatory authorities all heralded the closing of the incinerator as the end of state’s toxic legacy, the discovery of the new site draws into question the EPA’s prior assumptions about the origins of the dioxin and other hazardous wastes that have long plagued the region. The new site also raises the specter that there may be an untold number of other contaminated sites waiting to be found.

The EPA has long blamed the dispersion of the toxins on Russell Bliss, the salvage operator who sprayed dioxin-contaminated oil on unpaved roads, parking lots and horse arenas as a dust suppressant in the early 1970s. According to the accepted version of events, Bliss obtained the dioxin in 1971 from a plant in southwest Missouri that produced hexachlorophene and a chemical component of Agent Orange, the dioxin-laden defoliant used in the Vietnam War. The plant was owned by a subsidiary of Syntex, the company ultimately held liable for the eastern Missouri Superfund clean up.

By narrowing its focus to a single, distant source, the EPA effectively eliminated more than a dozen local industries from closer scrutiny in the case even though Bliss also accepted liquid waste from them. The waste oil salvager’s list of clients included: Monsanto, Wagner Electric, Union Electric, Carter Carburetor, American Can and the now-defunct Lianco Container Corp., a can manufacturer jointly owned by Libby, McNeil and Libby and Anheuser- Busch Inc.

Monsanto created dioxin as a waste byproduct in its chemical manufacturing processes and also exclusively made toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at its Krummrich plant in Sauget, Ill. until 1977. The other St. Louis companies used PCBs or other hazardous substances for different purposes..

When asked to comment last week, Monsanto spokeswoman Diane Herndon responded with this prepared statement: “No information exists that any dioxin material was hauled by Bliss for Monsanto and so no material from Monsanto would have been sprayed on roads. Our materials are appropriately handled at waste disposal operations.”

Martha Steincamp, the chief regional counsel for the EPA, concurs with Monsanto’s professed innocence. “I look at it this way as a lawyer,” says Steincamp. “Monsanto is a big, big company. If I had Monsanto as a potential defendant, and had the evidence on them, I certainly would bring them in as a party. The fact of the matter is I don’t believe people had evidence on Monsanto. I know Monsanto was not a viable defendant in this litigation.”

Bob Feild, who headed the EPA’s clean up at Times Beach, says the agency is currently following up on several leads it received recently regarding other potential hazardous waste sites in the St. Louis area. Feild, nevertheless, appears to have already arrived at a predetermined conclusion that those locations will be found to be free of any contamination.

“At this point in time, I have seen nothing to suggest that there may be additional sites out there,” says Feild. “We feel confident that our investigations were thorough, that we have followed up on every lead that we’ve been made aware of. This site that was discovered over in Ellisville was completely new information,” he adds. “We have no way of knowing that there will not be additional sites in the future. However, we don’t have any information that would suggest there would be. We continue to follow up on any information that is provided to us by the public.”

In other words, Feild is denying that the EPA itself has even a scintilla of evidence that could help pinpoint any potentially untreated hazardous waste sites in eastern Missouri.

Taylor finds Feild’s explanation incredulous. “TBAG started its investigation because it thought there had been a coverup by state and federal authorities on the source and extent of contamination in Missouri,” says Taylor. “It appears that it is possible that certain leads weren’t followed up on because they didn’t fit their theory of where this waste came from.”

The activist points out that no PCBs were found in southwest Missouri in the tanks at the Verona, Mo. chemical plant, where the EPA presumes all of the toxins originated. But PCBs have been found in the past along with dioxin at the now remediated sites in eastern Missouri. This suggests that some of the mixed hazardous waste that Bliss sprayed came from another source or sources.

There are other holes in the EPA’s theory. During its investigations in the 1980s, the EPA rejected all the sites that Bliss may have sprayed before or after accepting the Verona waste, claiming those locations could not have possibly been contaminated with dioxin from the Verona chemical plant. No further actions were taken at these locations. An EPA tracking sheet lists 29 such sites. They include: Holiday Hill Amusement Park, Lindenwood College, McCarthy Brothers Construction Co., St. Charles Quarry and Terre Du Lac, a residential/lake development near Bon Terre, Mo.

In the case of Terre Du Lac, the tracking sheet shows a DNR investigator determined that Bliss had oiled the roads “on at least one occasion in 1976.” The document further states that “prior oiling had occurred though (it is) uncertain who did the earlier oiling.” Based on this information alone, the DNR concluded that “due to the late time period of oiling, sampling for TCDD (dioxin) appears unwarranted.” The EPA agreed by ruling that “no further action appears necessary” at the site.

The DNR investigation of Terre Du Lac in the spring of 1983, however, does not appear to have been as thorough as the EPA now claims. Indeed, it borders on negligence. Besides giving the site a clean bill of health without any soil testing, the DNR ignored its own warnings signals. Compelling evidence of Bliss’ misdeeds had been presented only months earlier as a part of the DNR’s effort to prevent his son from being granted a hazardous waste hauler’s license. At the hearing on the matter, the DNR submitted two contracts between Monsanto and Russell Bliss dated 1975 and 1976, the time period in which Bliss is known to have sprayed Terre Du Lac. The DNR presented further evidence at the same proceeding that linked the chemical manufacturer indirectly to a 1977 incident in which a Bliss driver dumped toxic chemicals — including one exclusively made by Monsanto — at a site in Jefferson County. Bliss testified at a subsequent DNR hearing that materials found at the site had come from Monsanto’s research lab. Given these revelations and the luxury of six additional years of hindsight, the lack of prudence exhibited by the EPA and DNR at Terre Du Lac is indeed inexplicable.

“The way we understand it, Monsanto told EPA investigators that they did not hire Bliss — end of story,” says Taylor. “But as you see, Bliss drivers consistently stated that Monsanto was a client.”

It isn’t necessary for the EPA to raid TBAG’s files to find this information because the agency already has the original documents in its own archives. TBAG, for example, acquired some of its more telling evidence from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA), which in turn obtained the information from the EPA and DNR.

One document that TBAG copied is a verbatim transcript of an interview conducted by an EPA official in 1980 at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Representatives of the DNR and the Missouri Attorney General’s office were also present. During the questioning, inmate Scott Rollins, a former Bliss driver, made a stuttering confession that he had picked up waste from Monsanto in Illinois.

“Monsanto is where we … got the pesticide, the stuff that … I thought … smelled like bug spray. It was in Illinois and it had a big fence around it. … I’ve been to Monsanto maybe twenty times,” Rollins said. “I remember this old guy … he used to give us stuff. You know, … he’d give Gary (Lambarth) some of these old, old sex magazines. …. Just little bullshit. … But … the company itself would still pay Russell (Bliss). They would write him a check.”

Rollins’ allegations have been corroborated to a degree by Judy Piatt, the one-time owner of Shenandoah Stables in Moscow Mill, Mo. After Bliss sprayed her stables in 1971, Piatt’s horses died and her daughter became seriously ill. To gather evidence for her pending civil suit against Bliss, the stable owner followed the waste oil hauler and his drivers along their daily routes. She compiled a list of where Bliss and his employees collected waste and where they disposed of it. According to a 1981 IEPA document, Piatt recalled that Bliss “possibly obtained waste from Monsanto.” The IEPA summary goes on to state: “Judy Piatt has a diary and pictures of such activities, but will not release these to (EPA) Region VII on the advise of her attorney.”

But perhaps the most damning indictment comes from Bliss himself. When a Missouri assistant attorney general asked the waste hauler in 1977 to identify his top customers, the first words out of Bliss’ mouth were, “Oh, I would say Monsanto.”

 

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.”

EXECUTIVE INACTION

St. Louis County’s top elected official, Buzz Westfall, refuses to heed the advise of his own citizens watchdog group , which now recommends a new stack emissions test is needed at the Times Beach incinerator

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times, (St. Louis) Dec. 18, 1996

Despite mounting evidence of wrongdoing, St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall refused last week to call for a retest of stack emissions at the controversial Times Beach dioxin incinerator near Eureka. The St. Louis County Dioxin Monitoring Committee voted unanimously in favor of such a measure on Dec. 10.

Committee members — who are all Westfall appointees — recommended the county executive ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to shut down the incinerator until new test results confirm whether the project is safe. The committee’s recommendation follows the release of an EPA ombudsman’s report last month calling for a similar course of action (“Taking a New Stack,” RFT, Nov. 27). Questions regarding the November 1995 stack emissions test surfaced earlier this year, after opponents of the incinerator discovered numerous violations of scientific protocol, including the alteration documents and the unexplained disappearance of sample tubes.

“As of yet, he is not sending a letter to the EPA to shut the thing down,” says Max Scott, a spokesman for Westfall. “I mean it would be a public relations move anyway. The county executive has no power to shut this thing down.”

Scott, however, is exaggerating Westfall’s impotence. The EPA ombudsman has called for public comments on this matter, and a locally elected official’s opinion would certainly be handled with deference. Westfall’s reticence also contradicts his own past position on the incinerator. During his 1990 campaign, he repeatedly attacked his opponent, incumbent H.C. Milford, for not taking a stronger stand on the issue. At that time Westfall wooed Eureka-area voters by telling them: ”The federal government is doing something bad to St. Louis County, and H. Milford is sitting silently by.”

Westfall  and his minions now routinely condemn critics of the incinerator as conspiracy theorists. In a telephone interview last Friday, for example, Scott repeatedly referred to Republican Councilman Greg Quinn as a conspiracy theorist for suggesting anything might have gone awry with the Times Beach project. Quinn represents the district in West St. Louis County where the incinerator is located.

Another Westfall partisan, county counselor John Ross, used the conspiracy theory stigma to discredit a resolution offered by Quinn at the County Council meeting last Thursday. The Democratic majority on the council subsequently defeated the measure 4-2.

Quinn had proposed the council urge the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to order a shut down of the incinerator until the state health department released data on a blood study of residents who live near the facility. Instead, the council passed a measure asking for the data, but not demanding a shut down or retest. The health department has claimed average dioxin levels have decreased among Eureka-area residents, but refuses to turn over the raw data so it can be independently analyzed (“Blood Feud,” RFT, Nov. 13).

After the adoption of the watered-down resolution, Quinn told the council: “What you’re seeing here in this resolution is a misguided effort by the majority party to support the county executive who wants incineration to continue at Times Beach in spite of the fact that we’ve had a unanimous recommendation from his own Dioxin Monitoring Committee. He’s willing to disregard that.”

Westfall was absent from the proceedings, as is often the case when Times Beach is on the agenda. If he had been there, the county executive may have been heartened by the testimony of EPA project manager Bob Feild, who defended the safety of the incinerator based on air monitoring data.

After the meeting, Feild and EPA lawyer Martha Steincamp deflected questions by saying, “We have to catch a plane.” Gary Pendergrass of Agribusiness Technologies Inc., the company liable for the clean up, had even less to say. When asked about his knowledge of a possible cover up of misdeeds during the stack test, Pendergrass stared vacuously at the RFT reporter and remained mute (“Why the Times Beach Incinerator Should be Shut Down,” RFT, Nov. 20).

Members of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) have charged that a conflict of interest exists because International Technology Inc. (IT), the incinerator operator, owned half of Quanterra Environmental Services when the stack test was conducted. Quanterra is known to have mishandled sample tubes following that test (“Twice Burned,” RFT, Aug. 28).

The irregularities at Times Beach now raise larger questions. Two thirds of IT’s contracts are with the federal government, including the Departments of Defense and Energy. Revenues from this work in fiscal 1996 are estimated at more $250 million. In the past, Quanterra’s William C. Anderson, the quality assurance officer at Times Beach, has also been involved in a trial burn at the U.S. Army chemical weapons incinerator in Utah. The Army is now investigating the safety of that incinerator, after whistleblowers there have repeatedly alleged that the incinerator isn’t operating properly. In 1993, IT’s St. Louis lab also did sampling for a radioactive waste clean up in Alaska, The Riverfront Times has learned.

Closer to home, incinerator critic Fred Striley — who is a member of the monitoring committee — isn’t satisfied in regard to the accuracy of the air monitoring at Times Beach. “Citizens groups have pointed out over the last couple of years numerous problems with the risk assessment that was prepared for the Times Beach site by CH2M Hill at EPA Region VII’s direction — problems like failing to account for fugitive emissions,” say Striley. Last week, the EPA notified the monitoring committee that its request for an air monitor at the incinerator site itself had been denied, according to Striley.

In 1992, CH2M Hill, one of the EPA’s most frequently relied on contractors, fell under the scrutiny of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the congressional General Accounting Office and the EPA itself. Investigators found the Corvallis, Ore.-based engineering firm had overcharged the government by $5 million for parties, baseball tickets, liquor and country club fees among other things. In addition, more than 95 percent of CH2M Hill’s time sheets were altered. Nonetheless, EPA Region VII choice CH2M Hill to do the Times Beach risk assessment completed in 1994.

Last Tuesday, one TBAG member was arrested at the monitoring committee meeting, which was held at the clean up site offices. Another TBAG protester locked her neck to the entrance gate with a kryptonite bicycle lock.

None of thedemonstrators swayed Retired Army Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Lewi’s opinion, however. At 66 years of age, the former officer is arguably the most conservative member of the monitoring committee, and he expresses confidence in the safety of the incinerator. Nevertheless, Lewi sided with the other committee members in asking for a shut down and retest.

“The committee has a responsibility to tell Mr. Westfall what we think based on the information we have,” says Lewi. “The reason I voted that way was to remove doubt from the public as to whether or not the (original ) test was valid.”

It remains to be seen whether the Westfall administration will label the general a conspiracy theorist, too.

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.”

 

BLOOD FEUD

Opponents of the Times Beach incinerator question the results of a newly released study measuring dioxin levels in nearby residents’ blood

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Nov. 13, 1996

The Missouri Department of Health (DoH) refused on Friday to make public any scientific data relating to its blood study of residents who live near the Times Beach dioxin incinerator.

The Riverfront Times had asked for the data so it could be independently analyzed. The newspaper’s request follows the premature announcement by the DoH last week that indicates dioxin levels in the vicinity of the Superfund site are among lowest ever recorded in the nation.

Daryl Roberts, chief epidemiologist for the state, rejected the possibility of releasing the raw numbers on the grounds of protecting the confidentiality of the subjects involved in the study. “I can’t provide it,” Roberts told the RFT. “The best I can give you is what’s in the news release.”

Pat Costner, a chemist for the environmental group Greenpeace, took exception to Roberts reasoning. “When those samples go into the lab, they’re numbered — they don’t have people’s names on them,” says Costner. “As long as there are no names on the data, it’s not a violation of confidence.”
Environmentalists opposed to the incinerator contend that the DoH’s selective analysis is seriously flawed and that publication of partial results is a violation of scientific standards that require such studies be peer reviewed before release.

“This isn’t science this is bullshit,” says Steve Taylor of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG). “The methods for testing dioxin blood levels can be complicated or even deceptive. Due to the sensitivity of tests like these and their impact on our community, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) recognizes the importance of having results peer reviewed before publication.” Taylor says the DoH released the limited data in advance of the completion of the study in order to support the position that the incinerator is not a threat to public health.

In order to bolster the purported safety of the incinerator, the DoH restricted its published analysis to 2,3,7,8 TCDD — only one of many types of dioxins and other hazardous materials being burned at Times Beach. “TCDD represents about 10 percent of the total dioxin equivalents in a human body,” says Costner. “Nobody even talks about TCDD anymore because it’s such a minor contributor.”

The agency first tested dioxin levels of nearby residents in September 1995 and then again in July, four months after the incinerator began operating. Based on its analysis, the DoH now claims dioxin blood levels of nearby residents and a comparison group are far below the national average of 3.2 to 10.1 parts per trillion (ppt). Among nearby Times Beach residents, dioxin blood levels allegedly declined from 1.81 ppt to 1.24 ppt, according to the DoH.

Taylor of TBAG debates whether the national average for dioxin blood levels is valid because it is based on discredited or obsolete studies. He also brands the current analysis inconclusive in that it measures only dioxin levels in lipids or fats. In addition, the DoH study excludes those most likely to be effected: children, the elderly and anyone exposed to excessive dioxin levels in the past.

Besides these drawbacks, the DoH estimates are based on only four months of exposure to incineration. That short period, says Taylor, allows for little more than an inhalation study and ignores the long-term potential for ingesting dioxins through the food chain, which experts consider the primary path of exposure.

On this point, DoH and TBAG are in rare agreement. “Yeah, we’re looking at the inhalation exposure at this time,” says Roberts. “However, as another part of the protocol, we have collected vegetable and soil samples … and they are currently in storage.” But the state epidemiologist would not hazard a guess when those samples would be analyzed. “I don’t even have a laboratory that’s going to do the work (yet),” Roberts says. In regard to other chemical contaminants, the DoH press release last week stated that “a cursory look found no increased levels to cause concern.” None of the other data will be released until after the completion of the third blood draw expected within a month of the completion of incineration, according to Roberts. At that late stage, it will be too late to protect public health, if the incinerator is indeed dangerous.

Roberts sees nothing sinister in the timing of the latest announcement, and says it was part of the plan. “We talked to ATSDR and discussed the need to release the first two values publicly to provide information so the community can at least determine whether it believes its had an excessive exposure or not,” says Roberts. “TCDD is the congener of concern in Missouri. Other contaminants of concern have toxic equivalence factors magnitudes lower than TCDD. The best I can say is that we reported out the information as it was provided to us from Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and CDC is the best laboratory in the nation.”

Costner of Greenpeace considers the DoH findings absurd. “If magically all the people around Times Beach were able to buy food with no dioxin in it, and breath air with no dioxin, it would then still take more than two years from September 95 for their TCDD levels to be expected to drop to the levels that they (DoH) are claiming for the second set of samples,” she says. “Are they saying the incinerator is sucking the dioxin out those people’s bodies? That’s what their data suggests. Does that make sense?”

Results of a separate ATSDR study released in September found abnormally high cancer rates among former residents of Times Beach and other Missouri dioxin sites. Interestingly, the DoH blood study, tentatively scheduled for release around the same time, was held up due to delays at the CDC laboratory, according to Roberts. The DoH finally released its optimistic findings in the aftermath of last week’s state and national elections. One day later, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had more good news. A DNR investigation absolved International Technologies (IT) of any possible wrongdoing or conflict of interest regarding its partial ownership of Quanterra Environmental Services (“Twice Burned,” RFT, Aug. 28). The month-long state inquiry found IT and Quanterra guilty of nothing more than poor paperwork.

Meanwhile, the incineration forges ahead with no end in sight. Approximately, 228,000 tons of dioxin-contaminated soil and other materials from 27 sites in Eastern Missouri are expected to be burned before the cleanup is completed. This is more than twice as much waste as originally estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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.”