Cover Story

A deep dive into the 1978 House Committee on Assassinations’ conspiracy theory on the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1978, Russell G. Byers was fingered as a suspect in a St. Louis Art Museum heist before becoming a witness before the House Select Committee on Assassination’s probe into the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

(first published in the Riverfront Times April 8, 1992)

In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded there was a St. Louis-based conspiracy to murder the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Evidence gathered by the HSCA has been sealed until 2027. James Earl Ray, the convicted murderer of King, claims the congressional investigation itself was a cover-up.

Ray pleaded guilty to the crime in 1969, but immediately recanted. There has never been a trial. He is now a prisoner at River Bend Penitentiary in Nashville, Tenn. In the preface to Ray’s book, “Who Killed Martin Luther King,” published in 1992, the Rev. Jesse Jackson demands a special prosecutor be named and the case reopened.

The following story centers on the HSCA’s St. Louis-based conspiracy theory and is comprised of information gleaned from Ray’s book, congressional testimony and newspaper accounts.

At 7:55 a.m. Nov. 8, 1979, produce man John Paul Spica said goodbye to his girlfriend Dina Bachelier for the last time. He walked out of the two family flat at 1115 Claytonia Terrace in Richmond Heights and stepped into his 1977 black Cadillac. When Spica touched the break pedal, he detonated five to eight sticks of dynamite. The explosion blew both of Spica’s legs off. The driver’s door of the vehicle landed 30 yards away.

Moments later, Wellston police officer Nick Sturghill, saw a bearded white male in a yellow pickup truck speeding away. Spica, who had a speech impediment, mumbled a few unintelligible words to Sturghill before he died.

Spica’s violent death a year after his closed-door testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) has long been attributed to a war between competing organized crime elements. for the control of a St. But Spica served time in Missouri Penitentiary with James Earl Ray, and was also the brother-in-law of Russell G. Byers, the committee’s star witness, who testified that there was a St. Louis-based conspiracy to kill the civil rights leader. The HSCA final report concluded that Byers’ allegations were credible.

The HSCA findings suggest that Ray, the convicted assassin, did not act alone, but its findings raise more questions than answers. The doubt begin with the HSCA’s chief witness and Spica’s brother-in law. That’s because in 1978 Byers was the suspected mastermind of a St. Louis Art Museum burglary. He was arrested but never charged with the crime.

Sometime after his arrest, the FBI in St. Louis provided HSCA investigators with Byers’ name after a misfiled 1974 report surfaced, which stated that, according to a confidential informant, Byers had boasted of receiving an offer to kill King.

In 1978, Byers told the HSCA that the offer came from two prominent deceased St. Louisans: former stockbroker John R. Kauffmann and patent lawyer John H. Sutherland, who founded “whites rights” groups locally.

Spica, Byers’ brother-in-law, was a convicted murder contractor himself. Spica had served 10 years of a life sentence for negotiating the 1962 killing of John T. Myszak, a North St. Louis County realtor. Upon parole, Spica opened the Corner Produce, a vegetable stand at Shaw and Vandevanter, which may have been an organized crime front. Spica was known to have ties to the late Anthony Giordano, leader of the St. Louis mafia.

Police believe Spica’s slaying, and subsequent car bombings during the early 80s, began as a power struggle within then-mob-dominated Laborers’ Union Local 42. In a 1987 federal trial here, Raymond H. Flynn, the local’s business manager, was implicated in Spica’s bombing and found guilty of multiple racketeering and conspiracy charges.

But Spica had other interesting associations besides his brother-in law and the mafia: While in a Missouri prison, Spica shared the same cell block with James Earl Ray.

In 1978, after being subpoenaed and granted immunity by the HSCA, Byers publicly testified that in late 1966 or early 1967 he was approached by Kauffmann, a retired stockbroker and former aircraft company owner active in St. Louis County Democratic politics. Byers had been a friend of the elder Kauffmann’s late brother Gil, an assistant St. Louis County coroner. According to Byers’ account, Kauffmann introduced him to a neighbor, John H. Sutherland, an avowed racist who made the $50,000 contract offer to kill King.

At this time, Kauffmann lived in Jefferson County and operated the Bluff Acres Motel on Highway 67 in Barnhart. Byers claimed the motel was actually a front for illegal activities and told the committee he used the premises for his stolen car operations. When asked by the committee whether he had informed Spica of the contract offer to kill King, Byers said he had not, but said that his brother-in-law, who was in state prison at the time, may have learned of the offer through other sources. Also in the same prison at the same time, was James Earl Ray, who was serving a sentence for the robbery of a Kroger’s supermarket on Ohio Avenue in South St. Louis. Both he and Spica, for a brief period, worked in the prison hospital together. Newspaper accounts cite rumors that Spica and Ray were dealing drugs inside.

Interestingly, the prison doctor, with the keys to the medicine chest, was Hugh W. Maxey — an old friend of Kauffmann’s. One shady business Kauffmann operated out of his motel was Fixaco, Inc., a pharmaceutical company. Seven people connected with Fixaco, including Kauffmann, were arrested on April 4, 1967 for conspiracy to illegally sell 725,000 amphetamines pills. Among those charged were two New Yorkers: Bernard Chubet, a former stockbroker and Anthony K. Chang, a Chinese Nationalist (Taiwanese) exchange student. Also arrested was Sgt. Henry Geerdes, a Jefferson County deputy. Former Jefferson County Sheriff Walter “Buck” Buerger claimed his deputy was acting as an undercover agent when arrested by the U.S. Bureau of Drug Abuse Control. However, the HSCA testimony of one of Byers’ former lawyers, the late Murray Randall, indicates the Jefferson County sheriff — not a deputy — purchased drugs from Kauffmann.

Within weeks of Kauffmann’s speed bust, Ray, with another inmate’s help, smuggled himself out of prison in a bread box. Inexplicably, charges against one of his earlier failed escape efforts were dropped not long before the breakout, allowing Ray back into the main prison population.

Fred Wilkinson, the Missouri director of corrections at the time, was a former federal prison official with ties to the CIA. In 1962, Wilkinson helped exchange a Russian spy for Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union.

Ray wasn’t the only one taking leave of the prison in those days. Maxey, the prison physician, released at least one inmate to work at Kauffmann’s motel as part of a “rehabilitation program.” And in a 1978 interview, Kauffmann’s widow said that in 1966, Spica visited the motel with Byers, while Spica was serving his life sentence. According to prison records, Spica received his first official prison furlough in 1972.

The other St. Louis businessman implicated by Byers, in the alleged assassination plot, was the late John H. Sutherland, a neighbor of Kauffmann’s and a patent attorney who had offices in the Shell Building on Locust Street where The Riverfront Times is now located. The firm of Sutherland Polster and Taylor represented clients such as Monsanto. When he died in 1970, Sutherland left a portfolio of mainly oil and chemical stocks worth more than $300,000, including investments in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

In 1978, another St. Louisan was linked to a local firm — Hydro-Air Engineering, Inc. — which was being investigated for illegal trade with the same white-supremacist nation. The allegations came soon after federal Judge William Webster was confirmed as FBI chief. While the African business may be unrelated, Webster had a closer tie to the case, which is harder to dismiss.

Richard O’Hara, an art restorer, was the FBI informant who purportedly reported Byers’ assassination claims in 1974 to the FBI. O’Hara had been arrested in 1972 for his knowledge of a Maryland Plaza jewel robbery. Two suspects in that case were murdered, another was acquitted here in a federal trial racked with improprieties. Judge Webster presided over the questionable judicial proceedings.

Webster and Sutherland also both belonged to the then-all-white Veiled Prophet society. Sutherland’s membership in the organization was posthumously investigated the HSCA the same year Webster’s VP connection was questioned during his Senate confirmation hearings. The reason the HSCA showed interest in the VP was because of Byers’ testimony that Sutherland represented a “secret Southern society,” with a lot of money. The wealthy Veiled Prophet organization was founded in the post Civil War era by Southern sympathizers.

However, the HSCA gave more credence to the theory that one of three overtly racist political groups may have been involved in the conspiracy. The HSCA theorized that word may have been passed to Ray through his family. In 1968, Ray’s brother, John, operated the Grapevine tavern at 1982 Arsenal Street adjacent to Benton Park. The saloon was the gathering place for American Party workers who had a campaign office nearby. The third-party movement was created to support the George Wallace’s presidential bid. Sutherland was a Wallace supporter. Another possibility mentioned by the HSCA was the St. Louis Metropolitan Area Citizens Council, a “whites’ rights” group. Sutherland had been the group’s first president. But the outfit the HSCA took most seriously was the Nashville-based Southern States Industrial Council to which Sutherland belonged. A position paper published by the council quotes FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s belief that the “Negro movement” was being subverted by communists.

To Russia with Love

At the height of the Cold War, the St. Louis city streets director took a hiatus to help build a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for a subsidiary of Slay Transportation. Meanwhile back in the Gateway City, the same company was busy developing a process for disposing of contaminated waste in area landfills.

If this were part of the plot of a spy thriller, it would be hard to suspend disbelief. Midwest business and politics have never been a hotbed of international intrigue. Nevertheless, despite  the anti-communist fervor of the Cold War era,  then-St. Louis Mayor John H. Poelker — a former agent in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI — granted a subordinate time off  to work in the Soviet Union.

In December 1975, William J. Wilson, then-director of the St. Louis Street Department, took a leave of absence to work on a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for Ecology Controls Inc., a subsidiary of Slay Transportation, a St. Louis-based company owned by Missouri Democratic powerbroker Eugene Slay. The local trucking magnate had no previous experience in international business, but his firm did transport materials for Monsanto and Mallinckrodt Chemical, two St. Louis companies that did.

Wilson, a Slay crony and a chemical engineer, was hired by the city in May 1973 by Mayor John H. Poelker — a former FBI agent. Prior to his work for the bureau, Poelker Poelker was employed by the DuPont Co. in St. Louis. He had hired Wilson at the urging of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Francis R. Slay, Eugene Slay’s cousin. The late Francis R. Slay is the father of Francis G. Slay, the former mayor who left office earlier this month.


In 1979, Wilson’s close ties to Slay became the subject of  a federal grand jury impaneled to probe whether riverfront leases and mooring rights granted by the city to Slay Transportation received favored treatment.  By then, Wilson had quit his post as city streets director to become general manager of Bi-State Development Corp., St. Louis’ mass transit agency.

The Soviet chemical plant, which was located 800 miles southwest of Moscow, was built to produce synthetic parasecrol, a material used in rubber products. Ecology Controls Inc., the Slay subsidiary, was a subcontractor of Ste. Entrepose, a French corporation. Wilson was paid $30,000 by Ecology Controls for his work on the project. He spent approximately three weeks in the Soviet Union. Wilson did the remainder of his work from St. Louis, while continuing to work full-time as the city’s streets director.

At the same time, Ecology Controls was also pursuing other ventures, including a process for disposing of chemically-contaminated waste in area landfills without harming the environment. Collis C. Bryan, a former Monsanto chemical engineer and Parkway School District chemistry teacher, was involved in that project.

Ecology Controls Inc., which was incorporated in 1971, remained an active corporation in Missouri until April 2011, when it merged with J.S. Leasing Company Inc, another Slay-owned company.

Tangled Up in Wildwood

Suburban builders plan to construct dozens of pricey houses on former hazardous-waste sites

first published in the Riverfront Times  (St. Louis) June 23, 1999, Wednesday

by C.D. Stelzer

The rugged land has resisted development for a long time, so a rural atmosphere still clings to these verdant hills, despite the encroachment of affluent subdivisions on the remaining ridgetop farms. But it would be wrong to think that nature has only now come under attack in this part of West St. Louis County.

Just off Strecker Road, in the gully washes that feed into Caulks Creek, the first of thousands of barrels of toxic waste were discovered nearly 19 years ago. The initial unearthing of the contaminated caches led one state environmental official to say at the time, “People move out here to escape pollution. This is where you find it, though.”

Eventually several hazardous-waste sites would be identified in the area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency would refer to them collectively as the “Bliss-Ellisville” site.

The first half of the name refers to Russell M. Bliss, the waste hauler responsible for dumping the pollutants. Bliss’ son still lives on a Strecker Road property once owned by his father, from which the EPA only a few years ago finally removed more than 900 truckloads of dioxin-contaminated dirt in addition to an estimated 1,500-2,000 barrels of toxic chemicals. The haul included drums laden with cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The second half of the site’s name is something of a misnomer, because the locations of the Bliss farm and the other hazardous-waste sites are all outside the Ellisville municipal limits. Nowadays, much to its chagrin, all of this tainted history falls under the jurisdiction of the city of Wildwood, which was incorporated in 1995.

Wildwood residents originally voted to approve the creation of the municipality to control development, thereby ensuring that greenspace would be preserved. Now the fledgling city faces a dilemma: Two developers are asking for zoning variances so that they can wedge dozens of high-priced houses on either side of Strecker Road — on parcels of land that were once part of the Bliss-Ellisville hazardous-waste site. The next meeting on the issue is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, at Wildwood City Hall, 16962 Manchester Rd.

The requests to develop these two properties have dredged up a litany of questions that have never been adequately answered by EPA officials or by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Those same officials are now siding with the developers, claiming that the once highly contaminated land is no longer a threat to human health, that it is now safe enough for backyard swingsets and tomato patches.

If the city allows W.J. Byrne Builders Inc. to build Strecker Forest, 31 houses will be constructed on the 18.5-acre tract. As things stand, Byrne Builders holds an option to buy the land from its current owners, Gerald and Patricia Primm. The couple’s property is adjacent to the Bliss farm. An early EPA investigation found portions of the Primm property and three other adjacent parcels to be contaminated.

On the other side of the road, at 210 Strecker Rd., developer Larry Wurm of James Properties Inc. is proposing to build Wildwood Ridge, an 11-home development on 7.6 acres of land now owned by Jean Callahan. Her husband, Grover Callahan, worked as a truck driver for the Bliss Waste Oil Co. in the early 1970s. Before Times Beach — the most notorious of the sites contaminated by Bliss — became a household word, the EPA had already rated the Callahan property one of the most contaminated hazardous-waste sites in the nation. Although the state hastened to dispose of hundreds of barrels at the Callahan site in the early 1980s, the EPA did not close its case on the property until last September.

Wildwood currently zones the Strecker Road properties as “nonurban,” which requires a minimum lot size of 3 acres. When considering deviations from the existing zoning code, the city takes into account several factors, such as the availability of utility services, topography and road conditions, but nothing on the municipal books deals with building houses on top of former hazardous-waste sites.

“It’s a difficult position for the city,” says Joe Vujnich, Wildwood’s director of parks and planning. “We do not have the expertise that the U.S. EPA and Missouri Department of Natural Resources have. Obviously I have to depend upon them to do their job and hope that we do ours.”

Among those who doubt the EPA’s blanket endorsement is Tammy Shea, a Wildwood resident. “If they’re going to develop the Callahan property, then we need to know exactly what took place there. The version that the developer presented to Wildwood is pretty vague about what happened,” Shea says. “It’s very confusing, the fact that they’ve kind of lumped these properties together yet dealt with them differently. Why were they in such a hurry to clean up the Callahan site? They were in there in 1981, pulling out barrels and treating them differently from the rest of the waste. They didn’t take the barrels from the Bliss farm until 1996, when the incinerator was here. So why were they in such a rush to get the barrels off the Callahan property?” asks Shea.

As for developer Wurm, he believes the Callahan property has been cleaned up, but he’s counting on the findings of state and federal regulators to protect him against any future liability.

“It’s no problem. It’s clean as a whistle,” says Wurm of the Callahan property. “It’s clean as a whistle,” he repeats. “Look at the record of decision. I’ve got letters from EPA and DNR also stating that everything is cool on the property.” But Wurm says he doesn’t want to discuss the project in detail, fearing his plans will be misrepresented. “When I talked with the (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch, I got misquoted. It was an abortion. So I’ll just let the record of decision stand for itself, OK? Tom What’s-his-face at the Post-Dispatch, he didn’t have time. He didn’t want to look at all this shit. And blah, blah, blah. You got to do your homework on these pieces, otherwise you’re wasting your time.

“Nothing against journalists — some of them are my best friends,” Wurm adds.

Wurm is referring to Tom Uhlenbrock, who first reported the Wildwood development plans in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 11. Asked about Wurm’s criticism, Uhlenbrock says the developer was “bent out of shape because he wanted the article to say that the Callahan property never had any dioxin or Russell Bliss on it.” Uhlenbrock said he was unable to confirm whether dioxin had been found on the site or whether there was a Bliss connection to the property.

In 1994, the Post-Dispatch reported a dispute involving homebuyers in Turnberry Place subdivision, which abuts the Bliss farm. The buyers said they signed sales contracts without being told by their real-estate agents that their new homes were adjacent to a hazardous-waste site. Seven families sued the responsible Realtor, and they were awarded a cumulative settlement of more than $500,000. If the city approves their respective developments, Wurm and Byrne hope to avoid this legal pitfall by having buyers sign a disclosure form saying that they were told in advance of the land’s history.

The full history of the Callahan site and the others in the Caulks Creek watershed remains something of an enigma. Contacted by phone last Friday at EPA headquarters in Kansas City, Martha Steincamp, regional counsel for the EPA, could not provide details on the Bliss-Ellisville cleanups and referred all questions on the matter to Bob Feild, the agency’s project manager. Feild did not return phone calls.

From publicly released EPA documents, this much is known: In the winter of 1981-1982, the DNR and EPA excavated more than 1,200 barrels of toxic waste from the Callahan property. The cleanup crew immediately sent 592 drums to a landfill in Wright City, Mo., but more than 600 barrels were stored on-site, along with 500 cubic yards of soil. The EPA removed the remaining barrels in July 1983. The agency then backfilled the hole with the same soil that had been stored at the site. A Post-Dispatch story dated April 4, 1983, describes the 500 cubic yards of soil stored at the Callahan site as being “contaminated.”

A later EPA inspection showed that the land had subsequently subsided and would require stabilization. Despite evidence of erosion, the EPA’s investigation concluded that the “fill area of the Callahan subsite was not contaminated (and) that the original objectives of the remedial action had either been achieved through natural processes, or were no longer considered necessary due to the preference expressed by the site owner.”

Aside from groundwater contamination, the most serious threat to human health posed by the contamination at the Callahan site was airborne migration, according to the EPA. It would be better to err on the side of safety, says Shea, than risk exposing people to more hazardous waste by digging foundations on the Callahan property and inadvertently excavating a heretofore undetected layer of toxic waste. “I believe that the whole area there is littered with contamination pockets,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just best to leave well enough alone.”

Shea is being dismissed as an alarmist. Wildwood city officials have questioned her credentials, and she says a real-estate agent recently criticized the motives behind her activism. In both instances, the allegations were not based so much on environmental concerns as they were on the bottom line.

“I guess Wildwood is just going to have to look at it from a credibility standpoint,” says Shea. “What I’m going to ask is that they provide the citizens with some level of accountability, because we certainly aren’t getting it from the EPA and we shouldn’t have to depend on the developer to provide it.”

By the EPA’s count, the Bliss-Ellisville site contained at least seven separate waste-disposal locations. Sewer workers discovered the first batch of barrels on the property of the Rosalie Investment Co., near the intersection of Strecker and Clayton roads, in July 1980. The Callahan dump was discovered in August of that year.

Callahan started working for Bliss in the early 1970s, which would have been around the same time Bliss started hauling hazardous waste. After the discovery of the waste a decade later, Callahan testified in St. Louis County Circuit Court that he had used a lift truck to dump drums of waste, which Bliss had picked up at local industries, on the Callahan property. DNR officials described the location of the dump as a ravine, filled 15 feet deep with rusty barrels.

Three parties — Jean Callahan, Kisco Co. and Bliss — refused to pay for the cleanup. By 1982, the Missouri attorney general’s office had entered negotiations with two other firms, American Can and GK Technologies. Ultimately, the state accepted $94,000 in 1988 as its part of a $660,000 settlement with several companies, a fraction of the estimated overall cleanup cost.

The biggest fish appears to have either slipped off or broken the line, however. In September 1980, Gov. Joseph P. Teasdale wrote a letter to Monsanto chairman John W. Hanley, requesting that the St. Louis-based chemical company pay for the cleanup. In his bid for re-election that year, Teasdale also made a campaign stop at the Bliss-Ellisville site to again ask for Monsanto’s assistance. This time Teasdale made the plea with the TV news cameras rolling. Monsanto refused to consider the governor’s appeal, even though before a federal ban on the chemical the company had been the sole producer of PCBs in North America.

Twice Burned?


Monsanto Asked Bridgeton to OK Burning Toxic Waste at West Lake Landfill in 1969

When the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Mo. is mentioned nowadays, it is most often associated with radioactive waste produced by Mallinckrodt Chemical of St. Louis, and the underground fire raging nearby.  But records uncovered by STL Reporter indicate another locally-based chemical behemoth had earlier burning desires for the West Lake property.

Bridgeton City Council minutes from May 7, 1969 state that representatives of the Monsanto Chemical Co. asked the council to approve an application for a permit to run a pilot plant at the West Lake Quarry. The quarry and the landfill were then two parts of the same operation.

Monsanto spokesmen Evan Robert and Ted Bielski told the council that Monsanto had formed a new business enterprise earlier that year to address an array of pollution problems. The plant would “heat material in enclosed chambers and the residue will come out a sterile product,” according to the council minutes.

At the same meeting, the St. Louis County Health Commissioner told council members that the county had already issued an air pollution permit for the pilot plant, which was expected to operate for the remainder of 1969.

The minutes lack details of the proposed plant, but appear to outline plans for Monsanto to operate an incinerator at the location.

Prior to presenting the proposal to the council, Monsanto would have almost certainly have negotiated an agreement with West Lake’s owners. West Lake’s operation already included a cement kiln, which could also have served as a possible waste incinerator.

Councilman Edward Boenker, the owner of an adjacent farm, asked whether Monsanto intended to use waste from the landfill. The minutes do not indicate whether the company representatives responded to the question.

The Monsanto representatives did say that laboratory tests had already been conducted and field testing was necessary. “The end result will be a totally sterile landfill,” according to the council minutes. They estimated that the pilot plant would treat between 50 and 100 tons daily. Nothing in the document says specifically what kinds of wastes would be treated. But the Monsanto representatives did describe the end product as “sterile,” which suggests that the untreated waste was harmful.

In the late 1960s, Monsanto produced a component of Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam war. Dioxin, is a toxic waste byproduct of Agent Orange. The EPA later discovered that dioxin contamination the town of Times Beach, Mo. and dozens of other sites in Eastern Missouri and incinerated it. The clean-up of those sites took decades to complete.

Monsanto also did work for the Atomic Energy Commission during the Cold War at Clinton Laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tenn. and Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio.



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

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


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.”




Previously unpublished, Feb. 14, 1996

Whenever PCBs or dioxin are mentioned, secrecy seems to
descends: doors close, sources become unavailable,
Freedom of Information requests go wanting, and lies are
     Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.) recognized
early the consequences of such a flawed policy.  "If we
were discussing national security such as the A-bomb or
nuclear warheads, I could see where there would have to
be a cloak of secrecy," Eagleton told the St. Louis
Globe-Democrat in 1982. ... "But we are discussing a
situation that is affecting people's lives. ... The worst
thing is for there to be secret leaks that may be
misleading to the people in those affected areas,"
Eagleton said.     
     That the senator referred to national security is
telling. From the beginning, the military-industrial
complex has inhabited the edges of the dioxin
     Hoffman-Taff and Monsanto, of course, both
originally  manufactured a chemical component of Agent
Orange for use by the Army in Vietnam. But Monsanto's
military connections predates that era by decades. As far
back as World War II, the chemical company did work for
the government. In 1944, for example, the St. Louis Star
Times reported that Monsanto had gained approval from the
Army to produce a catapulting rocket" fashioned after the
German "robot bomb," an allusion probably to the early V
2 missiles used by the Nazis. 
     Another intriguing detail is that Syntex -- 
Hoffman-Taff's  parent and the company ultimately held
liable for the Times Beach cleanup --  is incorporated in
Panama, a center for clandestine banking and
international espionage.
      The Roche Group, a Swiss-based pharmaceutical
conglomerate bought Syntex in 1994. During World War I,
the allies suspected Hoffman-LaRoche of aiding Germany.
More recently, the company's American subsidiary 
provided a hallucinogenic drug, quinuclidinyl benzilate,
known as BZ, to the U.S. Army. The Army Chemical Corp is
reported to have conducted human experiments using BZ  at
the Edgewood Arsenal between 1959 and 1974.  
     There are also indications of a close working
association between public health officials and the
military. As already stated, health officials were
steered to the Verona plant by the Defense Contract
Administrations Services, a part of the Pentagon. In
addition, one of the early investigators of the Missouri
dioxin case had a background tied to the armed forces. 
In a 1975 deposition relating to the Piatt case, Coleman
Carter, a physician for the U.S. Public Health Service
(PHS), testified he had joined the health agency less
than two years before, while still a commissioned officer
on active reserve duty. Carter worked under the auspices
of the Epidemiological Intelligence Services (EIS).  EIS
had been specifically set up to respond to the threat of
biological warfare, according to Alexander D. Langmuir,
the chief epidemiologist for the PHS  from 1949 to 1970. 
     In addition, the Bliss Waste Oil Co. picked up used
motor oil from Ft. Leonard Wood near Rolla. One former
Bliss driver alleged that the company also collected
waste from Scott Air Force Base near Belleville.  IPC,
the St. Louis company that sub-contracted Bliss to haul
the dioxin-contaminated waste from Verona, was a
subsidiary of Charter Oil.  During the 1970s, Charter Oil
engaged fugitive financier Robert Vesco, and Billy
Carter, the brother of Pres. Jimmy Carter, to negotiate
trade deals with Libyan dictator Moammer al-Qaddafi.
     Perhaps the most bizarre footnote to this toxic
odyssey are the tete-a-tetes Bliss reportedly shared with
the late U.S. Rep. Richard Ichord (D-Mo.)  In a 1980
prison interview,  an alleged Bliss Waste Oil Co.
employee, recalled witnessing  meetings between his
former employer and the ultra-conservative congressman. A
transcript of the interview is on file at the IEPA
offices in Collinsville.  According to the transcript,
DNR and EPA officials and an assistant Missouri attorney
general interviewed inmate Scott Rollins at the Missouri
Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Rollins is quoted as
saying Bliss met Ichord, on more than one occasion, at an
unspecified restaurant and the two would sometimes leave
     Ichord is probably most remembered for being the
last chairman of the House Un-American Activities
Committee, and a zealous anti-communist. After leaving
office, he became a lobbyist for the extreme-rightwing
American Freedom Coalition, which received funding from
the Unification Church, founded in Korea by the Rev. Sun
Myung Moon. During his tenure in Congress, the
congressman also strongly supported chemical weapons. In
1980, Ichord pushed a more than $3 million appropriation
through Congress for a binary nerve gas facility at the 
Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas. In the prison interview,
Rollins mentions that Bliss also did business in that
state, but didn't say where. 
     Whether the congressman and the waste oil hauler
ever met is, for now at least, still a matter of
conjecture. But it is clear that they both, in their own
ways, contributed to massive pollution problems. The Army
is now faced with destroying tons of chemical weapons. 
In this way, it faces the same kind of problem the EPA
has at Times Beach. Local residents in both circumstances
oppose the use of incineration as a means of destroying 
toxic chemicals.  
     In a 1970 speech before the St. Louis County Chamber
of Commerce, Ichord, warned that the environmental
movement could someday be subverted by the radical left.
Speaking at Slay's  restaurant in Affton, the congressman
said, "Solving the problems of pollution will require
sound and pragmatic actions from state and city
governments, plus massive volunteer activities as well as
the support you have the right to expect from the federal
     Although Taylor, the organizer for TBAG, would
likely not match the late congressman's profile of a good
citizen, he agrees that the federal government, in
particular Congress, does have an important obligation. 
     "The Times Beach Action Group has always wanted to
uncover the truth about what's been happening with these
toxic sites," says Taylor. "We have requested a
congressional investigation from (Rep.) Jim Talent. Also,
we've sent a letter requesting (the same) of (Sen.
Christopher "Kit") Bond."
      TBAG hasn't heard back from Bond. They're not
holding their breath.


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


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

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

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

All Roads Lead to Verona, or do they?

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

The Dittmer Incident     

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

The Politics of a Hazardous Waste Coverup

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