A Different Kind of Fire

 When Greenpeace chemist Pat Costner opposed the incinerator industry, someone incinerated her home


first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), July 22, 1994

There will be many questions asked this week, when the Second Citizens’ Conference on Dioxin convenes at Saint Louis University on Thursday.

The inquiring ranks at the four-day gathering will be comprised of more than 100 scientists, environmental activists, former Times Beach residents and Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Big names like Retired Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr. and Barry Commoner, the former Washington University ecologist, are among the scheduled speakers.

Fewer people outside of the environmental movement may have heard of Pat Costner, but the 54-year-old chemist will also address the conference. Costner is the research director of Greenpeace’s U.S. Toxics Campaign. For the past eight years, she has been providing the technical answers that have stoked the environmental group’s fiery opposition to dioxin-generating incinerators.

The point at which science, politics and business intersect can be a volatile one. Costner, who lives near Eureka Springs,Ark., knows as much. She also knows there is no pat answer or formula that will reveal who torched her house on March 2, 1991.

“The night my house burned down, I went to town to visit a friend,” recalls Costner. “I came home and it was gone. It was burned totally to the ground. I can’t tell you how you feel at a time like that. I sat out here by myself, for I don’t know how long.”

The Arkansas Gazette reported that Costner’s “house was valued at $25,000, but only her computer equipment and office materials were insured.” But that’s not all that turned to ash.

“I probably had one of the larger technical libraries in the environmental movement,” Costner says. The irreplaceable books and technical papers took 30 years to accumulate and minutes to destroy. Costner’s will to employ her expertise remains un-singed. Her knowledge is based on years of experience within the industry she now opposes. Earlier in her career, the scientist worked for both Shell Oil and Arapaho Chemicals, a subsidiary of Syntex.

At the time of the blaze, Costner planned to publish a book based on five years of research into toxic waste incineration. Ironically, she had entitled her work Playing with Fire.

“We had arson investigators who said that my office burned at temperatures that were five or six times hotter than a normal house fire. They sent samples of the ash off to have it analyzed and found traces of an accelerant,” says Costner.

The evidence strongly suggests that her office and library were the targets of the arsonists. “It was a professional hit. It was not just somebody who wandered by with matches, says Sheila O’Donnell, a private investigator hired by Greenpeace.

The alleged attack against Costner is one of many acts of violence that may have been perpetrated against environmentalists in recent years. “I know that some of these attacks have been very well orchestrated,” says O’Donnell. The Center for Investigative Reporting has counted 124 credible cases in 31 states since 1988. Among them is the 1989 car bombing of Earth First! activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari in Oakland, Calif.

Costner estimates her efforts were instrumental in shutting down at least six hazardous waste incinerators in the year or so before her house burned. In most, if not all, of these cases, the Greenpeace scientist says she engaged in debates with incinerator proponents and government officials. In 1989, for example,Costner’s testimony helped block a multi million-dollar incinerator slated for the Kaw Indian reservation in Oklahoma. WasteTech, the proposed builder of the project, is a subsidiary of Amoco Oil, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Despite the personal set back, Costner has continued to fight the Vertac incinerator, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup. The dioxin-contaminated waste at the Jacksonville, Ark. site was left over from the manufacture of Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam War. The struggle by Costner and others to halt the burning of the waste has been supported by three decisions handed down by U.S. District Judge Stephen Reasoner. In each instance, however, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has overturned his rulings.

Although the arson case remains unsolved, O’Donnell’s investigation uncovered some interesting leads. “We located witnesses who said there had been three different incidences of thugs coming to town looking for Pat,” says O’Donnell. About six weeks before the fire, Costner says a local woman had warned that a man had inquired about her whereabouts. Two weeks later, customers at a Eureka Springs restaurant reportedly overheard Costner’s name come up in a conversation between two men. One of the strangers allegedly bragged of being trained at Quantico,Va., which is both the headquarters of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the FBI training center.

After the fire, Costner immediately pulled in a house trailer and set about having her home rebuilt. She makes no secret of where she lives. From St. Louis, head down I-44 to Springfield and veer onto U.S. 65. Keep driving past Branson. Past Andy William’s Pepsodent smile, past the other giant billboard images of Tony Orlando, Bobby Vinton, Wayne Newton and Mel Till-ill-is. Then head southwest across the Arkansas line,where straightaways are memories and the oak and hickory roots run deep under the roadbed. Outside of Eureka Springs, turn off Route 23, the faint gray line on the road map, and go down a dirt road a piece.

“I have 135 acres and I live plunk out in the middle of it.

“This is my home,” says Costner, as a rooster crows in the background. “I’ve lived here for 20 years. My children grew up here.”

She ain’t leavin’.


The specter of dioxin continues to haunt Missouri

published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 13, 1997


Dan Harris stood next to a home on Lemar Drive in Ellisville on Monday afternoon surveying the situation, his lanky frame hunched over a transit connected to a tripod. As he methodically measured the area, TV reporters scrambled across a nearby front yard interviewing residents about the dioxin that had been discovered in an adjacent gravel driveway.

For Harris, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the scene around him must have been like being recast as an extra in a movie in which he previously played a leading role. Harris had forecast this setting in 1981, when he led the EPA’s investigation of possible dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri. At that time, he suspected that all of the dioxin sites in the region had not yet been discovered. He repeatedly warned his superiors of that possibility and they censured him for trying to do his job.

Earlier this summer, the EPA shut down the dioxin incinerator at Times Beach with much fanfare. Federal and state officials heralded the event as the end of the dioxin legacy in the state. The incineration of the contaminated soil from 28 sites had been completed, and Bob Feild, the EPA project manager for the cleanup, took pride in the thoroughness of the agency’s response. “We investigated over 400 sites, followed up every lead,” said Feild. “We feel virtually certain all the potential sites have been identified and located.”

But within weeks of that announcement, an Ellisville resident came forward with independent test results showing dioxin to be present at up to 195 parts per billion in the gravel driveway off of Lemar Court. The EPA has set the level of concern for dioxin at one part per billion. Discovery of the new site raises questions as to whether there are more dioxin contaminated locations in the area waiting to be found. It is a question that Harris raised fifteen years ago.

When asked to comment about the latest turn of events, Harris declined. “I think you better talk to Hattie,” says Harris, referring to Hattie Thomas, an EPA spokeswoman who was present at the Lemar site on Monday. By way of explanation, Harris adds: “I’ve been demoted twice from this job.”

Harris’ early actions forced the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into addressing Missouri’s dioxin catastrophe, and turned the situation into a national issue. He was rewarded by being removed from his leadership position in March 1982. Prior to his demotion, Harris wrote a report in which he stated that there was no assurance that other dioxin contamination would not be found. “It is apparent that this investigation is far from completion,” Harris wrote. “The record does not provide assurance that the public and the environment is protected from low-level, long-term exposure.” In a 1983 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Harris said he was never informed as to why he was replaced, but he did speculate that the EPA was trying to “bury the whole investigation” because it “was tired of finding dioxin sites.”

Unlike Harris, some careers have improved by underplaying the problem. One Post-Dispatch reporter, for example, who covered the Times Beach story during in the early 1980s, later went to work for Fleishman-Hillard. Her duties for the St. Louis public relations firm included the Syntex account, the company held liable for the dioxin contamination in the state.

None of this matters to Charles Bradley, who lives directly next to the new dioxin site. The 66-year-old retired boilermaker has more important things to be concerned about. “I’d like to see it cleaned up and get it out of here,” says Bradley of the dioxin. Bradley, who has lived on Lemar for 31 years, has lymphatic cancer. His wife has cancer of the mouth.


Fugitive toxic emissions at the Times Beach incinerator reveal lax safety policies of Syntex, the DNR and the EPA


First published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), May 8, 1996

Gary Pendergrass stood before the St. Louis County
Council last Thursday and tried to explain the latest in
a series of snafus at the Times Beach incinerator, which
have resulted in the releases of unknown quantities of
dioxin into the environment.
      It was not an easy task for Pendergrass, who is
the Times Beach project coordinator for Syntex, the
company found liable for the Superfund cleanup.
Defending the project's already questionable safety
record  became even less tenable due to the belated
actions of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources
(DNR).  Earlier in the day, the state agency announced
it had shut down the controversial incinerator in the
wake of the most recent incident, an electrical power
outage on April 28. 
     DNR Director David Shorr could not be reached on
Monday. Nina Thompson, a spokeswoman for the department,
said the amount of the dioxin released during the
emergency had not been determined as of yet. "We don't
think that it was a health risk, but we still want to
know for sure," she said. The DNR does not know how long
the shut down will be in effect, according to Thompson. 
     At the council meeting, Pendergrass blamed an
unforseen act of God for the latest debacle. "As you can
see the wind velocity range went from the 20 to 30 mph
range very quickly up to a maximum of 62 mph," he told
the council, referring to a chart he had brought with
     "When this happened, the high winds extinguished
the pilot lights on the standby combustion system,"
Pendergrass added. Less than a minute later, the
electricity went out, according to Pendergrass. The
combination of the high winds and electricity outage
prevented the full burning of dioxin-contaminated
materials and thereby allowed toxic matter to spew
untreated out of the dump stack reserved for such
emergency releases.
     "Honestly, the events were very unfortunate the way
things worked,"  Pendergrass said.  The Syntex official,
nevertheless, reassured the council that the release
posed no danger to public health. To prevent a similar
occurrence, a wind screen has been installed to shield
the pilot lights, and a private weather forecaster has
been hired, Pendergrass said.
     The incineration of dioxin-contaminated soils is
scheduled to continue over the next several months,
according to the terms of the 1990 federal consent
decree. The plan -- signed by Syntex, the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and the DNR -- calls for burning
toxic waste from Times Beach and 26 other sites in
Eastern Missouri.  
       Under questioning from Councilman Gregory Quinn, 
Pendergrass testified that IT Corp. -- the incinerator
operator contracted by Syntex -- would calculate the
amount of toxins released and provide their estimate to
the DNR and the EPA for further evaluation.  
     Quinn then asked why air monitoring data on the two
previous emergency releases, which occurred on March 20
and March 30,  had not yet been provided to the St.
Louis County Health Department. Pendergrass responded by
saying the data would be forthcoming and added: "There
has been no attempt to hide anything on this project."      
     Opponents of the incinerator disagree. Dan
McLaughlin, who spoke to the council prior to
Pendergrass, alleged that "air monitors that surround
the site are ... either by accident or purposely shut
off during these releases."
     Joe Taykowski, the local resident who has been
videotaping the emergency releases from a bluff
overlooking the incinerator, says he has documented
other problems with the project. "They (Syntex) don't
want to talk about the fugitive emissions that are
coming out of the bottom of this stack at least five
times an hour -- every day," said Taykowski. 
      Reached for comment over the weekend, Steve
Taylor, a spokesman 
 the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG), criticized the
state and federal regulators for permitting incinerator,
which he says is an inherently dangerous. "The only
people surprised that this happened are the DRN and EPA,
the agency's that have been charged with safeguarding
public health. The community anticipated this," said
      Last month, federal Judge John F. Nangle, the same
jurist who cobbled the 1990 consent decree, dismissed a
suit brought by the Citizens Against Dioxin Incineration
(CADI), a group affiliated with TBAG. By so doing, the
judge sided with the lawyers representing the  EPA and
Syntex,  who contend that Superfund law prohibits any
court challenges until after cleanups are completed.
Nangle's latest decision follows an earlier ruling in
which he overturned a St. Louis County ordinance that
sought to impose stricter emission standards on the

Toxic Migrant

By C. D. Stelzer

first published in the Riverfront Times (St.Louis), Oct. 16, 1995

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has
discovered dioxin contamination on property in St.
Louis that the federal agency had previously listed
as clean, the Riverfront Times has learned.
Soil tests conducted in June 1994 at the
Nationsway Transport Service Inc., a truck terminal
at 5701 Hall St., revealed dioxin levels of up to
15 parts per billion, according to an EPA
correspondence and sampling data provided to the
RFT by an anonymous source. Despite the lapse of
more than a year since the test results were
issued, employees at the terminal and their union
representative were never officially notified of
the contamination by the EPA or the company. 

In September, Bob Feild, the EPA project
manager for the Times Beach dioxin cleanup,
repeatedly told the RFT that samples taken at four
sites in 1994 had uncovered no further dioxin
contamination. "They were found to be clean, ..."
said Feild. 

When asked last week about the Nationsway
terminal, Feild admitted the property was among
those he had previously identified as
uncontaminated. Feild and Martha Steincamp, the
regional counsel for the EPA, now maintain it is
likely that the newly discovered dioxin-tainted
soil migrated from the adjacent Jones Truck Line
lot, and, therefore, cannot be considered part of a
separate site, according to the terms of the 1990
federally-mandated consent decree. 

"I guess we're having a little semantical
problem about whether there are other sites," says
Steincamp. "Superfund doesn't care about property
boundaries, they clean up contamination. ... There
is migration at a lot of the sites," adds
Steincamp. Officials at the EPA and the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) say
the concentrations of dioxin at Nationsway are well
within health-based standards for industrial or
commercial properties and pose little risk because
the contamination is limited to the periphery of
the property. Nevertheless, the EPA says it will to
excavate and burn the toxic soil at Nationsway.

The abandoned Jones Truck Line property, at
5601 Hall St., is one of the 27 designated sites
that are part of the EPA's Times Beach Superfund
cleanup. The project involves transporting and
burning 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated
soil in Eastern Missouri. As a part of the plan, an
incinerator is now being built at the site of the
former town of Times Beach in West St. Louis
County. Test burns may start before the end of the
year. The EPA intends to use some of the
contaminated soil from the Jones site as feedstock
for those burns, which will require that the
cleanup at the Hall Street location begin soon.
As of last week, no one yet had informed
Nationsway employees about the imminent excavation.
In 1983, the EPA deemed the site -- formerly known
as Trans Con -- to be clean, but workers at the
terminal have long been concerned about potential
dioxin exposure.

"As far as I know there hasn't been any
announcement of any plans to clean it up," says
Rick Schleipman, the business agent for Teamsters
Local 600, who represents many of the workers at
the Nationsway terminal. "If there is something
wrong on the property, they should definitely let
them know," says the labor official. 

When risk manager Jerry Baer was contacted at
Nationsway's corporate headquarters in Denver, he
denied any knowledge that dioxin contamination had
been found at the company's St. Louis facility.
"Our understanding is that there is dioxin at the
site next door," Baer says. He refused to talk
about the company's policies regarding notifying
employees of potential dioxin exposure. He would
only say: "I know that they are aware of it, (but)
I don't know how they became aware." Nationsway --
an international transport company -- is controlled
by Jerry McMorris, the owner of the Colorado
Rockies baseball team.

The property on which the Nationsway terminal
is located is owned by Justin Williamson III of
Ladue. In a letter dated August 8, 1994, the EPA
notified Williamson of the dioxin contamination. "A
review of the data shows that 2,3,7,8-TCDD (dioxin)
was detected on your property ranging in
concentration from 0.336 to 15.0 parts per billion
(ppb)," the letter states. Williamson, a prominent
St. Louis businessman and philanthropist, also owns
Midwest Transfer, another transport company located
on Hall Street. He says he informed the management
of Nationsway about the dioxin contamination, and
otherwise bears no responsibility in the case.
Williamson has owned the property for four or five
years, he says. He refused further comment.
"He is essentially an innocent landowner,"
Steincamp, the EPA lawyer, says of Williamson. "In
other words, the contamination came to be located
on his property through no fault of his."

An estimated 3,278 cubic yards of toxic dirt is
supposed to be dug up at the 5.65-acre Jones site
and hauled to Times Beach for incineration,
according to the EPA's Engineering Evaluation/Cost
Analysis (EE/CA). Excavation, at this site alone,
will cost more than $1.3 million. The total price
tag for incinerating the tainted soil at Jones is
expected to be more than $4.2 million. In addition,
more than 182,000 square feet of the contaminated
soil will at capped with asphalt and remain at the
location. The cost of capping the remaining soil
will be more than $500,000.

The ostensible purpose of the
scorched-earth-and/or-asphalt policy is, of course,
the protection of human health. Established EPA and
ATSDR standards require residential property be
cleaned up to below one part per billion (ppb). The
same guidelines, however, allow dioxin levels of up
to 20 ppb in certain commercial or industrial
areas. The reasoning behind the double-standard is
that children are more vulnerable to the effects of
dioxin. The toxin is a suspected human carcinogen
and is known to cause immunological and
reprodcutive problems. "Children are just more
sensitive and they also, through their play habits
and eating habits, ingest more dust, more soil than
a worker does," says Denise Jordan-Izaguirre of the
ATSDR. The federal health official says that
studies "have shown that adult, healthy men, in a
work place, are exposed to much higher levels (of
dioxin) without any impact on their health." 

Opponents of the EPA's plan see things
differently. "It's a liability removal project,"
says Steve Taylor, an organizer for the Times Beach
Action Group (TBAG). "It's very suspicious that
these sites haven't been cleaned up for 20 years.
TBAG has long demanded that public officials help
us to uncover the dioxin coverup."

Fred Striley of the Dioxin Incinerator Response
Group (DIRG) shares a similar view. "The plan says
that they can cap over dioxin-contaminated soil,
and that will be safe. They've capped over a lot of
soil and its been that way for ten years," says
Striley. "I don't see why they have to burn it, if
it's safe to cap it. Why not cap it all, if it's
safe? I don't believe it is safe in the long term,"
says Striley. "I think the sites should be cleaned
up and the stuff should be stored." 

The dioxin-contaminated soil in the St. Louis
area was created as an unwanted byproduct at the
Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co.
(NEPACCO) plant in Verona, Mo. in the late 1960s
and early 1970s. NEPACCO manufactured
hexachlorophene, an antiseptic, which has since
been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. At the time, the company also
leased part of its facility to Hoffman-Taff, a
producer of Agent Orange, the herbicide used in the
Vietnam War. Syntex Agribusiness Inc. later
acquired Hoffman-Taff. During this period, NEPACCO
contracted Independent Petrochemical Corp. (IPC) to
dispose of the dioxin. IPC then hired Russell M.
Bliss. Beginning in 1971, Bliss mixed some 18,000
gallons of the dioxin residue with waste oil and
sprayed it as a dust suppressant at horse areas,
parking lots, truck terminals and the unpaved
streets of Times Beach. Bliss' folly did not become
publicly known until late 1982.

Six of the 27 confirmed sites sprayed by Bliss
were truck terminals in the city of St. Louis. 

In late 1994, more than 50 former
dioxin-exposed employees of Jones Truck Lines or
their surviving family members received an out-of
court settlement for a suit filed in 1983. The
defendants in that case included, NEPACCO, IPC and
Syntex -- the company liable for the Times Beach

The same parties were defendants in a 1991
civil trial. In that case, a St. Louis Circuit
Court jury awarded the family of deceased truck
terminal employee Alvin Overman $1.5 million.
Overman died of soft tissue sarcoma, a rare form of
cancer associated with dioxin exposure.

"We are not more worried about company owners
than the people that work there," says Steincamp,
the EPA counsel. The lawyer remains firm in her
conviction that the agency she works for stnads by
its name and is more concerned about public health
than private interests. Steincamp, however, would
probably have a difficult time convincing former
Teamster Ken Manley of this. 

In the early 1980s, Manley helped run a dioxin
task force for Local 600. He recalls the Teamsters'
investigation initially received the support of the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and got
favorable coverage in the daily newspapers. A
health study proposal sponsored by the union
identified 700 members who had worked at three St.
Louis truck terminals that were then known to have
been sprayed by Bliss. 

"Then all of a sudden it just stopped," says
Manley."I can't tell you exactly what happened, but
somewhere along the line the issue just got shut
down. I mean it literally got shut down." 

Not long before the task force folded, Manley
received a tip that a playground on the near
Southside by Ralston Purina had been contaminated
with dioxin, he says. "I informed CDC and EPA,
(but) by that point they weren't doing any further



first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis) , July 26, 1995

Last week the St. Louis County Counselor's office
continued efforts to hold the responsible parties in the
Times Beach dioxin cleanup to their word. Not an easy
task, considering they keep talking out of both sides of
their mouths. 
     At issue is the county's right to mandate its own
air-quality standards as spelled out in the 1990 consent
     As a part of that pact, Syntex, the company liable
for the $118 million-plus cleanup of Times Beach and 26
other dioxin-contaminated sites in Eastern Missouri,
agreed to "apply to the St. Louis County Health
Department ... for a construction and operating permit
governing air emissions from the TTU (thermal treatment
unit)." A thermal-treatment unit is an incinerator.
     In a motion filed on May 11, however, Syntex asked
the U.S. District Court here to turn aside the county's
air-quality ordinance enacted Feb. 8. Syntex contends
the local law exceeds federal standards set forth in the
consent decree signed with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), and the Missouri Department of
Natural Resources (DNR). Syntex is supported in its move
by the EPA. 
     On July 18, the county responded by submitting its
own motion to the court, which challenges both Syntex
and the EPA's opposition to its air-quality standards.
The county ordinance requires the Times Beach
incinerator to emit no more dioxin than the level
specified in the EPA's own health-risk assessment
published in November 1994. That amount of allowable
emissions, which the EPA determined to be a worst-case
scenario, is still more than the EPA's original goal of
99.9999 percent destruction removal efficiency.
     For Martha Steincamp, the chief counsel for Region
VII of the EPA, the impasse is based on the subtle
differences between "administrative" and "substantive"
EPA guidelines. Administrative rules or "paperwork" as
Steincamp refers to them, carry little weight and are
simply a formality. Substantively, the EPA and
responsible parties in a Superfund cleanup are not bound
by any local, state or federal permit, Steincamp says.
In the case of Times Beach, the air-quality standards
that were in place in 1988 -- at the time of the federal
court's record of decision -- are the only laws relevant
to the argument, Steincamp contends. Of course, St.
Louis County didn't have any local air-quality standard
at that time. The fact that the subsequent 1990 consent
decree mandates a local emissions permit is of no
consequence, according to Steincamp. "In my opinion we
are abiding by the law," the EPA lawyer says.
     County Counselor John Ross sees a contradiction in
Syntex and the EPA" position. "At other times, they've
said that their incinerator would exceed our standards,"
says Ross.
     Edward L Noel, the attorney for Syntex, referred
all questions on the latest legal maneuvers to his
client Gary Pendergrass, the Times Beach project
coordinator. Pendergrass could not be reached for
comment at press time on Monday. At the Jan. 26 County
Council meeting, NOel was less reticent ( "Emission
Control," RFT, Feb. 1). The corporate lawyer then
threatened the county with litigation, which could
result in $500,000 in monthly penalties. He also
compared the potential health risks posed by the
incinerator to a traffic problem. "I don't know that
there is any difference in putting one extra truck on
the highway," said Noel, a member of the prestigious law
firm of Armstrong, Teasdale, Schlafly and Davis.
     Despite NOel's opinion, the EPA has seen fit to
award a $50,000 technical-assistance grant to the Times
Beach Environmental Task Force. The money will be used
by the community group over the next two years to hire a
technical advisor, who will review emissions data from
the incinerator to see whether it is operating safely.
     Meanwhile, there is a growing number of opponents
to the incinerator who are still intent upon stopping it
before it begins operating -- perhaps as soon as next
year. A coalition of anti-incinerator forces has
scheduled a rally for this Thursday at 1:00 p.m. at the
EPA's site office on Lewis Road of I-44.


Dioxin continues to haunt Mark Little and his neighbors on North Second Street


first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Sept. 21, 1994

As dusk gathered on North Second Street last Friday,
Mark Little leaned on a post in his front yard and
talked about the past week. "It's been a never-ending
nightmare. All I know is, I'm getting screwed from the
insurance company all the way down. This is the day
they're doing something."
     Little, a 32-year-old pipefitter, was born and
raised on this block. Over time, he has watched the
neighborhood change. There are more vacant lots now,
fewer children playing in the street, but somehow he
never thought it would get this bad.
     A lot of stuff goes through your mind when you grow
up with it," says Little, taking a drag off a Marlboro
cigarette. In the fading light, he has cocked his
Chicago White Sox baseball cap high on his forehead. As
he reflects on his fate, Little occasionally gazes at
the nearby source of his problems.
     There are rust warning signs posted on the cyclone
fence across the street. The property was once the
location of the former East Texas Motor Freight Co., one
of 27 dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri, according to the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dioxin has long
been considered the most toxic manmade chemical.
     The site is among a handful of former truck
transfer terminals in the city that waste oil hauler
Russell Bliss sprayed with dioxin-contaminated oil in
the early 1970s. The EPA took soil samples at the site
and the surrounding area seven or eight years ago,
including dust from inside Little's vacuum cleaner, he
says. But he didn't hear from the agency again until
last week.
     Late on the night of Sept. 9, a water main up the
block from Little's old brick bungalow broke. The
ensuing deluge forced dioxin-contaminated soil into the
street and onto his property. The Helping Hands
Recycling Center, an employer of disabled persons at
4205 N. Second , was also affected.
     The EPA didn't arrive to begin testing until the
following Monday morning, says Little. On Tuesday the
agency returned to take more samples. At that time, the
EPA informed him that dioxin in his basement was above
acceptable levels, Little says.
     A spokesperson for the agency told The Riverfront
Times late last week that "the highest hit we had was a
composite sample of 2.8 or 2.4 (parts per billion). Our
action level in a residential area is 1 part per
billion." So the EPA's cleanup of the site has been
limited. One of Little's neighbors, for example, told
the RFT  that the only action taken to remove
contaminated dirt from nearby Douglass Street was to
wash it down with a hose. 
     Little is confused by the EPA's unexplained levels
of contamination and disturbed by their slow response.
The pipefitter has already lost a week's wages and has
been forced to live without gas or electricity, he says.
In addition, his insurance company refused to pay
because it ruled the accident a flood.
     Last Friday evening, a cleanup truck was parked in
front of Little's house, and plastic hoses snaked
through the yard and into the basement. By Sunday, the
EPA's work had been completed, a week after the accident
occurred. But the operation was far from unflawed ,
according to Little.
Over the weekend, dioxin-contaminated articles, which
had been removed from his basement and placed in
dumpsters, were carted off by scavengers, he says. "Half
the people in the neighborhood are picking through it,"
says Little. "Hell, I watched them take my washer and
dryer. Nobody did a thing about it."
     The emergency response on Second Street came only
two days before the release of a long-awaited EPA
reassessment of the dangers of dioxin. That report
reaffirms that the substance is a potential human
carcinogen and in addition, causes damage to the
hormonal, immune and reproductive systems.
     The EPA is now suggesting this latest incident is
yet another reason to proceed with the construction of a
dioxin incinerator at Times Beach. That plan has been
strongly opposed by both environmental activists and
elected officials. They say that incineration itself
produces dioxin and that the current technology is
incapable of meeting the EPA's own stringent standards.
     According to the terms of the 1990 consent decree
for the Eastern Missouri cleanup, the liable party,
Syntex Agribusiness Technologies, agreed to pay $118
million to dispose of the dioxin-tainted dirt. That
agreement, however, is contingent on the use of
incineration. Because of this, the EPA and the Missouri
Department of Natural Resources have thus far refused to
consider what may be a safer alternative technology
already accepted for use at another EPA dioxin site.
Earlier this year, the EPA amended its decision of
record at the Koppers Superfund site in Morrisville,
N.C. in favor of a disposal method called base-catalyzed
decomposition (BCD). Prior to testing, the agency had
selected incineration as the preferred method of
treatment at the North Carolina site.
     Meanwhile, back on Second Street, Little wonders
about his future. "They're saying after they get this
cleaned up it's OK," says Little, referring to the EPA's
reassurances. But he has his doubts. "Who says the
government testing is right? Who's check on them? Who
knows what it is going to do to me in years to come? he

Little's concerns are warranted. Last year, the family
of the late Alvin J. Overmann collected a $1.5 million
settlement in a dioxin case that began in 1988.
Overmann, a St. Louis Teamster, died in 1984 of soft
tissue sarcoma, a rare cancer associated with dioxin
exposure. He had been employed at Jones Truck Lines, one
of the St. Louis truck terminals sprayed in the 1970s.
The tainted oil was provided by Bliss Oil Co., which
sold it as a dust suppressant. The Overmann case was
settled out of court at the same time as 400 Times Beach
cases. The defendants in the case included Syntex USA,
Syntex Agribusiness, Northeastern Pharmaceutical and
Chemical Co., (NEPACCO) and Independent Petrochemical
Co. (IPC).
     In the early 1970s, Bliss worked as subcontractor
for IPC. IPC was in charge of disposing of dioxin from
NEPACCO's Verona, Mo. plant. The dioxin was an unwanted
byproduct created in the manufacturing of
hexachlorophene, an antiseptic. NEPACCO leased its
facility from Hoffman-Taff, a chemical company that
produced a component of Agent Orange at the same
location. Agent Orange was a defoliant used in the
Vietnam War; it also contained dioxin. Syntex later
bought Hoffman-Taff. Bliss disposed of 18,000 gallons of
the dioxin from the Southwest Missouri plant by mixing
it with waste oil and  spraying it on unpaved roads,
stable and truck terminals in Eastern Missouri.
     In a case predating Overmann's that is pending in
St. Louis Circuit Court, 52 plaintiffs are suing Bliss,
Syntex, IPC, NEPACCO and others. The suit was brought by
other Jones Truck Line employees or their surviving
family members. The plaintiffs are seeking at least $5
million each.
     Computerized records at the St. Louis Circuit Court
Clerk's office still list the suit Henningsen vs. IPC,
as being dismissed in 1990, even though it was
reinstated more than eight months ago. According to a
hard copy of the state appeals court decision, then
presiding Judge James J. Gallagher improperly removed
the dioxin case and other civil suits from the docket
for failure to prosecute. The plaintiffs' attorneys were
not informed of the court action for more than a year.
"The (dismissal) letter was faxed to the (circuit court)
clerk's office in St. Louis and appears to have  been
misplaced," says Glenn Bradford, an attorney who
formerly represented plaintiffs in the case. At the
time, Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. was the court clerk.
     The potential for further litigation still exists.
In 1983, a study by Teamster Local 600 estimated that
700 workers were employed at three of the truck
terminals that were then confirmed dioxin sites.  Health
problems associated with dioxin exposure can often take
decades to develop.
     To protect their interests, IPC hired the law firm
of Lewis, Rice and Fingersh, the same partnership that
represents the Pulitzer Publishing Co., owner of the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch .
     Syntex, on the other hand, has been defended by the
silk-stocking firm of Armstrong and Teasdale.
     Syntex, the liable party for the cleanup of the 27
dioxin sites in Eastern Missouri, has an interesting
corporate history. The company was formed in Mexico City
in 1944 and is incorporated in Panama. The founder of
the company, Penn State chemist Russell Marker,
synthesized the sex hormone progesterone from the roots
of the barbasco plant. That plant is native to the
jungles of southwestern Mexico. In the 1960s, Syntex
made a fortune in the burgeoning birth-control-pill
     Last month, Syntex was purchased for $5.3 billion
by Roche Holdings, a Swiss pharmaceutical conglomerate
that is branching out into biotechnology and genetic
engineering. The company behind Roche, Hoffman-La Roche
also made the hallucinogenic drug quinuclidinyl
benzilate (BZ) at its Nutley, N.J. factory and provided
it to the Army for testing.
     In 1976, an explosion at a Hoffman-La Roche
chemical plant in Seveso, Italy, caused widespread
dioxin contamination,. New studies have found increased
rates of leukemia, lymphoma and liver cancer among
people exposed to the dioxin.
     Consider this: A drug dealer that is responsible
for one of the world's worst environmental disasters has
just purchased the cleanup rights to Times Beach.