Times Beach, Missouri: An Environmental Disaster
Year: 1976
Amanda Sackett
Times Beach, Missouri was founded in 1925 as a pristine vacation spot. However, plagued with a dust problem in the early 1970s due to its 23 miles (37 km) of dirt roads and lack of pavement funds, the city of Times Beach hired waste hauler Russell Bliss to oil the roads in and around the town in 1971. From 1972 to 1976, Bliss sprayed waste oil on the roads at a cost of six cents per gallon used.
The issue was not the actual oil spread, but the fact that Russell Bliss had taken up a contract with ICP, a local company that was also responsible for the production of Agent Orange, and the disposal of NEPACCO waste products that happened to contain high levels of dioxin, a highly deadly chemical. Both company owners claimed they were unaware of this contamination.
Bliss’ actions were followed and it was soon discovered that he was actually mixing the engine oil with the NEPACCO waste products, and spraying it all over the dust ridden roads.
The EPA visited Times Beach in mid-1982, and, in November 1982, stories began to appear in the press about the discovery of dioxin in Times Beach. Another soil sample was taken December 3, 1982, and the test result showed dioxin levels some 100 times higher than the one part per billion generally considered to be hazardous to humans.
A flood occurred which further spread the dangerous dioxin.
On December 23, 1982, the EPA announced it had identified dangerous levels of dioxin in Times Beach's soil. Panic spread through the town, with many illnesses, miscarriages, and animal deaths attributed to the dioxin. President Ronald Reagan formed a dioxin task force. At the time, dioxin was hailed as "the most toxic chemical synthesized by man," based on its extreme toxicity in guinea pigs. The cleanup cost the government a total of $110 million, and the town was demolished.