The Times Beach Superfund site, located near Eureka, stands as a haunting reminder of environmental contamination and its detrimental effects on public health. Once a small town inhabited by approximately 2,000 residents, Times Beach became synonymous with toxic waste and governmental failures.
In 1925, Times Beach functioned as a summer resort town along the Meramec River. In the 1970s, the town faced issues with dust control on its unpaved roads. Seeking a cost-effective solution, the local government hired a waste hauler to oil the roads using industrial waste contaminated with dioxin, a highly toxic chemical.
Unbeknownst to the residents and local authorities, the waste material used for dust control contained high levels of dioxin, a known carcinogen that persists in the environment and poses severe health risks. Over time, the dioxin-contaminated soil and sediment permeated the area, resulting in numerous health effects for the residents of Times Beach. As children began to show symptoms of new illnesses, local animals began to suffer as well. After the death of 40 horses and other animals, a local 6-year-old girl fell severely ill and government agencies began to investigate.
In 1982, a local veterinarian began to suspect the link between the contaminated waste and the health issues faced by both humans and animals in Times Beach. Following her concerns, extensive testing confirmed the presence of dioxin and, subsequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the town a federal emergency and initiated a full-scale evacuation in 1983, rendering Times Beach a ghost town.
Dioxins, specifically the one used at Times Beach, are highly toxic chemical compounds that have been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects. Considered a persistent organic pollutant, dioxins can persist in the environment for extended periods, posing a significant risk to human health. Exposure to dioxins, even at low levels, has been associated with several serious health conditions including cancers, reproductive disorders, and more.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the dioxin used at this site is a known carcinogen. Prolonged exposure has been linked to an increased risk of various forms of cancer, including soft tissue sarcomas, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.
Additionally, the chemical has been associated with reproductive and developmental issues in both males and females. In women, it has been linked to menstrual irregularities, reduced fertility, and an increased risk of endometriosis. Additionally, dioxins can cross the placenta and affect the developing fetus, leading to adverse outcomes such as impaired growth, altered immune function, and developmental abnormalities.
In addition to cancer and reproductive issues, these chemicals are known to exert immunosuppressive effects, impairing the body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. They can disrupt the functioning of the immune system, reducing the production and activity of immune cells, thus making individuals more susceptible to infections, including respiratory infections and opportunistic diseases.
Research suggests that dioxin exposure may also have adverse effects on the nervous system, particularly during early development. Studies have indicated a potential link between dioxin exposure and neurobehavioral abnormalities in children, including cognitive impairments, attention deficits, and delays in psychomotor development.
Exposure can also lead to skin-related health issues, such as chloracne. This is a severe form of acne and a characteristic symptom of dioxin exposure. It is often a persistent and disfiguring condition that can cause significant physical and psychological distress.
It is important to note that the health effects of dioxin exposure may vary depending on the level and duration of exposure, individual susceptibility, and other factors. In this instance, the dioxin used was also mixed with waste oil. While waste oil is not generally toxic to humans when used properly, its presence can remain in soil for several years and drastically affect the plant life and viability in an area.
The EPA designated Times Beach as a Superfund site, entailing a comprehensive remediation process. The cleanup efforts included the removal and disposal of contaminated soil and sediment, as well as the demolition and disposal of contaminated structures. After several years and stages of operation, the site completed cleanup in 1997 and now serves as the Route 66 State Park. In 2001, the site was removed from the National Priorities List showcasing the success of the Superfund program.
As a result of the toxic contaminants at the site, Russell Bliss and the company he worked for were taken to court for knowingly spreading toxic chemicals. Ultimately, the company ended up filing for bankruptcy and shutting down. Additionally, litigation against several other entities, including the state of Missouri, took place, as their involvement in the events leading to the contamination was revealed.
The Times Beach Superfund site serves as a poignant reminder of the devastating consequences of environmental contamination. It exposed the vulnerabilities of regulatory oversight, highlighting the need for stringent monitoring of hazardous waste disposal and ensuring corporate responsibility.
The Times Beach incident emphasized the importance of proactive measures to prevent hazardous waste mismanagement and the need for diligent regulation and oversight of any chemical use on a large scale.
When companies willingly contaminate an area with harmful substances to make a dime, OnderLaw will always be on the victims’ side. If your community may have been impacted by toxic contamination, contact us today.
To learn about other Superfund sites in Missouri, click here.