Motoramic

December 23: Road contamination causes evacuation of Times Beach, MO., on this date in 1982

Alex Lloyd
Motoramic

On this date in 1982, Times Beach, MO., a town founded in 1925 as part of a promotion by the now defunct St. Louis Star-Times newspaper, told its residents that the town will be evacuated and then demolished due to a chemical called dioxin that was sprayed on its unpaved roads back in 1972. Located off Route 66, the once promised resort town fell shy of the newspaper's expectations, becoming a lower-middle class area with around 2,000 residents. The roads were unpaved due to a lack of cash, and that made the dust strewn by cars and trucks unbearable. The solution, town officials thought, was to spray the roads with oil to effectively glue the dust onto the ground. For this, they hired Russell Bliss, a local waste-hauler with an abundance of oil a chemical manufacturer named NEPACCO had paid him to get rid of the year before. Bliss covered the roads in oil from 1972 to 1976 at a cost of six cents per gallon.

The dust problem, the town thought, had been solved. Eventually, however, horses began dropping dead and people became sick. In 1979, the EPA took soil samples and found that a highly toxic chemical named dioxin was found in a concentration deemed 100 times higher than the known "dangerous" levels. The agency evacuated the town at a cost of $250 million, $36 million of which went towards purchasing the residents' homes (all but one homeowner sold). 260,000 tons of toxic soil was removed, leaving Times Beach a "ghost town" until 1999 when it was bulldozed and reopened as the Route 66 State Park.

Thousands of law suits were filled against Bliss, NEPACCO and its contractors. Bliss, however, was never convicted of a crime, as there were no laws in effect at the time that regulated the disposal of hazardous waste. Below is a video of the EPA taking samples at Denny Farm in Verona, MO., where NEPACCO had buried a further 85 barrels of toxic waste.

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