Thirty Years After Dioxin Disaster, EPA Returns to Times Beach



Starting this afternoon, the Environmental Protection Agency will be back on the former site of Times Beach for a trip down memory lane.

Armed with new testing techniques, EPA scientists will collect soil samples in a pilot of new dioxin testing techniques. But spokesperson Chris Whitley says that no one should interpret the new tests as an indication that the soil on what is now Route 66 State Park is toxic.

"The biggest concern that our folks in the field have," he says,"is ticks and chiggers."

In the '70s, after a waste hauler named Russell Bliss used an oil mixture to keep the dirt down on the roads that ran through Times Beach, testing found toxic levels of the chemical dioxin in the soil. The entire town had to be razed to the ground. The same waste hauler buried industrial chemicals on his property in West St. Louis, which is causing problems to this day for developers and residents of Wildwood.

Things are relatively calmer on the former grounds of Times Beach, which the EPA declared safe for humans in the '90s and was made into a state park.

The new tests will involve three to four weeks of soil collection, followed by a 90-day period of test and analysis. The EPA will release results to the public. Whitley says the assumption is that nothing will come out of the tests to show that the park is unsafe for occasional visitors or for park workers. He says the more precise testing techniques will help the EPA in any future work they have to perform on dioxin contamination sites.

"We have a perfect lab environment to go in -- a place where we know a lot about the condition in the soil already," says Whitley. "We just want to make people aware of it ... if folks go out there and see folks out on their hands and knees."

At least one person is dubious about the new tests -- former Times Beach mayor Marilyn Leistner told the Eureka-Wildwood Patch that the explanation of the tests sound "like a whitewash."

Only Times will tell.

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