Times Beach

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Times Beach

More than 2,000 residents of this Missouri town, located about 30 mi (48 km) southwest of St. Louis, were evacuated after it was contaminated with dioxin . In 1971, chemical wastes containing dioxin were mixed with oil and sprayed along the streets of Times Beach to keep down the dust. The spraying was done by Russell M. Bliss, whose company collected and disposed of waste oils and chemicals from service stations and industrial plants. Much of this toxic waste oil was sprayed on roads throughout Missouri.

Shortly after the spraying around Times Beach, horses on local farms began dying mysteriously. At one breeding stable, from 1971 to 1973, 62 horses died, as well as several dogs and cats. Soil samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta for analysis, and after three years of testing, the agency determined that dangerous levels of dioxin were present in the soil.

A decade after the spraying, the town experienced the worst flooding in its history. On December 5, 1982, the Meramec River flooded its banks and inundated the town, submerging homes and contaminating them and almost everything else in Times Beach with dioxin. This compound binds tightly to soil and degrades very slowly, so it was still present in significantly high levels ten years after being used on the roads as a dust suppressant. Following a CDC warning that the town had become uninhabitable, most of the families were temporarily evacuated. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eventually agreed to buy out the town for about $33 million and relocate its inhabitants.

At the time, the CDC considered soil dioxin levels of one part per billion (ppb) and above to be potentially hazardous to human health. Levels found in some areas of Times Beach reached 100 to 300 ppb and above. Dioxin is considered a very toxic chemical. Exposure to this chemical has been linked to cancer , miscarriages, genetic mutations, liver and nerve damage, and other health effects, including death, in humans and animals.

Indeed, the contamination seemed to take a serious toll on the health of Times Beach residents. Town officials claimed that virtually every household in Times Beach experienced health disorders, ranging from nosebleeds, depression, and chloracne (a severe skin disorder) to cancer and heart disease. Almost all of the residents tested for dioxin contamination showed abnormalities in their blood, liver, and kidney functions.

By 1983, federal and state officials had located about 100 other sites in Missouri where dioxin wastes had been improperly dumped or sprayed, with levels of the compound reaching as high as 1,750 ppb in some areas.

A decade after the evacuation of Times Beach, debate over dioxin's dangers continues, and some CDC officials now say that the agency overreacted and that the town should not have been abandoned. But by then, Times Beach had become a household name, joining Love Canal , New York, and Seveso, Italy , on the list of municipalities that were ruined by toxic chemical contamination.

See also Carcinogen

[Lewis G. Regenstein ]



"Dioxin Cleanup: Status and Opinions." Science News 141 (January 11, 1992): 30.

Felton, E. "The Times Beach Fiasco." Insight 7 (August 12, 1991): 1219.

Gorman, C. "The Double Take on Dioxin." Time 138 (August 26, 1991): 52.

Kemezis, P. "Times Beach Cleanup Begins." ENR 225 (August 2, 1990): 378.