Little Bits of History

No More Beach Parties

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 3, 2013
Times Beach, Missouri advertisement

Times Beach, Missouri advertisement

December 3, 1982: Soil samples are tested at Times Beach, Missouri. In 1925, the St. Louis Star-Times, a newspaper in Missouri, bought up a parcel of land along the Meramec River. Lots measuring 20 x 100 feet sold for $67.50, with a six-month subscription to the newspaper included. Early on, it was a summer resort area for people in the city. But first the Great Depression and then gasoline rationing during the Second World War made the idea less attractive. Instead, the small community became mostly low-income housing.

The land is in the vast floodplain of the Meramec as it flows toward the Mississippi River. The town was 17 miles southwest of St. Louis. Some of the original houses were built on stilts. There was one small grocery store and one gas station on old Highway 66 to service the town. Times Beach became less affluent and by 1970 was plagued with a dust problem. This was exacerbated by the 23 miles of dirt roads servicing the community.

The town could not afford to pave the roads but the dust stirred up by traffic needed to be reduced. Times Beach hired Russell Bliss to spread oil on the roads to reduce dust. Bliss was a waste hauler and was able to oil the roads from 1972 to 1976 using waste oil costing only six cents per gallon. Bliss was also hired by Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO). This company produced hexachlorophene and also made Agent Orange for the Vietnam War.

Bliss started using waste oil in stables in 1971. Sixty-two horses died but Bliss assured stable owners it was only motor oil. It wasn’t. The oil had been mixed with NEPACCO waste. By 1979, Bliss’s use of dioxin-laden oil on the roads was brought to the attention of the Center for Disease Control. The EPA was called in and dioxin levels were shown to be more than 100 times the safe limit. In 1982, the area was flooded in the spring thaw and spread the dangerous toxins. In 1985 the city was disincorporated and evacuated. NEPACCO’s parent company, Syntex, paid $10 million toward cleanup. A special incinerator was built to burn 265,000 tons of soil and then dismantled. The US government paid the remaining $100 million for the restoration of the lands.

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I’m not an environmentalist.  I’m an Earth warrior.” – Darryl Cherney

“The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men’s apples and head their cabbages.” – Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac

“Such is the audacity of man, that he hath learned to counterfeit Nature, yea, and is so bold as to challenge her in her work.” – Pliny the Elder

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Environmental concerns are sometimes pushed aside by businesses seeking profits over conservancy of the Earth or human and animal health. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was enacted in 1976 and is the US federal government’s attempt to control the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. The chemicals produced by NEPACCO and relinquished to Bliss for disposal would be considered hazardous waste. Syntex, a pharmaceutical company formed in Mexico City, manufactured several different advantageous medications and were eventually integrated into the Roche group in 1994. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), is designated by law to clean up contaminated sites with hazardous substances causing health issues. Times Beach is a ghost town now acting as Route 66 State Park. The EPA retested soil from the park in 2012 and found the soil to be safe for visitors or workers in the park.

Also on this day: Bhopal – In 1984, the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India emits a huge cloud of noxious gases

Have a Heart – In 1967, the first heart transplant was performed.
Neon – In 1910, the Paris Motor Show Opened with some new sign display.


2 Responses

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  1. Sherry said, on December 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I’ll do some research myself, but it would have been interesting to know what happened to Russell Bliss. Undoubtedly he isn’t the main bad guy in the Times Beach story – the executives of NEPACCO and Syntex take that title. Bliss’ part, however, was personal; he was lying to his friends and neighbors the entire time he was spreading poison amongst them. So was Russell Bliss ever held accountable for his part in this man-made disaster, or was he given a pass?

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