Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#563 - Why Is EPA Ignoring Monsanto, 10-Sep-1997

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 15 ordered a
grass-roots citizens' group in Missouri to turn over all of its records
to the agency within five days or face penalties of $25,000 per day
until the records are produced. Steve Taylor, leader of the Times Beach
Action Group (TBAG) in Ballwin, Missouri, and a frequent critic of EPA,
says he and the group have no intention of complying with EPA's order.

In demanding the information from TBAG, EPA's Michael J. Sanderson
cited Section 3007 of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act (RCRA), which empowers EPA to gather information from the files of
toxic dumpers and major polluters.[1] This is the first time the law
has been turned against citizen activists trying to protect the
environment.

By invoking the law, EPA is threatening to destroy the Times Beach
Action Group; TBAG is so small that even one day's fine of $25,000
would bankrupt the organization. EPA's threat represents a new twist on
the phenomenon known as SLAPP suits.

SLAPP suits are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.[2]
They are an increasingly popular tactic being used by polluters in the
U.S. to intimidate and silence citizens who voice concerns about
destruction of the natural environment. The parties that bring SLAPP
suits rarely win, but they tie up outspoken citizens in expensive and
frightening litigation for years, thus deflecting effort and attention
away from whatever the citizens had been speaking out about.

In a letter dated August 15 and delivered by Federal Express, EPA's
Region VII office in Kansas City, Kansas gave TBAG five days in which
to turn over copies of all its records related to toxic dump sites in
Missouri and Illinois.[1] TBAG was formed in 1993 to oppose the
incineration of contaminated soils excavated from the town of Times
Beach, Missouri --a town so contaminated with dioxins and pesticides
that federal officials evacuated all the citizens from the town in
1983.

The town of Times Beach was contaminated in 1971 by a waste oil dealer
named Russell Bliss. Bliss picked up toxic wastes from Missouri
chemical firms, mixed them with oil, and dumped them into the
environment. Starting in May and June of 1971, Bliss sprayed toxic
waste oil onto roads and horse arenas in eastern Missouri, ostensibly
to suppress dust. Some of the oil was contaminated with the phenoxy
herbicide 2,4,5-T and the 2,4,5-T was, itself, contaminated with
dioxin. Three days after the initial spraying, birds began dying.[3]
"There literally were bushel baskets full of those dead wild birds, "
said Dr. Patrick E. Phillips, a veterinarian with the Missouri Division
of Health.[4] Then horses began to get sick. Of 62 horses affected, 48
died. Dogs, cats, chickens, and rats died as well. Two children were
affected, one with a severe kidney disorder, and were hospitalized for
a time; they eventually recovered, though one lost half her body weight
in the ordeal. The children's illnesses brought federal investigators
to the scene from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. The
CDC analyzed soil samples at the affected stables and found 30 ppm
(parts per million) of dioxin; 5000 ppm of 2,4,5-T, and 1350 to 1590
ppm of PCBs.[5] CDC took great pains to identify the source of the
2,4,5-T and the dioxin (they decided it was a hexachlorobenzene
germicide plant in Verona, Missouri owned by Syntex Agribusiness,
though leased to another firm) but the source of the PCBs was never
identified. PCBs were produced from 1929 to 1976 by Monsanto, a St.
Louis, Missouri, chemical giant. It is clear that EPA was interested in
the source of the PCBs because in 1972 EPA's W.L. Banks was
corresponding with W.B. Papageorge at Monsanto Research Labs about PCB
samples taken from "the oil storage tank" at Russell Bliss's Waste Oil
Disposal Company.[6] EPA even sent some of the Bliss samples to
Monsanto. Officials have never identified Monsanto as the source of any
of Bliss's PCBs.

CDC and EPA widened their investigation throughout the 1970s.
Meanwhile, Bliss continued to dump toxic oil at sites throughout
eastern Missouri. By 1975, CDC recommended that people be evacuated
from the homes in Imperial, Missouri, a place more contaminated than
Times Beach, but EPA ignored CDC's recommendation.[7]

By 1983, EPA had identified at least 100 sites thought to be
contaminated by dioxin. Mysteriously, the agency refused to release the
names of the sites.[7] According to the NEW YORK TIMES, in 1983 only 21
of the 100 sites had been sampled and the Missouri DNR seemed to be
dragging its feet. The TIMES quoted Fred A. Lafser, then director of
the Missouri DNR, saying, "The feeling is, why go look for more
problems when we do not have the staff to solve what we know about?"[7]

In a 1990 agreement with EPA, Syntex Agribusiness agreed to take sole
responsibility for the cleanup of 27 toxic dump sites in eastern
Missouri, including Times Beach. In 1992 EPA decided to incinerate
10,000 bags of contaminated soil from those sites. When the plan was
announced, citizens became alarmed that the incinerator would be
putting dioxin and other toxins into the air, but EPA conducted a risk
assessment to show that the operation would be "safe."[8] The Times
Beach Action Group (TBAG) formed in 1993 to oppose the incinerator.

As the incinerator project became a reality, TBAG became convinced that
EPA and Missouri DNR had identified neither all of Bliss's contaminated
sites in eastern Missouri nor the major chemicals at each site.
Specifically, EPA and DNR seemed to be systematically ignoring PCBs.
TBAG conducted its own investigation of toxic dumps in Missouri and
Illinois, gathering thousands of pages of documents from state and
federal sources --all of it public information --including transcripts
of hearings, court trials and depositions, correspondence, interviews,
affidavits, and articles from technical journals. Based on this
information, TBAG's director, Steve Taylor has accused federal and
state officials of misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, incompetence,
corruption and dishonesty. Furthermore, a talented investigative
reporter, C.D. Stelzer, writing for an alternative weekly newspaper,
THE RIVERFRONT TIMES, has done some investigating of his own and has
corroborated, and extended TBAG's charges. Other environmental groups,
including the Gateway Green Alliance, have amplified the accusations
against government officials.

In sum, TBAG's information has been a constant embarrassment to EPA and
to the Missouri state Department of Natural Resources because their
documentary evidence is so compelling. This is the information EPA is
demanding to see. Steve Taylor's response is: "EPA should do its own
research." He says he has tried to interest EPA in TBAG's information
in the past but the agency has never even bothered to answer his
letters. Now they are demanding all his files.

During 1996 and 1997, as the Times Beach incinerator project
progressed, Taylor and TBAG--

** showed that EPA's own internal documents admitted that the
incinerator could not destroy dioxin with the efficiency required by
law (99.9999% destruction and removal efficiency). [See REHW #280,
#312.]

** showed that "chain of custody" had been broken for samples taken
from the incinerator. Chain of custody is a strict, legal paper trail
that shows who took what samples when, to assure that samples have not
been falsified or tampered with;

** revealed that the laboratory analyzing the samples for the Times
Beach incinerator was 50% owned by the incinerator company --a clear
conflict of interest;[9] naturally, this makes the broken chain of
custody even more suspicious.

** revealed that EPA and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
knew about the contamination throughout eastern Missouri in 1974 but
waited nine years before taking any action to protect the public. C.D.
Stelzer caught EPA officials in outright lies when they claimed they
knew nothing about dioxin contamination in Missouri until "after
1980."[10]

** revealed that the risk assessment for the Times Beach incinerator
did not consider PCBs or other priority pollutants that were in the
soil to be burned (a clear violation of federal law) and that many EPA
sampling records from many of the 27 sites were missing from the
agency's files;[11]

** revealed that EPA and Missouri DNR have refused to consider abundant
evidence indicating that some of the PCBs in eastern Missouri came from
one obvious source: Monsanto.[10] Syntex Agribusiness has, so far,
borne the burden of the incomplete cleanup alone.

Now the TIMES BEACH incinerator has done its work and has been
dismantled. However, new sites contaminated by Russell Bliss continue
to be discovered, and TBAG says still more will be found. Furthermore,
against all the evidence, EPA and DNR continue to exclude Monsanto from
their investigations of Russell Bliss's illegal dumping. Consider these
facts: ** In a sworn deposition April 21, 1977, Russell Bliss himself
said he picked up wastes from Monsanto.

** In a memo dated September 26, 1980, James H. Long, an official of
Missouri DNR, identified Monsanto as one of the company's known to use
Russell Bliss for hauling chemical wastes.

** On October 30, 1980, officials of the Missouri DNR and the Missouri
attorney general's office interviewed Scott Rollins, one of Russell
Bliss's truck drivers who was at the time serving a term in the state
penitentiary. Rollins said he recalled very clearly picking up wastes
from Monsanto.

** In an interview January 5, 1981, Judy Piatt --owner of one of the
horse farms where animals died from Bliss's oil --said she had followed
Bliss's trucks in 1972 and had personally watched them pick up wastes
from a Monsanto plant and then illegally dump them by the roadside.

** February 9, 1983, Russell Bliss himself testified before a hearing
of the Missouri Hazardous Waste Management Commission that he had a
contract with Monsanto to haul away chemical wastes.

** Based on evidence presented at trial, a judge in Cole County,
Missouri, November 30, 1984, concluded that Russell Bliss had dumped
hazardous wastes, including PCBs, in Dittmer, Missouri and that "the
only known source" of one of the chemicals (bromophenyl chlorophenyl
ether) was Monsanto.

Monsanto has denied ever having given Bliss any waste containing dioxin
or PCBs. So far, officials of U.S. EPA are taking Monsanto at its word
and, instead of investigating the chemical giant, are investigating and
harassing the citizens who have brought these documented facts to
light.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] Correspondence dated August 15, 1997, from Michael J. Sanderson,
Director, Superfund Division, Region VII, U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, Kansas City, Kansas, to Mr. Steve Taylor and to Times Beach
Action Group c/o Mr. Steve Taylor.

[2] George W. Pring and Penelope Canan. SLAPPS: GETTING SUED FOR
SPEAKING OUT (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996).

[3] Coleman D. Carter and others, "Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin: An
Accidental Poisoning Episode in Horse Arenas," SCIENCE Vol. 188, No.
4189 (May 16, 1975), pgs. 738-740.

[4] "Death of Animals Laid to Chemical," NEW YORK TIMES August 28,
1974, pg. 36.

[5] Renate D. Kimbrough and others, "Epidemiology and Pathology of a
Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin Poisoning Episode," ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL
HEALTH Vol. 32, No. 2 (March/April, 1977), pgs. 77-86. And see Mary G.
Beale and others, "Long-term Effects of Dioxin Exposures," LANCET Vol.
1, No. 8014 (April 2, 1977), pg. 748.

[6] Correspondence from W.L. Banks, Chief, Oil and Hazardous Substance
Branch, Region VII, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to W.B.
Papageorge, Monsanto Research Labs, St. Louis, Missouri, September 12,
1972.

[7] Robert Reinhold, "Missouri Now Fears 100 Sites Could Be Tainted by
Dioxin," NEW YORK TIMES January 18, 1983, pgs. A1, A23.

[8] C.D. Stelzer, "Terrified in Times Beach," RIVERFRONT TIMES April
26, 1995, pg. 1. Available on the world wide web at:
http://home.stlnet.com/cdstelzer/index.html.

[9] C.D. Stelzer, "Twice Burned," RIVERFRONT TIMES August 28, 1996, pg.
unknown. Available on the world wide web at:
http://home.stlnet.com/cdstelzer/index.html.

[10] C.D. Stelzer, "Dangerous Ground --Dioxins aren't the only problem
in Missouri. PCB contamination continues to be overlooked or denied by
both public regulators and Monsanto," RIVERFRONT TIMES February 14,
1996, pg. 1. Available on the world wide web at:
http://home.stlnet.com/cdstelzer/index.html. And see: C.D. Stelzer,
"Dioxin, PCBs, the Military Industrial Complex and National Security,"
RIVERFRONT TIMES February 14, 1996, pg. unknown. Available on the world
wide web at: http://home.stlnet.com/cdstelzer/index.html.

[11] C.D. Stelzer, "Why the Times Beach Incinerator Should be Shut
Down," RIVERFRONT TIMES November 20, 1996, pg. unknown. Available on
the world wide web at: http://home.stlnet.com/cdstelzer/index.html.

Descriptor terms: pcbs; superfund; incineration; epa; monsanto; mo; il;
russell bliss; waste oil; dioxin; 2,4,5-t; pesticides; citizen groups;
steve taylor; times beach; times beach action group; tbag; rcra; slapp
suits; syntex agribusiness; c.d. stelzer; investigative reporting;