Times Beach, Missouri, Evacuated Due to Contamination with Dioxin

Founded in 1925, Times Beach was a resort town for the residents of St. Louis. After the Great Depression and gasoline rationing of World War II, it became a low income community. Not having enough money to pave their roads, the city comissioned to spray oil to keep the dust in check. In May 1971 a horse arena was sprayed; within a couple of days, horses, cats, dogs and birds in the surrounding landscape died. As it turned out later, the applied elexir was a toxic mixture of oil and chemical waste from NEPACCO, the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, Inc., which had been producing Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. A byproduct of Agent Orange is tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, commonly known as the toxic chemical dioxin. Many roads were sprayed in Times Beach between 1971 and 1976, and the elexir was sold to horse farms, churches and small towns. In 1982, after numerous illnesses, miscarriages, and animal deaths, tests by the United States Environmental Protection Agency showed that Times Beach was contaminated with dioxin: around 100 parts per billion, well above the rate of 1 part per billion which EPA considers toxic. The effects of such levels on the soil could result in both sickness and death to humans. The entire town was evacuated in 1985, the contaminated soil was burnt, and the houses bulldozed and buried. The citizens of Times Beach were compensated by the Superfund.

Contributed by Liz Wills
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Hernan, Robert Emmet. "Times Beach, Missouri, 1982." This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the Fifteen Worst Environmental Disasters around the World, 91-100. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Jurgen, Exner H., “Solving Hazardous Waste Problems: Learning from Dioxins". Developed from a symposium sponsored by the Division of Environmental Chemistry at the 191st Meeting of the American Chemical Society, New York, New York, 13–18 April, 1986.
  • Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, ed. Reclaiming Times Beach. Jefferson City, Mo., 1994.