By appearance sake, near Eureka looks like any other nice multipurpose place for outdoor enthusiasts. But 20 years ago, the area looked vastly different, as it was the site of one of the worst dioxin-contaminated places in the United States when it was the town of Times Beach, MO, thanks to the poisonous sludges sprayed on its dusty roads by waste hauler Russell Bliss.
The sludge oil from Bliss was first found to be contaminated with dioxin during an investigation by EPA teams in 1982. During the same period, the Meramec River flooded the city, and residents were forced to evacuate their homes. Subsequently, the Centers for Disease Control recommended the residents who had been evacuated, as well as those who had returned following the 1982 flood, be permanently relocated.
Fast-forwarding through years of national attention, rounds of controversy and life-threatening health concerns, to a level of human safety recommended by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency experts.
Now, EPA representatives to run them through what they consider new science and technology.
EPA officials told Patch this is the first time they will apply this new approach and technology, and Route 66 State Park is reportedly the only place in the United Sates this type of investigation is occurring at the moment.
What will they discover from that ill-fated period of local history?
Kansas City-based Chris Whitley, public affairs specialist, EPA Region 7, said scientific approaches to soil sampling at large scales have evolved since the early 1980s when the first sampling was conducted at what is now Route 66 State Park.
"More specifically, a technique known as incremental sampling, which reduces the chance of misleading results stemming from samples being too diverse, has been increasingly used in soil investigations by EPA, the Department of Defense, others since 2007," he said.
Whitley said in 2011, EPA published a "User Guide - Uniform Federal Policy Quality Assurance Project Plan Template For Soils Assessment of Dioxin Sites," which details this statistical approach to sampling.
In addition to advances in sampling techniques, a new dioxin screening Reference Dose (RfD) was released earlier this year, which will be used in reviewing the results of this sampling to assist in evaluating human health risks, he said.
Based on shirts seen on soil collectors at Route 66 State Park Tuesday, EPA is employing the services of Seagull Environmental Technologies.
Seagull is a Kansas-based company established in 1998. According to the firm's website, its employees provide architectural/engineering and environmental services to federal, state, and local government agencies and the private sector under various contracts. According to the site, the greatest percentage of work has been with EPA—13 EPA Superfund contracts in various regions—as the prime and team subcontractor.
Currently, Seagull holds the EPA Region 7 mini-Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (mini-START) contract.
One concern of local residents is that Route 66 State Park was flooded by the nearby Meramec River about a year and a half ago—could the dioxin intentionally buried there 6 inches below ground years ago have resurfaced and been redistributed?
Editor's Note: When taking photos at Route 66 State Park Tuesday afternoon, I saw eight workers walking the main picnic area to collect dirt samples. One collector had EPA clothing on; the others had Seagull attire. The only protective gear they wore was blue gloves. They used what appeared to be large, metal tablespoons and scooped up soil samples at various grid points of the area and placed them in the same bag—one bag per collector.