One of the worst dioxin contamination sites in the United States will be revisited, about 15 years after it was made into a Missouri state park. Come Tuesday afternoon, visitors near will see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency teams again digging in soil at the park.
Tuesday will represent the first time new EPA technology will be applied anywhere in the United States.
Being called "the ideal field laboratory" by EPA experts, EPA’s pilot study at Route 66 State Park located off Interstate 44 is expected to produce new data and information to contribute to EPA’s broader knowledge of dioxin, and guide federal and state agencies toward the most effective means of addressing dioxin at other locations.
Times Beach was a small town of 2,240 residents in St. Louis County. The town was completely evacuated early in 1983 due to a dioxin scare that made national headlines. It was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in the United States. Times Beach was founded in 1925 on the flood plain of the Meramec River.
Most dioxins are not intentionally produced, but instead are the byproducts of chemical processing or burning, according to EPA authorities. The type of dioxin that exists in very small traces today at Route 66 State Park was introduced to the area’s soil in the early 1970s when waste oil containing high levels of dioxin was sprayed on the streets of Times Beach as a means of dust control.
This sampling activity is part of an EPA Region 7 pilot study to apply newly developed science and the latest technology to test for very small, or trace, amounts of dioxin in soil at the park. EPA is conducting this study at the request of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), which owns Route 66 State Park, to ensure that the park remains a safe environment for visitors and park employees alike.
Chris Whitley, EPA public affairs specialist for Region 7, said EPA teams will collect samples for the next three to four weeks. He also said it likely will take 90 days to interpret all the results.
"Park visitors should have no apprehension going to the park during this time," said Whitley. "They will not see anyone in moon suits, and they should not be alarmed. We're simply applying new science and technology there."
During the 1990s cleanup of Times Beach, soils containing elevated levels of dioxin were excavated and replaced with clean backfill. Soil testing following the cleanup confirmed that residual dioxin concentrations in the soil were below a level of concern for any future use, according to EPA materials.
See EPA fact sheet that accompanies this article.
This new round of testing—which will use more sensitive equipment and more advanced testing methods than were previously available—said Whitley, is expected to confirm the park’s soils meet EPA’s recently updated dioxin toxicity criterion and are still protective of human health and the environment.
Whitley told Patch outcomes of the pilot study should be available by early October.