Marilyn Leistner no longer governs a city as mayor. Residents of her former municipality, Times Beach, MO, disbanded the city after avalanches of challenges once it was discovered the worst dioxin chemical contamination in history occurred there.
Now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representatives are returning to Leistner's non-existent town Tuesday to collect new soil samples to test, an area that eventually was made into .
See related Eureka-Wildwood Patch article from Monday:
"I'm uncertain what to think about EPA coming back. It sounds like whitewash," said Leistner. "We know dioxin is there (at what now is the park). They cleaned it up to 20 parts per billion, and covered it over with 6 inches of new dirt."
"I'm sure there is new technology by now, and it would be a relief to know if it's truly safe to visit and work at the park," said Leistner, who told Patch her family had just surprised her this Mother's Day with a picnic at Route 66 State Park.
As a current alderman, Leistner was the last mayor of Times Beach (or just "The Beach" as the natives called it).
In the early 1970s, Times Beach had a population of 1,240 people, two growing mobile home parks, and 16.3 miles of very dusty roads. To control the dust, city representatives contracted with waste oil hauler Russell Bliss to spray the roads at will during the summer of 1972 and 1973. This was thought to be a bargain at only 6 cents per gallon of oil used, Leistner once quipped. City funds were insufficient to pave the roads, and spraying was thought to be the only solution to the dust problem, remembered Leistner in her self-authored piece "The Times Beach Story."
She also wrote in 1985: "I cringe when someone says 'Dioxin never hurt anybody.' Dioxin has harmed everybody who has come in contact with it. For us it has meant loss of property values, community, neighbors, friends, identity and security, and, most of all, loss of our health. It has meant marital discord, discipline problems in school children, a type of forced bankruptcy, red-lining by insurance companies, loss of liability insurance on property."
On Monday, Leistner cited three areas of major concern from that infamous period of local history, which still make her wonder what the truth was:
- Signs were put up along the Meramec River to limit one's consumption of the fish, but Leistner said the signs did not indicate why, and never mentioned the word dioxin.
- After the flooding, mud in homes supposedly was evaluated and EPA officials said no homes were contaminated. But she said the mud analyzed by EPA was from upstream, not from their homes.
- Debris taken to Wright City for disposal was said to be cleaned safely to 1 part per billion. Yet she said dioxin was known to be in Times Beach at 1 part per trillion. "That just didn't seem quite kosher," she said.
Leistner said EPA teams knowingly left dioxin in the streets at a certain level, so she understands why the area likely would make a valid spot to see if and how new technology would work.
An EPA Summary of the Times Beach Situation:
The oil was found to be contaminated with dioxin during an investigation by the EPA in 1982. During the same period, the nearby 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. The EPA transferred funds to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the permanent relocation of residents and businesses in 1983. By the end of 1986, all residents were relocated permanently. Upon completion of the permanent relocation, title to the site was conveyed to the State of Missouri. In 1997, cleanup of the site had been completed. The site was restored to a State Park that opened in 1999. Most of the site lies within the 25-year flood plain of the Meramec River. The population within a 1/2-mile radius of the site is approximately 2,000 and includes the community of Crescent and a portion of .
Editor's Note: Check back to Eureka-Wildwood Patch for updates about EPA's current investigation of the area. To ensure you receive notifications about this and other local developments, be sure to sign up for the free Eureka-Wildwood Patch morning newsletters by clicking here.