Missouri is Home to an Abandoned Town Most People Don’t Know

Missouri harbors numerous ghost towns, yet none possess the notoriety of Times Beach. Situated approximately 17 miles southwest of St. Louis, this once vibrant summer resort met its demise in the 1980s due to extensive dioxin contamination, leading to a complete evacuation and demolition. Let’s delve into the unfolding of this environmental catastrophe, examining its history, repercussions, and aftermath.

The History of Times Beach

In 1925, Times Beach emerged as a promotional venture by the St. Louis Star-Times newspaper, offering a six-month subscription coupled with a 20 by 100 foot lot for $67.50. Positioned on the floodplain of the Meramec River, it aimed to be a seasonal retreat, featuring cottages, a hotel, a dance hall, and a swimming pool. However, economic downturns such as the Great Depression and World War II diverted its course, transforming it into a low-income settlement. By 1970, its population peaked at 1,240 residents.

Frequent flooding plagued the town, exacerbating its dusty and muddy roads. To tackle this issue, Russell Bliss, a waste oil hauler, was contracted to apply oil for dust suppression. Unfortunately, Bliss sourced oil from Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company (NEPACCO), a site involved in Agent Orange production during the Vietnam War, resulting in dioxin contamination. Unknowingly, from 1972 to 1976, Bliss sprayed this toxic oil on Times Beach’s roads, exposing residents and the environment to dioxin.

The Consequences of the Dioxin Contamination

Discovery of dioxin contamination in 1982, via soil testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), revealed alarming levels, surpassing safe limits by up to 300 times. Advisories urged residents to steer clear of soil contact and evacuate during floods. In December 1982, a significant flood forced residents out, many never to return, as the EPA deemed the town uninhabitable, advocating permanent evacuation.

Residents grappled with relocation, job transitions, and health issues. Symptoms like skin rashes, headaches, nausea, and respiratory problems surfaced, with some alleging cancer, miscarriages, or birth defects, although establishing a direct link to dioxin proved challenging. Despite inconclusive results from an EPA health study, the federal government disbanded Times Beach in 1985, offering compensation for property buyouts totaling $33 million.

The Aftermath of the Times Beach Disaster

The Times Beach disaster spotlighted dioxin’s peril, catalyzing enhanced EPA regulations, monitoring, and enforcement concerning toxic substances. Legal actions ensued, implicating NEPACCO, the waste oil hauler, and the EPA. Today, the former site of Times Beach is Route 66 State Park, commemorating the historic highway. Opening in 1999, the park hosts recreational amenities and a museum showcasing the area’s history and ecology, serving as a testament to community resilience and environmental recovery.

Conclusion

Times Beach serves as a poignant reminder of the havoc wreaked by dioxin contamination, stemming from a chain of neglect, ignorance, and misfortune. However, it also stands as a testament to collective resilience, fostering renewed hope and a commitment to environmental stewardship. Though once a ghost town, its legacy endures through the memories, stories, and lessons of its inhabitants.

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