The former town of Times Beach, in Missouri, United States, about 27 km southwest of St. Louis, was founded as part of a strange marketing program. In 1925, a newspaper called the St. Louis Star-Times secured this large tract of land along the Meremec River, and started selling off plots measuring 20 foot by 100 foot in size. For just $67.50, which is about $900 today accounting for inflation, a purchaser could secure a plot along with a 6-month subscription to the newspaper. The plots sold off alright, but the town never became the booming resort the newspaper had hoped for. The Great Depression followed by gasoline rationing during World War II instead turned Times Beach into a community of lower-middle-class families. Around 2,000 people lived here until their forced evacuation in 1985.
Photo credit: NPR.org
The trouble started with dust. Times Beach’s roads were unpaved leading to frequent dust storms whenever cars and trucks passed by or the wind blew from the river. The draught would catch the loose dust and blow it into people’s homes and faces. It was a nuisance. Unfortunately, the town didn’t have the money to pave its roads, so they decided to hire Russell Martin Bliss, the owner of a small and local waste oil business, who had developed a unique solution to the dust problem.
Bliss was spraying used motor oil over his farm and horse arena to successfully suppress dust. A single application kept the dust down for several months. Those who visited Bliss’ property were impressed by how well the technique worked. It was not long before people began to hire him for his dust-suppressant services.
Around the same time, Bliss was hired for another job. A chemical supplier company wanted Bliss to dispose off some industrial waste. Unbeknownst to Bliss, the waste was laced with an extremely toxic compound known as dioxin. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, Bliss mixed the chemical waste with used motor oil and sprayed them at various sites around Missouri, including Times Beach.
The first casualties were the horses, birds and small animals of the farms Bliss was asked to spray on. At one farm near Moscow Mills, sixty-two horses died. Some children also became ill, succumbing to headaches, nosebleeds, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Photo credit: Yahoo.com
The unexplained deaths and illnesses caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who responded by carrying out soil tests. Sure enough, there was dioxin in the soil in concentration one hundred times higher than what was considered harmful for humans. The CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the company that was producing the toxin, and promptly banned it. The next ten years were spent identifying locations where the toxins were dumped and studying the effects of the toxin upon animals. It wasn’t until 1982 when some EPA documents related to dioxin contamination was leaked that the residents of Times Beach learned about their situation.
With mounting pressure from the public, the EPA announced in 1983 that Times Beach was uninhabitable. Two years later, the entire town was evacuated. Over $33 million were paid out as compensation to residents and businesses of Times Beach and another $200 million were spent on cleanup, which completed in 1997.
The site of Times Beach now houses a 419-acre Route 66 State Park, commemorating U.S. Route 66, the famous highway that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, and passed by the community. Today the park includes a chunk of old Route 66 including the historic bridge across the Meramec River. The park's visitor center is housed in an old roadhouse, the only building from Times Beach that still stands.
A sign marked the entrance to the abandoned town of Times Beach, Mo., on Sept. 1, 1985. Photo credit: NPR.org
A swampy area at Route 66 State Park, formerly the Times Beach. Photo credit: Yinan Chen/Wikimedia
A trail in Route 66 State Park, formerly the Times Beach. Photo credit: Yinan Chen/Wikimedia
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