the story of Times Beach, Missouri

Just watched this video by Austin McConnell about the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in the country’s history. And now I understand how The Toxic Avenger became such a hit in the 80s.

An entire small town in Missouri was completely evacuated and dismantled in the 80s1 basically because someone sprayed dioxin-laden oil, basically the byproduct of making fun stuff like Agent Orange, on the dirt roads every couple weeks, for years, to keep them from getting dusty. And that, plus a company that buried dozens of corroding barrels of toxic waste in a farm near a waterway, caused horses and cows to die, people to get horrifying skin rashes, and $200,000,000 to eventually be spent buying people out of their homes at bargain rates to displace them to make up for the tragedy.

I think this should be a lesson to those who think the EPA’s only job is to prevent climate change. Of course that is a huge concern that affects the entire world, and we have a moral obligation to work to minimize the effects of the global warming that our country is largely at fault for, even if the harms of those effects seem far away (hint: they’re already here and getting worse every year!).

But even if you’re a total global warming denier, or think that the process is not man-made or just simply not a large concern in your life, there are also plenty of crucial health and safety reasons why dangerous chemicals, processes, and waste disposal practices should be monitored and regulated, right now, today. It’s for these reasons, and not just to prevent climate change, that we need a strong EPA, not one headed by a former coal company lobbyist.

And the F-ed up thing is, it won’t be big city progressives and Democrats who are largely affected by these changes. Times Beach was a rural low-income Missouri town of about 1,200 people–if the town still existed, they would probably all be Trump voters. And yet Trump is the dude who has appointed first Scott Pruitt and now Andrew Wheeler to head the organization that should be keeping towns like Times Beach safe–and the Senate Environment and Public Works committee just approved Wheeler, like, today.

At the time that Times Beach was getting flooded with dioxin, it was 1973, and the EPA had no teeth–the practice of creating dioxin and then disposing of it at-will technically wasn’t even illegal. But since then, it’s been calamities like what happened at Times Beach, and not primarily concerns about climate change, that led even Republican president such as Nixon, Ford, and Reagan to beef up regulations against companies that polluted.

Let’s not go back to a time when people’s horses used to get mange and die just because some company wanted to find a cheap way to dump their toxic residue.

D. M. Collins

D. M. Collins is a journalist and writer based in Los Angeles.

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