Times Beach – The Contaminated Ghost Town

Times Beach

Times Beach is located near St Louis, Missouri, USA and it’s abandonment is one of the most interesting stories of any ghost town. Over 2,000 people lived in the town until 1983 when it was evacuated as result of dioxin contamination. The scandal made headlines around the world.

The town was originally founded in 1925, the result of a promotion by the St Louis Star-Times newspaper in which the purchase of a lot included a six month subscription to the newspaper, a strange enough birth for any town.

St Louis Times Advertisement

The St Louis Times advertisement which gave away Summer home sites in Times Beach with a six month subscription.

It began mainly as a summer residence for the wealthy of Missouri and beyond. After the Great Depression, less people owned Summer homes and Times Beach became a lower-middle class town and stop off point on Route 66. It had a population of 1,240 in 1970. The area was prone to flooding and so many of its earlier buildings were built on stilts.

The disaster which led to Times Beach being evacuated and abandoned has its roots 230 miles (370 kilometres) away in Verona, Missouri. In the 1960s, the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, Inc. (NEPACCO) opened a facility in Verona which primarily produced hexachlorophene, an antibacterial agent used in products such as soap and household disinfectants. One of the byproducts of the production was dioxin, a toxic compound known to have adverse effects. NEPACCO contracted a company called Independent Petrochemical Corporation (IPC) to dispose of the waste product. They subcontracted the job to Russell Bliss who owned a small local waste oil business.

A vehicle owned by Bliss used for spraying waste oil

A vehicle owned by Bliss used for spraying waste oil.

18,500 gallons of the chemical waste was collected from the Verona facility by Bliss and brought to his facility in Frontenac, Missouri where he mixed it with used crankcase oils. He used the mixture to spray on the floor of his horse arena to control the dust and he began to advertise his dust-suppressant services. In 1971, Bliss was hired by the owners of Shenandoah Stable in Moscow Mills, Missouri to spray the floor of their indoor arena. Horses at the facility became ill and a total of 62 either died. At the Timberline Stables near Jefferson City, Missouri, 12 horses died. A third incidence occurred at Bubbling Springs Ranch near St Louis. All had been sprayed by Bliss.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began investigating the unexplained deaths and in July 1974, determined that dioxin had been found in the soil. Because of the high levels of trichlorophenol also discovered, the CDC were able to link Bliss back to NEPACCO and the facility in Verona.

In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency became involved and visited the ranches that Bliss had sprayed years earlier. It was found that the dioxin levels in the soil had not decreased. The EPA released a list of contaminated or possibly contaminated locations in 1982 and the town of Times Beach was on the list.

No entry sign in Times Beach

A warning sign on a road into Times Beach.

The investigation revealed that Times Beach had hired Russell Bliss to oil 23 miles of dirt roads in 1972. He was paid $2,400 over a four year period. Residents were not made aware until the EPA report had been leaked. Times Beach found itself in the centre of a national media storm.

A safety sign in Times Beach

A resident stands beside a warning sign.

On 4 December 1982, the nearby Meramec River breached its banks and flooded times beach. The residents of the town were evacuated but when the EPA tested dioxin levels after the flood, were found to be unsafe and the CDC recommend that the town not be re-inhabited. The federal government agreed to purchase 800 residential properties and 30 businesses in the town. By 1985, everyone was gone except one elderly couple who refused to leave. It was quarantined and was demolished in 1992.

Warning sign in Times Beach

A road blocking entry into the town.

Over 14,000 citizens’ suits were filed against NEPACCO and its officers, IPC, and Bliss. NEPACCO was forced to repay the federal government for its cleanup efforts which amounted to $110 million.

Workers cleaning up in Times Beach

The cleanup operation underway in Times Beach.

The site where Times Beach once stood is a state park that celebrates the famous Route 66 and recent tests show no evidence of danger to visitors or workers.

Location: Times Beach, Missouri, USA

Abandoned: 1982

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