When you think of an abandoned town, it's not often that anyone thinks of an entire destination being emptied due to a toxic poison. However, that's exactly what happened to the town of Times Beach, Missouri. Not far from St. Louis, this town was once a bustling summer destination, home to 2,000 people who loved its tight-knit community and small-town charm. Not only was this small town an interesting place to visit but its creation was also rather interesting.
In 1925, a newspaper ad was responsible for luring people to the attractive landscape of Times Beach, in which a lot of land was advertised and, in exchange, people would get a six-month subscription to St. Louis Star-Times. While the deal hardly seems fair by today's standards, the ad was pushing land lots for only $67.50. This price was hefty back then and Times Beach originally started out as a place of luxury for wealthy families who could afford summer homes. Eventually, it became more of a middle-class neighborhood once the Great Depression hit, and most of the homes that were year-round were built on stilts to counteract the routine flooding that occurred in the waterside town. This seemed to solve most of the town's problems until an accident caused living in the town to become toxic... literally.
An Accident By Way Of Contamination
As with most things that begin with human error as the cause of an accident, the town of Times Beach did not escape unscathed from the error that caused it to be evacuated. The contamination cause was due to a leak of dioxin, which prompted a town-wide evacuation during 1983. The news of the accident and, by extension, the evacuation, was so widespread that eventually, it made it into newspapers around the world. Interestingly enough, the cause of the contamination was nowhere near the town and was, in fact, 230 miles away in Verona, Missouri. The company from which the toxin came from was the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, Inc., also known as NEPACCO, which manufactured an antibacterial ingredient commonly used in household cleaners, known as hexachlorophene.
While this agent was great for disinfecting surfaces, it also came with a byproduct called dioxin. This was a toxin that was known for causing adverse effects and while NEPACCO knew this, they still needed to dispose of it properly. Thus, the Independent Petrochemical Corporation, also known as IPC, was called in to help with the proper disposal of the toxin. While IPC didn't take the account directly, they did contract out a company called Jerry Russell Bliss Inc., a waste oil service, to do the work for them.
This is where the trouble began, as Bliss used all 18,500 gallons of dioxin to mix into his own crankcase oils before using the compounds on other jobs. The mixture was then used on the floor of his own horse arena and due to its tremendous capability to keep dust levels down, he began advertising this as one of his services. In Moscow Mills, the Shenendoah Stable caught wind of these services and hired Bliss to come and spray down their arena, which led to tragic consequences. The stable lost 12 of their horses and a second stable, Bubbling Springs Ranch, also faced the same tragedy after Bliss had sprayed down their stables.
An Investigation By The CDC
At this point, the CDC stepped in because dioxin was found in the soil and it soon became an environmental issue. Eventually, the contamination was traced back to both companies, including NEPACCO. The investigation was opened in 1974 but it wasn't until 1979 that the actual contamination - which had leached through the soil - was traced to Times Beach, and it was discovered in 1982 that the levels of dioxin in the soil had not decreased, leading to the evacuation of the contaminated town.
The plot thickened even more, however, when it was discovered that horse stables weren't the only things that Bliss had been spraying in order to keep dust levels down. Times Beach had hired his services to spray roughly 23 miles of dirt roads throughout the town in 1972, a process that went on for about four years. The true tragedy in all of this is that the town's residents were the last people to know about the incident, and it wasn't until the EPA report was released that many began to connect the dots and realized they'd been living in a toxic town.
After a flood in December of 1982, the town's residents were fully evacuated and when the grounds were tested again, the entire town was deemed unfit for any human. The government purchased 800 homes and an additional 30 businesses in Times Beach before quarantining and demolishing it.