Residents and local officials of Times Beach, Mo., yesterday attacked the release of preliminary government tests showing only minor dioxin contamination of silt washed into the community during recent floods and insisted that the danger still exists.
"We don't trust the government tests," said Alderman Harold Goodman, an ex-Marine. "There's still dioxin there."
Preliminary testing of mud and silt from the debris of the flood-ravaged blue-collar town 30 miles west of St. Louis showed dioxin concentrations below the minimum danger level established by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), stirring anger and confusion among residents.
"The garbage tests don't mean a thing to me," said locksmith James Fortner, 49. He has moved his wife and two children to a nearby motel and doesn't plan to go back. "I don't believe a word of it."
Some government officials were encouraged, however, that at least the silt that coated the town after last month's flood appeared to be virtually dioxin-free. "It's a very good sign," said Lee Thomas, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some officials pointed out, however, that the silt was washed from upstream, and thus was a poor measure of how contaminated the community might be.
Officials still warned residents to stay out of Times Beach until further tests can pinpoint the extent of the contamination. Dioxin-laced waste oil was sprayed on the roads in 1972 by a waste oil hauler for dust control. The presence of the hazardous chemical was confirmed only last month in soil samples taken from roadsides.
Dioxon is one of the most poisonous chemicals known to man and has caused birth defects, cancer, miscarriages, liver and nerve damage in laboratory animals in extremely low concentrations. Its effect on humans is unknown and controversial.
But after dioxin was found along some roads in concentrations as high as 120 parts per billion--120 times the hazardous dose established by the CDC--residents were urged to get out of town and stay out.
In spite of the preliminary test results, that warning still holds, said Bill Hedeman, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program, which oversees the nation's hazardous waste-site cleanup.
"All the preliminary tests tell us is that we can be reasonably certain the trash is safe," he said in an interview yesterday. " But It is reasonable to conclude that dioxin-contaminated soil still exists underneath the roads."
Some 250 dirt samples from homes, and others taken from as deep as two feet beneath the roads, won't be back from laboratories until early next month. Meanwhile, of 10 preliminary composite samples taken from trash, it was reported Tuesday that eight had no detectable dioxin and two had levels of .33 parts per billion, Hedeman said.
Garbage trucks drove the trash to the state's only licensed hazardous waste site in Wright City yesterday after protesters failed to raise a $75,000 bond to keep a temporary restraining order in effect and the trash in Times Beach.