LETTER TO THE LAW

Rep. Jim Talent asks the Justice Department to come clean on its investigation of the EPA’s Times Beach cleanup

BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Oct. 29, 1997

The U.S. Justice Department has quietly initiated a criminal inquiry into the controversial 1995 stack emissions test of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator, The Riverfront Times has learned. In a letter dated Sept. 22, 1997, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R-2nd Dist.) asked U.S. attorney Edward Dowd about the status of the federal investigation.

An anonymous source provided a copy of the letter to the RFT last week. Spokespersons for the congressman and the U.S. Justice Department in St. Louis declined to comment on the matter. A representative at the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Kansas City said the agency was unaware of any probe. Talent represents the congressional district in west St. Louis County, which includes the site of the now-completed EPA Superfund project.

His written request to Dowd reads in part: “The purpose of this letter is to inquire about the status of the Justice Department investigation regarding the possibility of criminal behavior surrounding the dioxin stack test for the permitting of the Times Beach incinerator. I would like to confirm if the investigation started by your office is still underway or if it has concluded.”

Last year, the RFT reported that separate Missouri Department of Natural Resources and EPA reviews of stack test data had discovered serious lapses in scientific protocol — lapses that cast doubt on whether the incinerator could have been legally considered protective of human health (Why the Times Beach Incinerator Should be Shut Down, Nov. 20, 1996). Talent asked the EPA last October to shut down the incinerator pending a re-test. His request followed another RFT story that revealed International Technologies (IT), the incinerator operator, partially owned Quanterra Environmental Services, the laboratory that handled the stack test emissions samples (Twice Burned, RFT, Aug 28, 1996).

The close relationship between IT and Quanterra presented the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest. Moreover, documents obtained by the RFT showed numerous errors and omissions in the stack test data. In one instance, it took seven to eight days for test samples to reach Triangle Laboratories in North Carolina, according to the EPA. In another unexplained anomaly, five test sample containers disappeared. Members of the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG), an organization that opposed the incinerator, sifted through mounds of technical data to uncover the inconsistencies in the stack emissions test.

When contacted last week, Steve Taylor, a TBAG organizer, was hesitant to talk about Talent’s letter to Dowd. Asked whether he was the source who leaked the letter to the RFT, Taylor says: I’ve been instructed not to comment about any FBI or Justice Department investigation. So I can neither confirm nor deny. … I have been told that if the media got hold of it, the investigation would end. I know that an investigation has been going on since January.”

Given the EPA’s questionable past practices, Taylor is disturbed that the agency is being allowed to proceed with the clean up of another recently discovered dioxin site on Lemar Drive in Ellisville with no public input into the process. The announcement of the toxic discovery in St. Louis County came shortly after the Times Beach project had been completed.

“The people on Lemar are getting pushed around,” says Taylor. “It’s just amazing that the EPA is allowed to move soil with all the inconsistencies and deceptions with the incineration.”

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