Environmental activist Steve Taylor says that a January 1988 freight-train derailment, near the evacuated town of Times Beach, Missouri (two miles east of Eureka), may have played a critical role in the cancellation of plans for radioactive waste shipments through the area.
Orin Langelle
Environmental activist Steve Taylor says that a January 1988 freight-train derailment, near the evacuated town of Times Beach, Missouri (two miles east of Eureka), may have played a critical role in the cancellation of plans for radioactive waste shipments through the area. 

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” at noon Monday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

When Missouri Rep. Doug Clemens (D-St. Ann) heard that President Biden’s recently passed infrastructure legislation included a $1 billion investment in a backlog of Superfund site cleanups, he was thrilled. Two of 49 sites across the U.S. that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified for accelerated attention as part of this first wave of funding are in Missouri.

But Clemens said the EPA’s plans in Missouri — which include volatile organic chemicals in soil and groundwater in the southwest St. Louis County municipality of Valley Park and the Ozark foothills town, Vienna — still fall short of what is needed in the region.

Cleanup of the Times Beach disaster, which involved use of a waste incinerator that itself drew citizen protests in the 1990s since the strategy released dioxin into the air, cost $200 million.
Provided By Steve Taylor
Cleanup of the Times Beach disaster, which involved use of a waste incinerator that itself drew citizen protests in the 1990s since the strategy released dioxin into the air, cost $200 million.

“We have a TCE [trichloroethylene] site not too far from where I live, in [my] neighboring district, off of Page Boulevard, which they have been remediating for decades,” Clemens said of the ongoing need. “We are sitting with areas in north St. Louis that have not begun remediation. … And it’s interesting how areas that are predominantly African American seem to be left out of the equation — that somehow life is not valued as high as it is in the suburbs.”

In its Dec. 17 announcement, the EPA noted that one in four Black and Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site across the U.S. The release also said the EPA is “committed to carrying out this work in line with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative by advancing environmental justice and incorporating equity considerations into all aspects of the Superfund cleanup process.”

Clemens said he hopes the new influx of funds can help ensure “things are equitable” going forward. Longtime St. Louis environmental activist Steve Taylor shares some of Clemens’ concerns, telling St. Louis on the Air he thinks there’s much more to be done in a region that has seen “decades of negligence” as well as little transparency.

“There’s a long legacy of contamination in this region,” said Taylor, who now works as the the press secretary for the Global Justice Ecology Project. “And EPA wants to get it off the books — wants to get it off the rolls and wants to clean up. But are the cleanups sufficient?”

On Monday’s showwe’ll hear more from Taylor, who will join an on-air conversation alongside Bruce Morrison, president of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. They’ll discuss some key Superfund sites in the St. Louis region, digging into what cleanups look like and why progress is often slow.

Do you have a question about one of the Superfund sites in our region, or about the long legacy of contamination? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to [email protected] or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex HeuerEmily WoodburyEvie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.