U.S. V. Bliss

Several fixed wing aircraft spray Agent Orange on a field. Courtesy of NIH.  Photograph has been color enhanced.

EES | Cases by Practice Area

The Transactions

This tale begins against the backdrop of a series of corporate transactions. The hazardous substance 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin was generated at chemical company Hoffman-Taff’s Verona, Missouri plant where Agent Orange was produced for the Vietnam War and the dioxin by-products were stored in “The Black Tank.” In 1969, Hoffman-Taff contracted with: 1) the Syntex companies to acquire the Verona plant; and 2) Northeastern Pharmaceutical & Chemical Company (NEPACCO) to lease portions of the plant for hexachloraphene production.

New landlord Syntex Agribusiness, Inc. sold The Black Tank to NEPACCO to store dioxin by-products from its hexachloraphene production. NEPACCO arranged with Independent Petrochemical Corporation (IPC), a subsidiary of The Charter Company, to dispose of Black Tank wastes. IPC hired Russell Martin Bliss, a waste-oil hauler, who later contracted directly with NEPACCO. Bliss and his employees sprayed Times Beach and 29 other Missouri “Dioxin Sites” with the dioxin contaminated waste they collected.

The Release of Dioxin

Bliss collected waste oil from service stations, which he stored at his Frontenac Missouri tank farm and sprayed on unpaved roadways and arenas to suppress dust. Bliss also stored dioxin wastes at his tank farm. On May 25, 1971, the owners of Shenandoah Stables paid Bliss $150 to spray their arena near Moscow Mills. On June 11th, Bliss sprayed Bubbling Springs Ranch near Fenton as a donation because Shriners conducted horse shows there. On June 16th, Bliss sprayed Timberline Stables near New Bloomfield. And, as another donation, he sprayed his mother’s Community Christian Church in Manchester. Bliss eventually sprayed dioxin-contaminated oil at 30 Missouri sites, including the entire town of Times Beach near St. Louis.

The Damage

A dog and 70 chickens died at Bliss’ farm. At Bubbling Springs, 6 horses and many birds died and people became ill. At Timberline, 12 horses eventually died. Ultimately, at least 62 registered quarter horses died or became so ill they had to be destroyed. Cats, dogs, sparrows and other birds died. The daughters of the Shenandoah owners developed flu-like symptoms and were sent to a relative. Two days after returning on August 19th, one daughter became so ill she was hospitalized with an inflamed bladder and severe bleeding. There would be many more hospital visits with symptoms resembling arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, nosebleeds and nausea.

Protester to Times Beach Incinerator.  The sign behind him reads, in part, Intervention

The Environmental Enforcement Section (EES) brought an action against Syntex and NEPACCO in 1980 for the separate disposal of dioxin wastes from the Verona plant at the Denny Farm Site and, as early as mid-1982, EPA inspected Times Beach, where samples showed 100 ppb dioxin levels. However, it was not until after December 5, 1982, when the Meramec River flooded, putting most of Times Beach under ten feet or more of water, when concerted government action occurred. On December 23rd, EPA announced dangerous levels of dioxin were present; 248 test samples showed flooding had no effect on the distribution or concentrations of dioxin, which is insoluble in water. On February 23, 1983, the EPA Administrator announced a federal buyout of the town. On March 4th, Times Beach, along with Minker/Stout/Romaine Creek, Lawrence County Syntex Facility, Shenandoah Stables and Ellisville, were all proposed for listing on the first National Priorities List (NPL), with their final listing on September 8, 1983.

The Lawsuit

On January 20, 1984, EES sued Bliss, Syntex, Charter and NEPACCO under CERCLA for six Missouri Dioxin Sites. Times Beach and other sites were added later. Charter asked for additional time to respond and filed for bankruptcy arguing it was protected by the automatic stay in bankruptcy. It ultimately paid the Superfund $5 million and Missouri $1 million.

More significant relief was obtained after the United States moved for summary judgment against Syntex in 1988. Syntex contended all dioxin came from NEPACCO, but the United States presented chemical fingerprint evidence from both the NEPACCO and Hoffman-Taff processes.

On December 31, 1990, District Judge John F. Nangle entered a consent decree requiring Syntex to incinerate dioxin-contaminated soils from the Missouri Dioxin Sites at a temporary incinerator it constructed at Times Beach; to restore Times Beach; and reimburse $10 million to the Superfund. After dismantling the incinerator, dioxin was found at two additional sites, which Syntex commercially incinerated in Kansas. Times Beach is now Route 66 State Park.


Updated May 14, 2015

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