SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The U.S. government Monday began presenting its suit asking a chemical firm that spawned the dioxin problem in Missouri to pay for Environmental Protection Agency costs at one of the state's 33 contaminated sites.
In 1980, the EPA filed suit against North Eastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co., two of its former officers and an ex-employee. The trial, expected to last up to three weeks, is being heard by U.S. District Judge Russell Clark of the Southern District of Missouri.
The government wants the defendants, besides paying other cleanup costs, to reimburse the EPA for $500,000 it spent investigating and pinpointing dioxin dumps at the James Denney farm in Barry County.
EPA officials said they believe this is the first time a recovery suit brought under the 1980 Superfund hazardous waste cleanup law has gone to trial. Previously, the EPA recovered its costs in negotiated settlements.
More than 90 barrels filled with chemical wastes -- more than of them with dioxin -- were found buried three years ago on the Denney farm.
The suit focuses on a waste-disposal arrangement NEPCO allegedly made with Ronald Mills, a former sOift supervisor. The government claims Mills paid Verona plant worker James Denny to bury about 90 drums of dioxin-contaminated waste on his farm about seven miles south of Verona.
Also named in the suit are Connecticut residents Edwin B. Michaels, NEPCO's former president and John W. Lee, former vice president of the firm.
NEPCO, which 10 years ago shut down, made the germ-killer hexachlorophene in 1970 and 1971 at its Verona, Mo., plant.
It was from that plant that former waste-hauler Russell Bliss obtained the dioxin-tainted sludge he blended with waste oil and sprayed for dust control. Bliss' spraying is believed to have contaminated two-thirds of the state's confirmed dioxin sites.
Syntex Corp., which leased the equipment and building space where NEPCO made hexachlorophene, was named in the suit filed in 1980 but without admitting any guilt, the corporation made a consent agreement to clean up the farm site and pay up to $100,000 of the agency's costs.
Dioxin, a waste product created when certain pesticides are produced, is extremely toxic and causes cancer and birth defects in laboratory animals. The chemical's precise effect on humans has not been scientically determined.