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A Midwestern Ghost Town: Times Beach, Missouri

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Marilyn A. Dyrud Oregon Institute of Technology

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Marilyn Dyrud retired as a full professor in the Communication Department at Oregon Institute of Technology, where she has taught for nearly four decades. She has been a member of ASEE for 32 years and is active in the Engineering Ethics Division, as past chair, and the Engineering Technology Division, as the current program chair. She is an ASEE fellow (2008), winner of the McGraw Award (2010), winner of the Berger Award (2013), and serves as the communications editor of the Journal of Engineering Technology. In addition to ASEE, she is active in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics and the Association for Business Communication.

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Most people associate ghost towns with the Wild West, locales that prospered during the rich gold and silver strikes, later abandoned when the veins ran out; in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, and California, visitors can roam the dusty streets, imagining a rowdier and livelier past. However, the heart of the country has its own version: Times Beach, Missouri, no longer exists, although a mound marks the site of original structures and roadways dot the area. The population has long since vanished.

Times Beach did not follow the typical route to becoming a ghost town: I experienced only a modest boom followed by a major bust. Founded in 1925, a mere 17 miles from St. Louis, it was initially a summer resort, a role that ended with the Great Depression. Historically, it has been categorized as a small population, lower-middle-class area; raising and training horses was a major occupation. But the horses, as well as miles of unpaved streets, caused a major dust problem.

To alleviate the dust, the city hired Russell Bliss, a local waste hauler, to treat specified areas with used oil. Bliss, however, mixed the oil with dioxin-bearing toxic wastes that he procured from Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, which produced Agent Orange. After four years of being subjected to spraying in horse arenas and along some 23 miles of roads, horses began dying, birds dropped from the sky, and people developed various illnesses. The EPA stepped in and found dioxin quantities 100 times the accepted level. The agency bought 800 existing houses, and the town was abandoned, officially disincorporated in 1985. On the site of the former town stands Route 66 State Park Visitor Center.

The case of Times Beach makes a compelling study for ethics students, especially those interested in environmental considerations. The paper will highlight several areas: • Details of the case • Ethical issues • Corporate responsibility • The role of regulation

Times Beach shares a toxic legacy with, sadly, a number of other cities around the world that have been exposed to lethal wastes, most notably Love Canal, in Niagara Falls, New York, contaminated by a number of toxic wastes dumped by the Hooker Chemical Company and other businesses; Pripyat, Ukraine, irradiated during the Chernobyl disaster; and Fukushima, Japan, contaminated by releases from a nuclear facility that suffered extensive damage in 2011, spawned by a massive earthquake. While these three events are virtually common knowledge, Times Beach remains unknown.

Introducing students to a different case associated with environmental ethics yields tangible benefits, encouraging them to examine the current atmosphere regarding regulation as well as corporate and personal moral culpability.

Dyrud, M. A. (2018, June), A Midwestern Ghost Town: Times Beach, Missouri Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29698

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