Linda Gittleman: Removing a symbol of death
“It was 67 years ago when a parade featuring DDT took place in St. Louis, the home of a chemical factory that made the pesticide by the railroad car load.
Paul Van Note, who now resides in Florida, remembers decorating his bicycle in red, white and blue crepe paper, with a pesticide sprayer fastened to the handle bars, and riding in the parade down the streets of St. Louis.
This was in 1946.
At that time, DDT manufacturing was aiding the war effort. It was used to delouse soldiers and refugees, to prevent them from contracting diseases carried by lice.
That was then.
This is now.
The upcoming parade planned for the streets of St. Louis from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wed. Oct. 16, will carry a granite warning marker from the chemical plant to the historical society museum.
The marker, appearing as a grave marker, or tombstone, had been placed on top of the buried Velsicol Chemical plant site after a judge’s decree in 1982.
At that time, using a grave monument made sense. It was appropriate because it marked the burial site of the chemical plant, and it signified the approaching death of the town, which relied on the chemical factory for its tax base.
Since 1998, however, the town has rebounded through the hard work of its officials, and the plant site is in the design phase leading to a massive cleanup, costing about $354 million.
Using techniques that were not available in 1982, such as chemical oxidation and thermal destruction, along with excavation, plans call for an extensive removal of DDT and many other poisonous chemical compounds from the site.
Task Force member Ed Lorenz stresses that this is not the end, but the beginning.
“Obviously the plant site is still full of dangerous substances,” he said. “Someday we’ll celebrate the cleanup itself. Right now we are celebrating the beginning of the cleanup.”
The idea to donate the tombstone to the historical society came from Task Force member Bill Shrum, who is also a member of the St. Louis City Council. About ten years ago, he said he hoped to live long enough to see the stone moved to the historical society. Both he and Norris Bay, another mature task force member, will be riding in the parade.
The celebration will begin at the gates of the old chemical plant site, located on North Street in St. Louis. The stone will be loaded onto a city truck. An automobile parade will start on Bankson Street, where dead robins collected this spring were determined to have died from DDT poisoning.
It will continue on Center Street, where EPA has begun excavations of residential yards that are highly contaminated with DDT. Crossing through the downtown area, the parade will end at the south side of town at the St .Louis Historical Society museum.
Finally, this symbol of death will become a relic of our past.
It’s time to move on.
Through the efforts of the task force, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to submit a motion calling for the end of the 1982 Consent Judgment that require the granite marker with its stark warning language.
A federal judge signed off on the motion this past spring.
Plans call for informational signs at the plant site to replace the warnings etched on the tombstone.
Task Force member James Hall said, “We would like to see little display kiosks near the site, telling the past history of the chemical plant, the work of the Task Force, and plans for possible future uses of the acreage.”
The buried plant site covers 54 acres with frontage on the Pine River.”