A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 March 1993


The New York Times is generally regarded as a premier media source. For those involved in the dioxin issue, the NYT has been a prestigious advocate for dioxin myths, or as victims of dioxin say, ‘The Big Lie.’ The NYT published a five-part series on environmental issues from March 21 through March 26. Peter Montague, editor of Rachel’s Hazardous Waste News (HWN), has written two excellent newsletters1 in response to the Times series. Because of HWN’s response to the series, we thought we would focus our response on the Times profoundly disturbing statements on dioxin. Dioxin has found a safe refuge in the New York Times. Keith Schneider, the NYT environmental reporter, does with words, what doctors cannot do with medicine:

“...new research indicates that dioxin may not be so dangerous after all. None of the former residents of Times Beach have been found to be harmed by dioxin...”

New York Times, March 21, 1993, Front page, New View Calls Environmental Policy Misguided, by Keith Schneider.

Times Beach, Missouri:

Health Problems Experienced by Times Beach Residents. Two weeks before Keith Schneider’s article appeared, Waste Not interviewed Marilyn Leistner, the last Mayor of Times Beach. We asked Leistner to describe the health problems that she knew some residents of Times Beach (population, 2,242) experienced. Here’s what she told us. At least three children were born with neuro-blastomas; there have been many cases of Leukemia, both in children and adults; many children suffer varied and rare types of seizures. Many women have suffered miscarriages. Babies have been diagnosed with hydrocephalus. Children and adults have had liver problems, allergies, giant hives, severe acne, kidney and bladder problems, thyroid disorders, and bone tumors. Some children were born with Spina Bifida. Hyperactive children with an array of learning disabilities are common. Loss of hearing is common across all ages. Many people have gastro-esophageal reflux (according to Leistner, the theory is that dioxin harms the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus). Many women in their 20s and 30s have had to have hysterectomies. The woman who lived next to Marilyn had two children born with cleft palates (the first infant died, before the age of one, on December 18, 1982). There have been at least 3 cases of Porphyria Cutanea Tarda. This list is by no means exhaustive. Perhaps Keith Schneider believes these health problems are normal for a community of 2,242 residents because Keith Schneider has interviewed Marilyn Leistner at length. We asked Marilyn Leistner to describe the health problems her own family experienced. Here’s what she told us: Marilyn has three daughters. One daughter would get giant hives all over her body and suffered from rashes and severe acne. Her hands still have blisters which doctors have told the daughter will be with her for the rest of her life. Another daughter is sterile and has a hyper thyroid condition. Another daughter has a rare seizure disorder. Marilyn’s first husband has Porphyria Cutanea Tarda. Her second husband has a lot of kidney and bladder problems and a severe black-head type of acne. Marilyn has been diagnosed as having severe peripheral neuropathy (an illness now shown to be service-connected to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam Vets, as is porphyria cutanea tarda -- see also Waste Not # 228 for the sudden paralysis Marilyn suffered). Marilyn has no feeling in her fingers on her left hand. She had a hysterectomy in 1980. Marilyn briefly commented that dogs and cats in Times Beach also suffered seizure problems and female dogs who went into labour couldn’t deliver their pups. Other female dogs delivered dead pups. “One man kept finding dead birds in the drainage ditch in his front yard.” Racoons and opossums were also found dead.

Before going to press, we contacted Marilyn Leistner once again, to verify the above. We asked for her reaction to Keith Schneider’s statement. She assumed that Keith Schneider was referring to “a 1983 study, peer reviewed and found to have been done incorrectly. At the time that health study was done it was only known that the dioxin concentrations at Times Beach were under 400 parts per billion. Months after the completion of the study they found levels at 1,200 parts per billion. And one of the lead doctors, Dr. Ayres, who performed the study for the state and federal government, said that the higher dioxin levels would impact the study because they only looked at...problems that could be caused by lower levels. Not all the [Times Beach] residents participated in the study. People who had serious health problems did not participate because they were represented by their attorneys who did not trust what the government was going to do in this case. Plus the fact that there were people removed from the study who had health problems that could be associated with dioxin. By removing those people it changed the whole focus of the study. They only continued to study 66 people from Times Beach, and many of those people were not long time residents; some of them did not even live there [in Times Beach] at the time dioxin was sprayed; and many of the people who were in the study did not even live in Times Beach, but were people who went into the community, like delivery men, phone men, or just people who visited there. We did not know about this at the time of the study. Shortly after Keith Schneider’s first article appeared in the New York Times, he called and apologized to me for the turn his article had taken...This was the article he wrote [that appeared in the NYT, 8-15-91, front page, U.S. Officials Say Dangers of Dioxin Were Exaggerated].” We asked Marilyn if Vernon Houk ever came to Times Beach. She said that “Houk came to the hospital that conducted the study, to release results of the study to the people and to hold a press conference.” Marilyn’s reaction to the study: “Phoniest study in the whole world and the people of Times Beach were very angry with Vernon Houk.” Keith Schneider also told Marilyn “that as he kept writing his dioxin article his editors kept changing it, and he had to re-write it 5 different times. I couldn’t believe he had written it. He seemed so sincere, believing and sympathetic, and then to write an article like that. It [New York Times] is supposed to be a respected newspaper...There isn’t enough money in the U.S. to compensate the veterans for what we did to them.” New York Times reporter Keith Schneider, having interviewed Marilyn Leistner, wrote in the August 15,1991, article “Exposure to the chemical [dioxin]...is now considered by some experts to be no more risky than spending a week sunbathing...”

Times Beach Residents Lawsuits against Charter International Oil Company, Syntex USA, Syntex Agribusiness, Independent Petroleum Chemical, and Northeastern Pharmaceutical

1st Lawsuit: 1988. 105 people received $19 million settlement.

2nd Lawsuit: 1990. 1,406 people received $26 million settlement.

3rd Lawsuit. Oct. 1992. 380 people. Not allowed to discuss monetary settlement.

4th Lawsuit. Still to be settled. 480 people.

On July 10, 1991, the family of Alvin Overmann was awarded $1.5 million after a 3-month jury trial, in the St. Louis Circuit Court, Missouri, ruled that Overmann’s death was due to dioxin exposure. Overmann died in 1984 as a result of exposure to dioxin-laced waste oil used as a dust-control measure at the Pacific Intermountain Express truck terminal, where he worked, in St. Louis. Overmann was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, and Porphyria Cutanea Tarda The Court ruled that Syntex Agribusiness, Independent Petroleum Chemical and Northeastern Pharmaceutical were liable. Overmann did not live in Times Beach. But Times Beach residents were exposed to the same dioxin-contaminated oil that Overmann was exposed to. See Gerson Smoger’s, attorney for Overmann’s family, riveting account of the role of the media during the trial in the Proceedings of The First Citizens’ Conference on Dioxin, published Dec. 1992, pgs 78-87. Available for $25 from NC WARN, 5301 Rolling Hill Rd., Sanford, N.C.27330. *Keith Schneider mentioned the trial, one month later, in his 8-15-91 NYT article.


Excerpts of Letter from Gilbert Boger, M.D., to the Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, November 30, 1979, (Vol. 242, No. 22).
“10-month study of 78 Vietnam veterans who claimed exposure to Agent Orange yielded many findings:”
85% Persistent Rash 51% Diarrhea 19% Children born with gross birth defects

80% Extreme Fatigue 47% Loss of Libido 17% Inability to concentrate

73% Depression 45% Violent Rages 13% Wives had one or more miscarriages

71% Joint Pain 45% Swelling 3 Died of Cancer

69% Dizziness 44% Hypersomnolence Another 10% have been treated for Cancer

60% Numbness 41% Anorexia 10% Hepatitis

59% Nausea 35% Headaches 8% Suicide Attempts

59% Stiffness 31% Constipation 8% Dyspnea

55% Tingling in Nerves 24% Abdominal Pain 5% Jaundice

54% Blurred Vision 23% Brown Urine 5% Galactorrhea

53% Rash aggravated by Sunlight 21% Bouts of sudden 4% Gynecomastia lapses of memory

“Sinus bradycardia and premature ventricular contractions were not infrequent...There were reports of sterility; semen analysis showed low sperm counts and abnormal forms...This group of veterans has in general been chronically ill. Patients complained of frequent infections and allergies. The mean age of the group was 31.7 years. Both upper and lower socioeconomic levels were represented. The aforementioned information is intended to create an awareness of a substance known as dioxin. This chemical may cause a variety of symptoms, and physicians should be aware of its potential.”

1. Hazardous Waste News #s 330-331. Available from Environmental Research Foundation, PO Box 5036, Annapolis, Maryland 21403-7037. Tel: 410-263-1584. Fax: 410-263-8944. HWN is an “essential reading” weekly newsletter.

WASTE NOT # 233. A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US50; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.