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America's Toxic Towns
June 2, 2006 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Tour America’s Toxic Towns. First off is Times Beach, MO. Uncle Sam bought the town for $32 million, disincorporated it, and evacuated its 2000 residents to spare them from levels of dioxin that were possibly 2,000 times higher than the dioxin content in Agent Orange. Next up is Centralia, PA, completely evacuated due to an underground coal fire that is still burning and may burn for the next 100 years. More recently, American Electric Power purchased Cheshire, OH for $20 million. The town, which was plagued by sulfurous clouds, is now completely deserted. And who can forget the granddaddy of toxic towns, Love Canal.
posted by Otis (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been to Centralia a couple times. Truly an eerie site. I really don't undrestand the people that refuse to leave. Their houses are crumbling, they are constantly exposed to all sorts of malicious gases, and the government has even offered to pay for them to move.

On a (sort of) lighter note, the old cemetery makes a great photo op. Tombstones among smoking cracks in the ground make an amazing scene.
posted by RobertFrost at 11:52 AM on June 2, 2006


They've actually let some people move back to Love Canal in recent years, at least in the less-contaminated areas. I can't imagine it's all that popular, but perhaps the houses are cheap.
posted by tommasz at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2006


I feel an awesome road trip coming up!! Just stop at the army surplus for some gas masks and go!
posted by cdcello at 12:11 PM on June 2, 2006


Interesting stuff, thanks Otis.

New Castle, Colorado has a similar underground fire as Centralia, PA, caused an explosion in a coal mine from methane. It's interesting to drive past the area in the winter, as you can look up at the mountain and see patches of rock where there isn't any snow.

If I remember the supposed legend properly, they were not able to recover some of the miners from the shafts and my Google-fu has temporarily failed me.
posted by rand at 12:16 PM on June 2, 2006


Centralia isn't completely evacuated. As of May 2006, it still has ten residents, including the town's 90-year-old mayor, Lamar Mervine.
posted by jonp72 at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2006


Yeah, the was a Daily Show segment a while ago about Centralia, interviewing the people that hadn't left.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 12:30 PM on June 2, 2006


On Earth day of '90 a friend and I snuck into Times Beach and had a picnic lunch of White Castles. The buildings were still there and the whole place was eerie. I took home a single baby shoe as a souvenir.
posted by sourwookie at 12:39 PM on June 2, 2006


Where does the oxygen come from for these underground fires? Heat, check, fuel, check, oxygen... ?
posted by GuyZero at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2006


It seeps in from the outside. The rock and soil are slightly porous, and there are mine shafts, too. When there isn't much flow the fire is banked and slows, but as long as there's fuel and enough heat, then it doesn't take much oxygen to keep it all going.

And since the air supply is limited, that means the combustion is incomplete -- which means it produces huge amounts of carbon monoxide.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2006


There's another town which was abandoned that I've read about; this one for radiation hazard. Unfortunately, I don't remember where it was.

There used to be a clock factory there, and they used paint containing radium to make glow-in-the-dark dials for the clocks. Back then they were careless about that kind of thing, and eventually the whole town got contaminated with radium. It's like with Centralia: the cost of cleaning it up was more than the town was worth, so instead they bought everyone out and evacuated the place.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:28 PM on June 2, 2006


This link was in the comments about Centralia. Someone's Flickr set where they visited the place.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2006



posted by nlindstrom at 1:52 PM on June 2, 2006


Eh, and of course Centralia became the inspiration for the movie version of...
posted by dreamsign at 2:05 PM on June 2, 2006


Don't forget Mountain View, CA, where because of a grandfather clause, they're pumping 24 times the "safe" amount of poison into the air. Good times.

</bitter that they don't tell you these things before you move>
posted by jewzilla at 3:42 PM on June 2, 2006


Don't forget Mountain View, CA, where because of a grandfather clause, they're pumping 24 times the "safe" amount of poison into the air. Good times.
No wonder the tap water tastes like crap there, the air smells bad, and I had burning eyes and asthma the whole time I lived there. When I moved North to San Francisco, all those problems went away. Now, I'd sooner jump off the Golden Gate bridge then move back South.
posted by nlindstrom at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2006


Awesome story, sourwookie! I went to high school about a mile away from Times Beach, in Eureka. It was right on the interstate, and when we drove by I'd always be staring out of the window, taking in the strange desolation. The old bridge that acted as a gateway to the forbidden zone also fascinated me. During high school they built and operated the incinerator to burn all of the dioxin out of the soil. Every day we saw the plume of smoke and wondered just what was coming out of it. Now it's a rather boring state park that's essentially a shallow landfill.
posted by zsazsa at 5:59 PM on June 2, 2006


This is really interesting stuff, and a good read. I wonder where my hometown ranks... I know we're one of the worst counties in Texas.


Also...am I the only one who's inner 11 year-old can't supress a chortle when thinking of a town called "Love Canal"?
posted by kaseijin at 7:45 PM on June 2, 2006


So interesting Otis. Thanks.

In 1998 I took an asbestos inspector's course here in NYC and by the end of it was so appalled at the scams pulled on people in order to hide toxic waste that I opted not to do inspection work. The asbestos waste management industry is rife with corruption. Just off the top of my head, I learned from Con Edison workers also taking that course, about how the NYC subway tunnels are all lined with old, breaking down asbestos and every time the subway goes through the station everybody on the platform is breathing lungfulls of killer fibers. All that steam that comes up through the NYC manhole covers in winter is packed with asbestos fibers from the old corroded cable pipes underground. And this is basically not talked about. I don't think a lot of people know about this. Somebody ought to do an article on it.

When I bought a tiny cabin upstate NY I learned that the ground water wasn't drinkable because of a gas station up the mountain that had leaked lots of toxic wasted into the earth, contaminating water downhill. It's just mind-boggling how much of the planet has been polluted. It's especially sickening various large corporations got away with it, are still getting away with it. It's understandable that people had to become litigious to deal with the reckless endangerment of their lives and have to take action.

Those were fascinating, sad stories about toxic waste-created ghost towns. I had no idea the Mothman story was based on anecdotal sightings and had to Google it. Makes for some entertaining reading.
posted by nickyskye at 8:20 PM on June 2, 2006


Makes for some entertaining reading.

Why is it I have to wonder that every single account in the "sightings" section of that site, nickyskye, is rife with spelling mistakes. Not that it necessarily matters, but how can you not ask why are educated people not seeing "The Mothman"?
posted by dreamsign at 10:14 PM on June 2, 2006


Maybe dyslexic people have a special ability to see him.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 10:39 PM on June 2, 2006


Maybe dyslexic people have a special ability to see him.

ROFL! Thanks for that!
posted by nickyskye at 11:18 PM on June 2, 2006


There used to be a clock factory there, and they used paint containing radium to make glow-in-the-dark dials for the clocks. Back then they were careless about that kind of thing, and eventually the whole town got contaminated with radium.

You're probably thinking of Ottawa, Illinois, and confusing it a bit with Denver's radium streets and the Radium Girls of Orange, NJ.

I think there are other places besides Denver that have radioactive mining related issues.
posted by dhartung at 11:27 PM on June 2, 2006


Eh, and of course Centralia became the inspiration for the movie version of...

Silent Hill

Pretty extensive site about Centralia, with history, chronology, and photos.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:06 AM on June 3, 2006


SKA filter: Bim Skala Bim has a song about Centralia. "Burning Underground" It is on iTunes if you want to hear a 30 second clip.

Also an engineer friend tells of a toxic pond near a phospherous plant that they had to figure out a way to prevent birds landing. Simply because they would burst into flames upon takeoff. Eventually they strung a net a few feet above the pond.
posted by Gungho at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2006


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