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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Natural gas-like odor coming from the East Side

The Post-Dispatch reports that a strange odor heading from the East Side into Downtown St. Louis is not natural gas.

While I'm sure that's a relief to the folks who've smelled it, it does make one wonder what such an odor must have been. Even from my limited knowledge of it, it strikes me that the history of large-scale strange odors from the Metro East is not a good one. With active copper, zinc, and meatpacking byproducts plants located just a stone's throw from Downtown, well, that smell could be any number of scary things. Big River Zinc itself is considered to be one of the worst polluters in the nation.

And, of course, there is also big mama Solutia, formerly Monsanto. The town of Sauget was even called Monsanto when it was first founded, but the name was later changed to Sauget when Monsanto learned that having a town of the same name limited their control of the copyright on the name. The Solutia/Monsanto plant has a long history of environmental contamination, even having released PCBs in the past.

In his heartbreaking 1991 book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol quoted Post-Dispatch reporter Safir Ahmed about the (then Monsanto) plant: "When the plant gives off emissions that are viewed as toxic, an alarm goes off. People who have breathed the smoke are given a cash payment of $400 in exchange for a release from liability." Though I believe this practice has since been discontinued, the fact that it happened a mere 15 years ago is disgusting, depressing, and terrifying. The book describes a number of other atrocities as well, including Dead Creek, a dried-out creekbed that was so polluted that children have been known to set it on fire accidentally with the friction they create by simply riding their bikes across it. It has since received sediment remediation, but nonetheless members of the community are advised not to drink the groundwater or let their kids play there.

So what was that strange odor coming from the Metro East today? I don't know, but I'm glad I didn't run in to it.


Thomas Crone said...

Woo, it was bad last night!


Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

Yurk! I guess it hit the South Side, then?

After reading that yesterday morning, I kept wondering if we were going to get hit by it in ONSL it since we're pretty dang close to Downtown, but I guess we missed it.