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‘I’m Going to Lose It,’ Says Owner of House near Contaminated Site

January 10, 1985

MERAMEC HEIGHTS, Mo. (AP) _ His home is surrounded by dioxin contamination, a mortgage note he can’t meet is coming due, and David Davis says he feels helpless in the face of government refusal to come to his aid.

″It seems to me that I would be as eligible for a government buyout as anyone else,″ said Davis, whose home in rural Jefferson County is across the street from a highly contaminated site. ″The government can buy out the entire town of Times Beach, but it won’t buy my house. And now I’m going to lose it.″

Davis said both the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have refused to buy him out, which would enable him to recover the $20,000 he has already paid on the house.

Beyond that, Davis - whose family has been relocated to nearby Fenton at government expense - will become ineligible for the relocation home when he is no longer a homeowner.

Dioxin is an unwanted byproduct in the manufacture of herbicides. It has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals and is suspected of causing skin rashes and other illnesses in humans.

Officials say they’ll clean up dioxin contamination that has prompted the buyout of homes across the street from Davis’ and eventually will clean up contamination in his own backyard.

But he says he cannot wait for the cleanup to restore the value of his home, bought three years ago, just months before the dioxin was discovered.

At that time, he signed a ″balloon note″ loan for $45,000 with the previous owners, giving him a more favorable interest rate than banks offered at the time but requiring repayment in three years.

The balance on the loan is due at the end of January, but now no bank will provide a new mortgage because of the contamination, and the former owners have not responded to Davis’ requests to extend the loan.

″I can understand the banks’ reluctance,″ Davis said, staring at the eight-foot-high chain-link fence that stretches in both directions in front of the abandoned, boarded-up homes across the street. ″I guess I really can’t blame them. It’s worthless on the market.″

Federal and state officials said they are doing all they can for Davis, but a buyout simply is not possible.

The source of the dioxin at the so-called Minker Site was contaminated topsoil stripped from a horse arena and spread on the lawn of a house across the street. The area of the riding stable had been sprayed with dioxin-laced waste oil in the 1970s to control dust.

Fred Lafser, director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said he had been telling Davis for a year that the days of the buyouts under the government’s Superfund are over. He said buyouts were made before the scope of the dioxin problem was fully understood.

The entire dioxin-contaminated community of Times Beach, about 25 miles west of St. Louis, was bought out by the federal government in 1983 at a cost of more than $36 million.

″The problem is that buyouts on that scale would soon liquidate the Superfund,″ Lafser said. ″Then we would be left owning all of this contaminated land with no money to clean it up.″

Patrick Breheny, regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that if he is officially notified that Davis has lost possession of the home, the family will have to move out of the home in Fenton that has been provided by the government.

″The government’s obligation is only to the owner of contaminated property,″ said Breheny.

Davis said it was hard to understand why the government has been willing to pay relocation expenses the past year, but unwilling to buy him out. He estimated that the government had already spent more than $15,000 on relocation costs for his family.

″Now I stand to lose everything,″ he said.

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