A Short Way to Hell: In Sauget, Illinois, Poisons Mean Profit

2016-03-18T10:31:40-04:00September 23, 2015|

By Scott Beauchamp
Photos by Nika Knight

On a map, the town of Sauget, Illinois, is in the middle of the country. But see it firsthand and it could be the edge of the world. Driving to Sauget from where I grew up in South County St. Louis, the faded industrial-orange arches of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge carry you over the patiently meandering Mississippi. The river serves as the political border between Missouri and Illinois, but it’s more than that. It’s also a cultural border. And an ecological border. Once you’re on the other side, the suburban sprawl of St. Louis – miles of hospitals, gas stations, fast food joints, half-empty malls, mega-churches, and middle-class housing tracts – abruptly transforms into a landscape more lush, more verdant. With my glasses off, the Illinois side of the Mississippi River flattens into an Impressionist jungle. There are towns here, but they’re hidden behind cheap floodplain farmland and trees swollen with the humidity of summer.

Coming into town, 255, the bypass highway that local business leaders dubbed “the road to prosperity” when they lobbied for it to be built in the late 70s, unceremoniously deposits you onto Sauget Business Boulevard. It’s a name as blank as the industrial landscape itself. Future archeologists studying the cartography of Sauget will immediately understand the spirit of the place from street names alone: Sauget Industrial Parkway, Vector Drive, Nickel Avenue, American Bottom Road. And then there’s Monsanto Avenue – a truck-crowded street falling into dilapidation, both sides rimmed by the brutal architecture of industrial plants and cinder block strip clubs. If Sauget could be said to have a heart, this is it.

IMG_5465Sauget is one among a cluster of depressed little towns that cling to the Illinois side of the Mississippi River across from St. Louis. The most notorious is East St. Louis, just north of Sauget. East St. Louis regularly makes “most violent cities in America” lists. In 2007 it had a higher murder rate than most other cities with reputations for violent crimes like Baltimore, New Orleans, and Detroit. In 2014 the murder rate of East St. Louis was higher than that of Honduras, then considered the most violent country in the world. The estimated population for 2014 was 26,672, a few thousand fewer people than lived in East St. Louis during the turn of the last century, when the town was a bustling industrial community. It’s almost a quarter of the population at its 1950’s peak, when East St. Louis was named an “All-American City” and produced vanguard members of American culture like Miles Davis and Ike and Tina Turner.

By the 60s deindustrialization, together with white flight and the highway bypass systems that made white flight possible, conspired to push East St. Louis into an economic and cultural free fall. Bond ratings suffered. Crime rose. Abandoned factories and plants left a hideous labyrinth of “brownfields,” areas so contaminated by industrial waste that development was impractically expensive or physically impossible. Revitalization programs were tried out: the Model Cities program, the Concentrated Employment program, Operation Breakthrough. By 1980 film director John Carpenter was using the dilapidated shell of what had once been a vibrant community to shoot scenes for his postapocalyptic thriller Escape From New York. Obviously the programs had not worked.

IMG_5419 sThe story of the city south of Sauget, Cahokia, is only different in degree. Named after one of the clans of the Illini confederacy, Cahokia is much older than East St. Louis, having been founded in 1699, but reached its population peak much later in the 70s. It’s been in slow decline ever since. I drove through Cahokia recently and counted payday loan centers, but gave up somewhere in the teens. It was too depressing. Any relationship to its past as a city of moderate colonial importance had long ago been decimated by the ruthlessness of the market and the vagaries of time. Historic buildings remain: the Cahokia Courthouse (1740), Church of the Holy Family (1697), Jarrot Mansion (1810). But they seem as alien and distant as the nearby pre-Columbian mounds, built over a thousand years ago, which now share the town’s name. Floating in the miasma of a permanently depressed present, detached from its past and without much realistic hope for a vibrant future, Cahokia appears to be a town without a purpose. Like East St. Louis, Cahokia is a slow-motion trap set by historical circumstances then sprung by the economic inertia of a deindustrializing economy. People are escaping, but slowly.

East St. Louis and Cahokia are not success stories. What makes Sauget different from them is that it is, albeit not by conventional standards. Sauget is playing by different rules. That much is obvious from the sign as you enter town: SAUGET, POP: 159. No one lives here. Or at least, not many people do as compared to the cities on either side. It isn’t a town where people are born, live out their lives, and die. There are no hospitals in Sauget. The few children that live there attend school in Cahokia. Sauget isn’t really a town at all, at least not in any traditional sense of the word. It’s more useful to think of Sauget as a petri dish for deregulation and tax breaks. It wasn’t built for people, but instead to protect the dregs of capitalism.

IMG_5428Sauget is literally a company town. It was first incorporated in 1926 under the name “Monsanto.” Yes, that Monsanto, the multi-billion-dollar international biotech company whose corporate headquarters are located across the river in suburban St. Louis. The reasoning behind Sauget’s inception was simple: in the 1920s local governments set most environmental regulations. If you wanted as lax regulations and as low taxes as possible the best way to do that would be to create your own town, or “village” as Sauget is technically classified. The name was later changed from Monsanto to honor of the first Village President Leo Sauget, adding a thin veneer of respectability to the project. But whatever one called it; Sauget was created to be a dumping ground. “We were basically incorporated to be a sewer,” Richard A. Sauget Jr., current Village President and great-grandson of the eponymous Sauget, admitted to the Wall Street Journal.

[blocktext align=”left”]Sauget was created to be a dumping ground. “We were basically incorporated to be a sewer.”[/blocktext]For years the plant that dominated Sauget was of course the Monsanto plant, and until their ban by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1979, it was the nation’s largest producer of PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls are synthetic compounds once commonly used as coolants for electrical appliances, an ingredient in carbon copy paper, dielectric insulators, cutting fluids for machines, and in various other manufacturing processes. So much of what makes our industrial economy run is hidden from the view of our day-to-day lives. Like the anatomy of a person, most of its working parts are never meant to breach the derma. PCBs, from the start of their use last century until their eventual ban, worked as a sort of economic internal membrane, helping the hidden machinery of our constructed lives to function smoothly. No one had to know that it was PCBs facilitating electrical transfers in power transformers that were lighting their homes and powering their record players. No one wanted to know.

Health concerns about PCBs were raised all the way back in the 1930s, but only in the rarified setting of the Harvard School of Public Health. It would take almost 50 more years before their use would be outlawed in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals. PCBs have also been shown to cause a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system, and other health effects. Studies in humans provide supportive evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs.” What’s more, PCBs are in a category of nasty compounds known as “persistent organic pollutants”, which means that they don’t naturally break down in their environment. Unless they’re, say, carefully incinerated by a plasma arc or forced to decompose microbially, they’ll literally just sit there, hurting every living thing that comes into their proximity. PCB levels in Sauget have been measured at 25 million times the level acceptable for human contact.

Sauget is an environmental disaster. I came down with a splitting headache after only twenty minutes of breathing in the air of Sauget. My father, who attended college in Cahokia, remembers people calling the town “Ca-choke-ia” because of the noxious air blowing down from the north. Uncle Tupelo, the Southern Illinois band that was a precursor to Wilco, went so far as to pen a ballad to the town and its air born pollution in the song “Sauget Wind”:

“They’re poisoning the air/For personal wealth/It’s a long way to heaven/It’s a short way to hell … Industrial wind/It blows in from the west/It’ll burn out your eyes/And suck out your breath”

It isn’t only the manufacturing of PCBs that have wreaked havoc in Sauget. Since its founding, companies have been dumping massive amounts of a wide variety of toxic chemicals into the ground and water of the town. Any industrial projects in the region that has faced NIMBY, or “Not In My Backyard” opposition from residents has found a warmer welcome in Sauget. The town is currently home to a gargantuan sewage treatment plant, a zinc factory, and one of only three of the nation’s industrial wastewater treatment facilities. And this is just to name a few of the current occupants. Companies have been passing through Sauget, taking advantage of its almost nonexistent zoning and regulatory oversight, for the greater part of the twentieth century. The physical traces left by this environmental devastation have become as recognizable parts of Sauget’s identity as its small regional airport or cluster of windowless strip clubs.

IMG_5481To hear stories about the seven-mile-long Dead Creek that slithers through Sauget, you’d think it was something from a comic book or religious text of a long-disappeared civilization. There’s a local legend about animals that come into contact with the creek dying within twenty-four hours from chemical burns. The EPA erected a fence around the creek in 1982 to cut down on the potential for chemical burns from contact. Former Cahokia Fire Chief Hershal Riddle told the Chicago Tribune about Dead Creek giving off an eerie luminescence at night, saying, “You’d see a blue glow, like the bottom of a flame on a stove.”

The comparison to a flame is apt, since Dead Creek also has a reputation for spontaneously combusting and giving off smoke-like fumes. Among the mélange of 25 toxic chemicals the EPA has found in the area is chemical phosphorus, which burns when exposed to oxygen. It might be more accurate to not think of Dead Creek as a creek at all, but a run-off basin for atrocious and life-threatening compounds, mixed with a bit of water. While researching Dead Creek my mind continuously wandered to comparisons of the streams with sacrificial blood that ran down the steps of Aztec temples. These dangerous chemicals surging out of our own coeval cathedrals of industry and through Dead Creek is the price we’ve convinced ourselves we have to pay in order to sustain our modern economy, in order to please our contemporary gods of convenience.

IMG_5458 sSauget is small. All told, it’s only about four square miles. Nevertheless, it contains two separate Federal superfund sites. One is along Dead Creek, where the plan is to dredge sediment, replace culverts, pump in fresh water to improve drainage, place a liner at the bottom of the creek, and cover over the site of an underground fire with fresh soil. The second site is along the banks of the Mississippi River itself, where for decades contaminated wastewater has sat in backfill lagoons and slowly leached into the river and surrounding soil. There’s no way this site can be “cleaned” in any sense. The EPA determined that the best option is just to build a “barrier wall” to protect the Mississippi and then cover over the lagoons with a “cap” of soil, concrete, and crushed rock. In other words, it’s basically a lost cause that comes with a $20 million price tag — a very expensive rug to sweep everything under.

Even when Dead Creek is finally purged and treated, and the lagoons encased in their protective carapace, it will have already been too late. Damage has been done. In 2009 locals filed a class action lawsuit against three companies responsible for dumping PCBs and other toxic materials in Sauget. Most of the plaintiffs are pushing for the companies to cover the costs of medical monitoring and treatment. That same year, three plaintiffs from California filed suit against Monsanto citing a link between PCBs and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. What makes the Californians’ suit interesting is that, as Steven Baughman Jensen, co-attorney for the plaintiffs, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “[m]ost toxic tort cases involve an allegation that a plaintiff got sick because they worked around a chemical, or they got sick as the result of some kind of release from a nearby polluter. This one is very different from those scenarios.” This is the first case ever to take on the idea of “general population” exposure to toxic materials. Sauget just happens to be a focal point from which harmful material radiates outward. Very concrete political borders allow Sauget to create hazardous waste. The detritus itself is only confined by the limitations of physical laws.

IMG_5476Nineteenth-century American clergyman Hosea Ballou said, “Disease is the retribution of outraged Nature.” It’s an overly general and overly heated sentiment that Ballou expresses, the power of which goes a ways in expressing our complicated relationship with, and place inside of, “Nature.” Places like Sauget exist because of us, but they’re not for us. It’s a sad irony that as we move further into the Anthropocene, the name scholars and scientists have given our current epoch of man-made climate change, so much of the byproducts of our culture are inimical to human life itself. In fact, an important aspect of engagement with the Zeitgeisty concept of the Anthropocene is white-flag fatalism: humans have conquered the biosphere, and so we’ve lost the battle for survival. We’ve won the battle against nature and in the process have destroyed our home. It’s usually presented as a fait accompli collective failure. Paul Kingsnorth, writing in the London Review of Books, peacocks the attitude, saying, “Climate change isn’t something that a small group of baddies has foisted on us…in the end, we are all implicated.”

[blocktext align=”right”]Sauget is small. All told, it’s only about four square miles. Nevertheless, it contains two separate Federal superfund sites.[/blocktext]Assuming that Kingsnorth is right and we’re to share the blame for climate change, are we all implicated equally? The negative effects of climate change certainly aren’t evenly distributed. As a 2012 World Bank report states, “No nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change. However, the distribution of impacts is likely to be inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt.” There’s also a consumption imbalance. According to ecologist Andreas Malm, “The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. The difference in energy consumption between a subsistence pastoralist in the Sahel and an average Canadian may easily be larger than 1,000-fold…” In other words, it’s a minority of the world who enjoy most of the benefits of a resource-plundering economy, the same minority that is best protected from the effects of climate change.

This imbalance plays out on a micro scale around Sauget. The few inhabitants of Sauget, mostly municipal workers, enjoy free sewer and garbage services, the benefits of splitting tax revenue between so few people. And crime is low in Sauget. The website Sperlings gives Sauget a crime ranking of 40 out of 100, slightly lower than the national average. East St. Louis has a ranking of 97. Cahokia is a more modest 55. But maybe a more accurate comparison would be all of those communities taken as whole and compared to the wealthy suburbs of West County St. Louis. According to Jonathan Kozol, in his book Savage Inequalities, East St. Louis is 98% African American, and most of its citizens get by on less than $7,500 a year. It also has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma and lead poisoning in the country. Across the river in Chesterfield, Missouri, where Monsanto recently announced plans to build a billion dollar “campus,” the median income is $96,000. The average house value is over $300,000. The residents of each community are obviously having wildly different experiences of Monsanto as a commercial enterprise.

IMG_5421Driving through the middle of Sauget, I got stuck at a light while a train chugged past. It was the longest train I’d ever seen, pulling the rusted hulks of grain cars out of a distant vanishing point on the horizon before disappearing slowly in the direction of St. Louis. Other drivers gave up and performed thousand-point turns to escape the wait. Maybe they knew about some track bypass that I didn’t. To my left was a field of transformers, their dull gray rising out of the earth like the vines of an invasive species. For all intents and purposes an invasive species is exactly what it was. And so was the train. And so were I and all the other drivers.

As the train passed and the barrier arms lifted, I was struck by the physical palimpsest time makes of civilizations. Civilizations had come and gone in the area around Sauget for thousands of years. Buried just below the toxic industrial waste were the ruined foundations of a Mississippian culture long vanished. Who knows what was lost under the ancient mounds. Who knows what archaeologists in some distant future will think of us after finding the buried ruins of Sauget. Who knows how many times the cycle will continue, how many shots we’ll get, or if with mistakes as dire as Sauget we’ve abdicated our claim on deserving any more chances altogether.

Scott Beauchamp is a writer living in Portland, Maine. His work has previously appeared in The Paris Review, Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, and Bookforum, among other places.

Other pieces by Scott Beauchamp can be found here.

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  1. unionmaid September 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    This is a such a fine piece — well written, well researched, sensitive and evocative. Thanks for writing it. I hope it reaches a wide audience.

  2. D Holmes September 25, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Good article. As an environmental scientist with nearly 30 years of experience working with contaminated sites and Brownfields, your apparent grasp of the environmental issues and challenges facing these cities is outstanding.

    Bleak and fascinating area

  3. Chemopp October 20, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Stay out of my town if you don’t like it. People have to make a living.

    • cm1967 October 22, 2015 at 8:33 am

      So, it’s okay to poison the earth and its population for a paycheck? Sad….

  4. D Huston October 20, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    This article was very well said. It also contains many of the scary details I grew up with in Cahokia. I drove the path through Sauget and East St Louis for many years. I have always believed that this is why I have always suffered with chronic bronchitis. I know that there are many who have had families destroyed with diseases from this pollution and it is heartbreaking. Thank you for your article and for bringing it to the forefront. It has been years since I have seen an article speaking out against Monsanto in Sauget, IL.

  5. callicore October 22, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Thank you for writing this article. I lived 15 minutes from Sauget. It is such a depressing place, I get bad vibes driving through the area. “People have to make a living” that is true until all the pollutants kill them off.

  6. Carla Mercer October 22, 2015 at 11:03 am

    I lived next door to the pond that was the deposit of dead creek. I played in and aound the pond from the time I was able to walk until I was a teenager. We would kick the ground and embers would shoot up. Monsanto bought my parents home for next to nothing, tore it down, built a fence around it, and showed up in protective gear that looked like space suits to work the site. My dad died of a form of leukema that is known to be caused by the toxic chemicals that Monsanto dumped in the pond. I lived and breathed this story first hand……deformed fish/dead animals, glowing embers and a horrible stench. Monsanto is shameless, and can not be stopped or beat by any small group of individuals who have been effected by their carelessness and disregard for the health issues and deaths they have caused. Thank you for writing this article, as painful as it was to read, it is TRUTH.
    Carla Batson-Mercer

    • MarciaM July 16, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      It is really something thinking back to what we were innocently exposed to a children around there. All the smoke and the awful smell in the air… Very sorry about your father Carla. I really believe that all of the things that we are seeing today with increased cancer and all around physical and mental health has to do with our exposure. Not only Monsanto and the dead creek but also coldwater Creek and the other areas that have been used as dumping grounds with no thought to the nearby families. So very upsetting.

  7. Bruce Ross October 22, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I grew up in Cahokia (5 years old till 19 years old, late 40’s-60’s) and as I grew up I always wondered why we had to turn the car lights on when driving on Route 3 towards St.Louis, MO and why all of the cars that Monsanto had were brown (because the paint had changed color) and the houses that were at a adjoining plant had no paint. I remember ‘Dead Creek’ and as I got older I had heard many stories about it. The article is well written and researched. As I got older and lived in other states I knew why this area never flourished, (the EPA and many rules were developed, making these places a nightmare to sell) Like the article says, what happens many, many, many years from now of this area will be the question.

  8. laura October 23, 2015 at 12:02 am

    I grew up just south of Sauget and drive through there regularly as it was enroute to Downtown St. Louis. The smell was always unbearable and I can’t remember ever not feeling astounded that it existed at all and wondered about the poor people who lived trapped there. My town seemed safely outside it’s range. I wonder now how true that was. In my family three have had cancer including myself with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and three have been diagnosed with Lupus. I have struggled with chronic immmune system related illness more than half my life. I had friends whose fathers worked at Monsanto. ‘People have to make a living’…even if their so called ‘living’ creates a hellish nightmare and causes other people’s death and devastating chronic illness? You cannot drive through that place without knowing things with Monsanto – and what Monsanto represents – are stunningly, grossly wrong on many levels.

  9. Person October 23, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Your article is based on only things of the past, with the exception of crime rates. You never mentioned speaking with any of the current companies about their efforts to clean up the area and help the community. Monsanto is no longer in Sauget. Monsanto did cause most of the pollution; however, they up and left and now the current companies are making an effort to clean up. Because of your article the companies trying to make a difference are now being seen as the bad guys when they didnt contaminate the area in the first place. Your just like any other person in the media/journal world and only paint the picture to be seen from the angle of your choice. You did not state all the facts or even the current ones. You stated there was a zinc company but that plant hasn’t been running in over a year. The government today has regulations and standards for chemical companies and do regular inspections for waste disposal, air pollution, and saftey inspections. The companies follow what they are told so if this is where your issue lies you shouldn’t be taking aim at the companies but instead towards the regulations. It’s like yelling at a child for eating dessert before dinner when the parent is the one that allows it to take place. Yes bad things have happened in the area with Monsanto but once again that was Monsanto. At no point do you state facts that prove the current companies are to blame (Monsanto is no longer in Sauget which you should know since you were in the area doing research). Your article was well written and I found it entertaining but you purposefully left out all the facts and made minimal effort to find out what the current situation is. You are blaming the companies currently in Sauget for the damage that Monsanto did in the past which back then things like dumping waste had a lot more slack on the standards. If you have such an issue with the state the city currently is in then why aren’t you in the city making an effort to changet it instead of using the scariest facts you could find to write a good “story” to either please your boss or make big news. Your no different then when the news blows things out of proportion or twists the the facts just to have a big story to boost ratings. If your not going to write the whole truth or do some real investigating on the whole story, and not just a creek, then maybe you should stick to writing fiction.

    • Bruce Ross October 23, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      ‘Person’ are you really scared to post your real name, because you belittle this writers ability to point out the present facts? Growing up in this area back when it flourished, my Dad worked at the Mobil oil refinery and he knew Leo Sauget quite well and we never knew of medical problems (even though we knew that things stunk when going though there) back then there were many things that smelled bad, but people had to make a living. Over the years there have been many persons that have worked in the plants or lived in or around the area that have died from being or working in the area. Yes it will take many, many, many years to clean up the lands in and around this area if they would ever be able to. There are many people that have worked at Monsanto that could probably tell you horror stories about the chemicals that they worked with. Now there are many EPA, Super Fund and many regulations that control and govern the use of chemicals and manufacturing practices, this is now and the article was written, I believe to point out the facts of the lack of regulations and corruption of then.

    • vzn523stl October 23, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Thank you. This is what journalist used to call a “hack job”. There were some facts and there were some fallacies. The writer used inflammatory rhetoric like “white flight” and “highest crime rate”. I am glad they did not call East St. Louis the “Murder Capital of the World”. Or, did they? I know she compared it to Honduras.

      They never mentioned that the population of Sauget has never been too much more than 139. People did not live there. The workers lived in surrounding communities. When the chemical companies were in their boom, prior to regulations, business was booming, too. How is Sauget any different than Sandusky or Gary?

    • Pete February 3, 2017 at 10:35 am

      Monsanto is still operating in Sanger. They changed the name of their chemical production branch to Solutia Inc., which operates the WG Krummrich plant on Monsanto Drive.

    • Jack September 7, 2017 at 11:38 pm

      Well said sir

  10. vzn523stl October 23, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    I live in Cahokia. I was raised in Centreville and educated in East St. Louis. I dispute your current depiction of Cahokia. I can only count 5 payday loans stores. I see a city of citizens who are doing all that they can keep their town going and not dying. The sins of our fathers are meeting us daily. We strive to be better and do better by those who will come behind us. Many are quick to point all that is wrong. And like many, you have no workable plans for improvement. You are real good at pointing the finger. What is your solution? We can’t undo the past. Smart folks learn and move on to making life better. There is more at work here than what you can see passing through on your way home. We don’t give sight-seeing tours outside of the Holy Family Church and the Old Courthouse. Next time you are passing through, get off the highway and come into the neighborhoods. Meet the people. Interviewing business owners who go home to west St. Louis county at night will not let you know what goes on here.

    • MMML July 16, 2017 at 11:54 pm

      I am personally glad to see this article and would love to see more studies and attention on this. I grew up in St Joseph’s Gardens in Cahokia1975-1985 then Jerome Lane 1985-1989. Even if they (Monsanto) were following the regulations put in place at that time; common sense alone (Especially Scientists) would tell them that dumping that pollution was just flat WRONG. I am personally angry that they polluted the air that I breathed for the first half of my life!! My parents grew up in E St Louis and my father worked on the railroad his entire adult life. There is just no telling what he was exposed to over the years. I am glad to know that there are people in Cahokia trying to save the town. I have a lot of good memories there. I don’t personally have any idea how many pay day loan places there are there now but what I did observe the last time that I was there was that many of the homes are gone (burned down or boarded up) my Elementary school had graffiti on it!! The ball parks at Holy Family were grown over in weeds and obviously no longer used. The jungle gym and playground equipment was just gone. The little store where I would ride my bike to get penny candy was gone. It was really sad to see so many properties just empty with a concrete slab. Seeing It made me terribly sad.

      Who knows what the long term effects will be of the irresponsibility of those in charge at the time will be. The damage can take decades to show up and can skip generations from what I have been reading. I don’t think current or past residents of Cahokia or E St Louis should be offended by this article but be thankful that someone is speaking up, telling this story and advocating them. Otherwise it is “out of sight – out of mind”.

  11. Smark April 23, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Exaggerated of course but still interesting.

  12. dandy lion July 12, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    I grew up in Cahokia 1963-1981. Lived just a few miles down the road from Sauget. The creek flowed down through our neighborhood from their along White Street. Their were tadpoles, frogs and other creakie critters that hung around. We were just kids having fun playing by the creek. Our parents moved away in 1998. Since then life dose go on. The predominately white community has moved away and it looks a little more run down than when I rode by bicycle to the pool. Yes I have some nerve issues and they are probable from Monsanto as the wind did blow to the south more than not. We also had the bug man with his spying truck load of poison for the Miskito that filled our lungs in the summers. The people of Cahokia are struggling with low income and trying to survive, their is also a Hotel that travelers stay in when passing through. WoW that was a big shock to me. In a nut shell throughout the lifetime of our history, people make mistakes. Life goes on and it wasn’t really that bad of a place to live then, or now. People just need to get along and help each other.

    • dandy lion July 12, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      P.S. Thanks for the write up it was interesting. The Cahokia Mounds were there along time, never herd them called Columbia Mounds before. I even did a report on the mounds and their was not a thing mentioned about being the Columbia Mounds….. 255 was not running through Cahokia until after I left 1981. And it is an express way to successfully drive faster around all those little towns instead of through them…lol

  13. Bob August 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    This is so true.you have to live it to know it.so if you’re not from around that area keep your comments to yourself.i live in ESTL all my life till I was 29 in the Southend of the city right next door of Monsanta.used to play peewee football in Cahokia passing through it wasn’t no where a Pleasant smell.i get these headaches out of nowhere and still do.i know for a fact that place is the reason why!

  14. Caldwell October 7, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I’ve lived in Columbia, IL my entire life, with family in Cahokia. Many times I’ve been through Sauget but only on that main road, though I have been to POPs for a concert.

    I feel ashamed now that for all the time I’ve been there, I knew very little about this except that the area keeps deteriorating and the history my parents taught me. I did not know the extent of the environmental damage or that Sauget isn’t even really a town.

    This article has opened my eyes, and while there’s probably not much I can do as one person to help, I can at least help spread this knowledge to others and future generations.

  15. Observer of Crimes January 11, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Sick Sad World . . .

  16. Duponian February 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I grew up in Dupo, just south of Cahokia in the 60s and 70s. We drove through Sauget quite often going to St. Louis or East St. Louis. The drive made your nose and eyes burn and driving past the open pits of toxic chemicals made me feel like it was another world. Monsanto was not the only polluter in Sauget. Cerro Copper, American Zinc, the tire recycling plant and others contributed their share. There is not much in the article that is not true. To those defending the area, I understand your point about the jobs, there were a lot of jobs there. I even interviewed at Cerro Copper but could not convince myself that working in that area would be good. Looking back on it now and knowing what we know about what was really there, I would never have put my kids in a car and ran through there on route 3. My parents wouldn’t have either if they had understood the risks. I also have health issues that could be caused by exposure to the chemicals there. This article doesn’t blame the residents of that area for the negligence of the corporations that willingly destroyed the environment there.

  17. Dupocian February 3, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I grew up in Dupo, just south of Cahokia in the 60s and 70s. We drove through Sauget quite often going to St. Louis or East St. Louis. The drive made your nose and eyes burn and driving past the open pits of toxic chemicals made me feel like it was another world. Monsanto was not the only polluter in Sauget. Cerro Copper, American Zinc, the tire recycling plant and others contributed their share. There is not much in the article that is not true. To those defending the area, I understand your point about the jobs, there were a lot of jobs there. I even interviewed at Cerro Copper but could not convince myself that working in that area would be good. Looking back on it now and knowing what we know about what was really there, I would never have put my kids in a car and ran through there on route 3. My parents wouldn’t have either if they had understood the risks. I also have health issues that could be caused by exposure to the chemicals there. This article doesn’t blame the residents of that area for the negligence of the corporations that willingly destroyed the environment there.

  18. ToxVeteran June 16, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I spent a trimester at Parks College located near the border of Sauget during the winter of 1985. The acrid stench of Monsanto’s airborne poisons would regularly pass over the campus with its overpowering ability to burn my eyes and throat. At night they would release some kind of intense chemical into the air which regularly set off the smoke detectors in the dorms. We all got so fed up exiting the buildings into the cold night every time this happened that many of us would just get into our closets and wait for everyone to return when the inevitable false alarm would be announced. I flew with many student pilots and there was a well-known altitude range where an orange layer of Monsanto’s airborne filth would occupy. In those unpressurized Cessnas, you had to fly above or below this orange layer of sticky, caustic vapor or your eyes would begin to burn and breathing became laborious. If the planes were not washed often, their skin would become tacky, as if you were touching the back of one huge aluminum Post-It note. But what really taught me about the tragedy of East St. Louis, and the raping of Sauget, was the single liquor and lottery ticket store on Route 3. Inside, everything was behind wire screens and alcohol was passed through openings in these metal screens to the East St. Louis residents, and a few college kids. Dead lottery tickets littered the floor and the smell inside the store was indescribable. I couldn’t take it after a while and Stepped outside to the parking lot which was completely saturated with dead lottery tickets. Staring across the street beneath a cold, gray overcast smelly sky, I saw nothing but mountains of tires, electrical substations and industrial buildings. Just then, three unmarked tanker semis rushed down Route 3 with multiple warning triangles that revealed “something” corrosive, toxic and flammable was in them. The wake from the trucks passing by generated a vortex wind that hurled the hundreds of dead lottery tickets into the air and gently dropped them back down on the ground and cars beneath. The place sold broken dreams to the people who could afford them the least and then sold them the alcohol to help them get through another day of toxic hopelessness. I never forgot that moment. I never knew how low we could go with our greed and apathy. Apparently we know no bounds. I had so many respiratory problems at the college that I never returned after that one trimester. I had no idea at the time that I was next to one of the most polluted and toxic areas in the country. Never seeing this urban blight before, Sauget taught me more about life than that college in Cahokia could ever do.

  19. Ann September 7, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    I was born and raised two houses from dead creek and as kids we played on the bank of the creek. There were many times that you could hardly breathe. As for Midwest Rubber they would burn those tires and black settlement would get all over everything. You always hung the laundry out and hoped they didn’t burn because everything turned brown and smelled awful. And for Monsanto that place was terrible. They were always having spills and releasing chemicals late at night. One morning my husband and I woke up to smell and he went out to go to work and this stuff was all over the car. We had to fight them like hell to get the car painted. Cerro was no better. My mother and my husband both died of cancer. My mom lived two doors from the creek and my husband and I three doors away.
    As for the neighbors three died of cancer.

    • Pam Phillips Ridgeway September 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm

      I was a year old when we moved to Cahokia on 1956 from St Louis.This writter is spot on with everything he’s said. I lived 1 street over from Sauget, I went to grade school across the street from Sauger Village Hall. We played in Dead Creek & Sand Hole.. down the street from our home. My mother had 3 different types of cancer the last being lung cancer that traveled to her brain and killed her. Other family members with cancer…and yes, I BLAME ALL THE POISON IN THE AIR for destroying lives and families. But on the flip side I loved my childhood, I remember going to bed each night in the summer with the windows open & hearing the whistle blow at shift change at Monsanto or in a emergency. We didn’t have a clue we were slowly being poisoned! I use to collect Pumas Rocks(what’s what we called them) from Monsanto, Big black looking rocks things that didn’t weigh anything & turned to power. If we only known then what we no now! Thank you for your input!!

  20. Joe October 27, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Do anybody know when the residents that’s involved in the lawsuit get there settlement checks the lawsuit has been going for almost 9yrs now and still nobody knows nothing

    • qwerty November 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      there will be no money giving out to the black people the white people got paid already

  21. Rare diseases December 29, 2017 at 11:26 pm

    I lived in Cahokia for the first 15 years of my life. I can remember coming home across the bridge from a Cardinals game one day, and seeing a yellow streak down the Mississippi, coming from a canal in the area right there behind Pop’s in Sauget. It was bright yellow and wouldn’t mix with the river water. I can also remember stopping for a train in Sauget and looking out my window watching smoke rise up from the ground next to me. The air was horrible there, and we would try to hold our breath as kids, while driving through. There was also a time we got evacuated in the early 80s because of a spill on the train tracks. I can also remember the water coming out cloudy from the tap. We were told it was just air in the line, but in the 30 years I have left, I have never seen it do that again. We had to leave our dog behind at home. My grandparents that lived there both died of cancer. My mother and I both have rare immune system problems, and we both have several autoimmune diseases as well, and all of us had thyroid issues.

  22. Rare diseases December 29, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    ^^^We had to leave our dog during the evacuation when the train spill happened. He moved away from Cahokia with us. 🙂

  23. Amber December 30, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    I grew up in Cahokia for 21 years and I often wonder if this attributed to me getting diagnosed with kidney cancer at 33. No history in my family at all!! Hard not to wonder if all the pollution I breathed over half my life played a part in this health issue! Yes I had a great childhood here however I would also love to have a great adult life with my children. Shame on these people in charge allowing this crap to kill people way to early!!!

  24. R Anders January 27, 2018 at 1:23 am

    My great-grandmother was a Sauget. They were all strong Republicans who believed that jobs meant prosperity at any cost. That passed down to other generations who fled the area but believed that environmentalists were tree hugging liberals who didn’t care about America. The reason we study history is to learn from our past mistakes. I hope we do. I’m sad for the people of Cahokia (where my grandmother was born) and for the people of Sauget who bought into a company’s propoganda, made money and left a historic mess. The family’s of Monsanto elite made fortunes off of others naivety.

  25. Empress Zorg May 27, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    And therefore what?

  26. Carl@rl July 28, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    The neighbors of huge nc pig farms suffer likewise. The polluters have bought legislators for protection. Just add water from a tropical storm to get a dis@ster overflowing from hog manure lagoons, sick

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