A popular Franklin County tourist attraction will not be open over the upcoming holiday weekend.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that barring a last-minute reprieve from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Meramec Caverns will remain closed because of potentially harmful vapors that were discovered late last year.
Lester Turilli, president and director of operations for Meramec Caverns tells the newspaper that they are in a day by day decision on opening as they await test results. Turilli said he has been frustrated by the pace of the EPA’s oversight of the cleanup of trichloroethylene, or TCE, vapors that measured above a level of health concern. TCE is a solvent used mainly to remove grease from metal parts but also is an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers and other products. The EPA says the vapors in the caves likely came from a former auto parts factory and a landfill more than 4 miles away in Sullivan. Both are associated with a Superfund site on the EPA’s national priorities list since 2002. The factory owner, TRW, is responsible for the costs of reducing the levels of TCE in the caverns. The work is expected to involve improvements to air ventilation systems. The concentrations of vapors in the more famous upper portion of the cave have been reduced but are still above the levels of health concern, according to an EPA spokeswoman and she said a reopening date for the caverns has not been determined.
Meramec Caverns has laid off about half of its 100 employees as result of the closure. Turilli said the gift shop, motel and restaurant are open, and visitors can still enjoy riverboat rides, canoe and raft trips, panning for gold, camping and zip lining.