When the EPA trumpeted the findings of the Southwest Research Institute earlier this year, it didn’t mention the founder’s quest for Yeti or his ties to the CIA.
In July, EPA Region VII announced that the prestigious Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio had analyzed soil samples from West Lake Landfill and found that heating dirt from the radioactively-contaminated dump in a laboratory setting had not increased dangerous radon levels.
Community activists were not assured by the pronouncement, however. They are still demanding an expedited cleanup of the long neglected site in North St. Louis County and continue to question attempts by the press and the EPA to downplay the problem posed by the nuclear weapons waste.
For its part, the EPA has cast the debate as one that pits the dismissive opinions of its so-called scientific experts against the public’s perception of risk, which they contend is based on rumors and misinformation.
A good argument could be made, however, that rumors and misinformation is the stuff from which the Southwest Research Institute spawned.
The late Tom Slick Jr., founder of the Southwest Research Institute, believed in the existence of the Yeti, aka, the abominable snowman; and he spent a considerable amount of time and money attempting to prove the creature was a reality.
You read correctly: One of the top government-approved research facilities in the country, with a revenue exceeding $500 million in 2015, was established by a bonafide cryptozoologist, a true believer, who spent years chasing after the abominable snowman, the subject of derision among generations of serious scientists who scoff at the idea and label it nothing more than pure science fiction.
It’s enough to give pause, when the EPA asserts that its contractors hold a monopoly on irrefutable scientific facts.
But there’s more.
When he wasn’t chasing Bigfoot or giant Alpine salamanders, Slick operated a CIA air cargo company in his spare time, while managing his oil and cattle empire.
Apparently, the same curiosity and fervid imagination that fueled his search for monsters drove him to start up the research center in 1947. He subsequently bankrolled two expeditions to the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet in search of the legendary, hirsute biped.
The Tom Slick Foundation still helps support the Southwest Research Institute.
Slick also endowed the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace at the University of Texas, where former EPA Region 7 administrator Karl Brooks now teaches.
Slick also went on a trek to the Canadian Northwest in search of the Yeti’s North American cousin, Bigfoot. Before either of these quests, Slick, while still in college at Yale, journeyed to Scotland to investigate the legendary Loch Ness monster.
Slick inherited his wealth from his father, a wildcatter who struck black gold during the Oklahoma oil rush of the 1920s.
In the 1950s, Slick and his brother operated Slick Airways, a CIA air cargo company that operated in Asia before the notorious Air America of the Vietnam era.
There is speculation that Slick’s Tibetan expeditions were covers for covert CIA operations to gather intelligence on Chinese hegemony in the region.
His friends and associates included eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart.
Slick, an avid pilot, died when his small plane crashed on a return flight from a Canadian hunting trip. He was 46 years old.
A planned feature film, Tom Slick, Mystery Hunter, starring Nicholas Cage was shelved in the 1990s.