Exploring the History and Implications of Toxicity through St. Louis: Performance Artist Allana Ross and the “Toxic Mound Tours”

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date

Spring 2020


On a chilly day in early April 2018, a group of sixteen people and one lovable dog met at a coffee house in St Louis, Missouri, in anticipation of the “Toxic Mound Tour.” Online, the tour was advertised as a performance art piece and an “educational field trip” to “see the realities of the landfill and other contaminated places west of the city.”[1] When our tour guide, performance artist Allana Ross, arrived, she was easy to spot in her khaki colored park ranger clothing, even without the “Toxic Mound Tours” sign she held. As we gathered around, she quickly introduced herself, then introduced her assistant and their dog, both of whom were outfitted in matching green jackets for the occasion. Before the tour began, the performer passed out tour brochures and white face masks to the group gathered around her. Most of us in the audience looked at each other with slightly worried expressions before she admitted that we did not need to wear masks for our safety, as our stay in each of the five locations would be brief. Even still, they served as a constant reminder of where we were going and the gravity of the area’s toxic legacy. As the contaminated areas we planned to visit were spread out across the greater St. Louis area, we were encouraged to introduce ourselves to one another and carpool. And just like that, we traveled to the first destination on our toxic tour.