By September 29, 2017 Read More →

Minden PCB report shows samples 10 times the actionable standard set by EPA


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Samples taken along Arbuckle Creek in Minden show elevated levels of PCB contamination, a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows.

Minden is home to what was once the Shaffer Equipment Company, which EPA agents declared a Superfund site in need of clean-up in 1992 after PCB contamination was discovered there in 1985.

According to the report, 10 samples collected from properties along the creek show levels of PCB that could require action from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Two samples showed contamination at higher levels that would merit EPA action, including one taken at the Shaffer site.

PCB is an industrial chemical that the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) lists as a probable cancer-causing agent.

“There are, in fact, dangerous levels of PCBs in Minden,” Headwaters Defense founder Brandon Richardson said Tuesday. “This news comes after years of local suspicion that EPA did not clean up the toxic chemicals from the Shaffer Equipment Company, a historic Superfund site.”

The EPA report on Arbuckle testing was made available by Headwaters Defense, which obtained it from WVDEP through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Richardson’s group pushed for the EPA sampling in Minden.

Richardson pointed out that the EPA report shows one sample contained 50 parts-per-million of PCBs, which is 150 times the WVDEP action level and 10 times higher than the actionable standard set by the EPA.

“What goes through my mind is, they’re just going to have to do something for these people,” Richardson said. “They’re going to have to give Minden exactly what Minden wants.

“It’s just a shame that all those agencies have let them fall down like that, and I think it’s time they find a way to make it right.”

Of around 60 samples total, EPA agents took only one from the predominantly African-American neighborhood that is situated closest to the Superfund site.

“That’s the way it is when it pertains to this part of Minden,” said Eddie Fruit, whose family property is next to the Shaffer site. “The part I live on, we always get the short end of the stick.”

The Minden situation has captured the attention of Lois Gibbs, an internationally-recognized environmental rights leader who founded the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

“These results are outrageous,” Gibbs said in a press release. “It’s time for the state of West Virginia and the EPA to take action to protect the people of Minden, who have been living with this contamination for decades.

“The EPA should relocate the people who wish to leave and, finally, clean up the contamination from this highly toxic chemical.”

• • •

For years, Minden residents have told federal, state and local officials that their community hosts a carcinogen. Warrenetta “Carol” Hester of Raleigh County, a former Minden resident who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, told The Register-Herald in July that of 60 former neighbors in the African-American neighborhood in Minden a third have died of cancers.

Others in Minden have reported that multiple family members have died or been diagnosed with cancers, as have pets. The late Dr. Hassan Amjad, a local physician who was conducting a health survey of Minden residents prior to his Aug. 29 death, told The Register-Herald that PCB exposure had led to an increased cancer death rate in Minden.

Amjad was collecting information to study the impact of PCB on residents’ health and told The Register-Herald that he had seen a higher number of small cell myeloma cancer deaths among residents, along with what appeared to be a very invasive form of lymphoma. He was still researching the data at the time of his death.

Dr. Ayne Amjad has taken over the health registry work of her late father. Amjad is offering a free health clinic to Minden residents once a month. More information is available by calling 304-252-5900.

• • •

Residents say a botched EPA cleanup in the 1980s created community distrust of the EPA in Minden, a once-thriving coal camp town now dotted with abandoned and burned-down houses. EPA agents discovered PCB stored in drums and containers at Shaffer, and sample testing showed PCB contamination.

The lead on-site EPA coordination Robert Carron led a failed $1 million clean-up effort to extract PCB from the soil using methanol.

After the cleansing effort failed, EPA crews removed around 4.8 tons of contaminated soil to a hazardous waste dump in Alabama. In an effort that required over 200 truckloads, according to EPA documents, crews also removed 23 drums of capacitors, 24 drums of transformer fluid, 32 drums of transformer flush and 31 transformers.

Th EPA restored the Shaffer office building and site, destroyed cleanup facilities and backfilled and graded excavations, completing the cleanup in December 1987. The total cost was over $5 million, according to court documents.

EPA agents took soil samples and told Minden residents that the site no longer posed a health risk.

When residents pushed for additional testing, EPA agents initially refused. After national environmental groups got involved at the request of the local citizens’ group Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County (CCSFC) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) took note of the Minden situation, EPA returned to Minden in 1990 and found additional soil contamination at Shaffer and 21 more contaminated barrels.

EPA crews began another cleanup effort, evacuating about 200 yards of contaminated soil in 1991. They tore down part of the Shaffer building and declared it a Superfund site by 1992. They placed a cap over one part of the site, sealing it.

Richardson said EPA has not investigated community reports that thousands of gallons of EPA oil were dumped into nearby mines at Minden.

Stephen Lester, science director for Center for Health, Environment & Justice, A Project of People’s Action Institute of Falls Church, Va., urged action.

“These results support an issue that people in the community have been raising for decades — that PCBs remain at the site and potentially everywhere in Minden,” he said. “This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Additional testing for PCBs needs to be done.

“The question remains, how far have the PCBs spread and what levels have people who live in the community been exposed to?

“It’s past time for the state and US EPA to finally address the contamination in this community.”

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