MINDEN, W.Va. — Roads leading to Minden are lined with signs that read “toxic town” and “PCBs kills communities” along with lists of recent deaths in the small Fayette County community.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the fourth public meeting in 18 months to discuss their ongoing investigation into the possible contamination of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Residents have been concerned for several years that the former Shaffer Equipment site near the town has been the cause of PCBs contaminating the area.
PCBs are listed as a known carcinogen. The company produced mining machines, which required a large amount of PCB oil. The next step for the EPA is to get Minden added to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). For consideration, Minden’s hazard ranking must be above 28.5.
“We hear them. We are currently assessing the site to see if it will qualify for the NPL,” said EPA Regional Administrator Cosmo Servidio. “That is a thorough process. We are currently sampling. We have our normal protocols then we have our sampling assessments. Once that goes through the entire review board we will now if that qualifies to be on the NPL.”
For the current and former Minden residents gathered at New Beginning Apostolic Church Thursday evening, this answer was not enough. Kimberly Duncan lived in Minden for several years with her children before she was able to move to another community. She endured the 2001 Minden flood, when flood waters rose to the top of many homes’ windows.
“When they said it was cleaned up, I believed it was cleaned up and you know kids will get into the creek. I don’t know what’s in that water, but they would sneak into it anyway. I worry for their health. My granddaughter gets skin lesions, which PCBs cause. My daughter would take showers and break out. She don’t do that where I live now.”
While Duncan admits she can’t prove the PCBs caused the cancer that has claimed the lives of many, she finds it hard to believe that it is a coincidence. Data from the West Virginia Cancer Registry shows there have been 81 reported cancer cases in Minden between 1993-2015. The most recent U.S. Census data shows Minden’s population as 250.
“I’ve lost so many friends and family down here it’s unbelievable. It’s so heartbreaking. I just don’t feel safe here. I’ve lost pets here, family, friends.”
She wore a red wristband she made for her church’s pastor which reads “Pray for Shawn”, who is currently going through treatment for stage four throat cancer. She fears many who are unable to leave will continue to develop cancer and other illnesses until action is taken.
“The one that sticks out the most is my dad’s twin brother. He was like my dad. He bought a home down here and his breathing got worse. After the 2001 flood, he passed away of lung cancer.”
The EPA said Thursday they are returning the week of June 25 for additional testing.
“We’re not asking for mansions, we’re just asking for a home,” added Duncan. “Enough money to buy a home to live in that we’re not scared for our children and grandchildren.”
If the EPA does determine Minden as eligible for the NPL, it would have to go through a public comment phase then seek approval during the next EPA rulemaking session in spring 2019.
More information on the Superfund Cleanup Process can be found here.