MINDEN, W.Va. — More than three decades after widespread environmental contamination was discovered in the small town of Minden in Fayette County, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday the area has been added to its Superfund National Priorities List.
In addition to mandated on-site environmental testing and removal of contamination, the designation will provide local residents with access to the Superfund, including possible eligibility for specialized medical care and other federal aid.
The EPA proposed adding the site to the National Priorities List in Sept. 2018. The designation was finalized following a review of comments received during the required 60-day public comment period.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler made the announcement at New Apostolic Church in Minden, joined by Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and EPA Region 3 Administrator Cosmo Servidio.
The Shaffer Equipment / Arbuckle Creek area site in Minden has officially been added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. This is such an important day because the people of Minden have been waiting on this level of help for decades. https://t.co/pUj3MBEyr8 pic.twitter.com/injALI65Vo
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) May 13, 2019
According to Wheeler, the decision to add Minden to the National Priorities List was based on several existing factors and on a number of documented events, beginning in 1970, when Shaffer Equipment Company began building electrical substations in Minden for the regional coal mining industry, eventually leading to soil and water contamination from oil containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) within materials stored at the company’s work site.
“I would say what really weighed on my mind in making the final call and listing today was the history of the site, and the fits and starts that this site has had since the early 80s, and the fact that we thought this was cleaned up three different times,” he said. “The community here had a lot of, I would say, a distrust on what’s happened in the past, and I felt the community needed this and needed the certainty of it being addressed — finally addressed — by both the state and the federal government.”
Gov. Justice said he shares the frustration of area residents who have lived through decades of what he characterized as unmitigated failure by government to respond appropriately.
“Maybe we can, now, straighten up what others just let go,” said Justice. “Why it took so long, none of us can explain, none of us can explain. That’s all there is to it. All I can do is apologize for it taking so long. It’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely terrible.”
Sen. Capito said she was pleased her office was able to help the agency clear the necessary hurdles to bring Minden under federal protection.
“It’s taken some work to get us here. We’ve worked closely with Administrator Wheeler and many others at EPA to make this happen for a while now, and this is an important designation. It’s not only an acknowledgement of the work that needs to be done, but it’s also a commitment from the federal government, a commitment of attention and resources and a commitment to provide more financial and technical assistance to clean up this site,” she said. “That also means delivering a new sense of safety and certainty to all those who call Minden home, and it means providing for the health and well-being of West Virginians.”
Servidio told MetroNews the National Priorities List designation will generate the beginning of an intricate process of gathering information from scientists, investigators, and those impacted, directly and indirectly, as a result of PCB contamination.
“We are now in the midst of a remedial investigation, a thorough remedial investigation. All the information and data that we extrapolate we’ll share with the community, as we continue to do, and take input from them as well. They are a part of the process,” he said. “We take into (consideration) the whole history of the site, all the actions that we’ve done in coordination with the state, as we move forward.”
According to Servidio, the area that will undergo remedial testing for contamination includes the Shaffer Equipment Company property and sediment from the adjoining Arbuckle Creek, though the specific boundaries of the site chosen for scientific analysis will be defined further during the investigation, which is expected to begin by early summer.
In 2017, the EPA tested soil and sediment from the site and declined to take further action, concluding the site no longer posed an immediate threat to human health.
In April, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter to Wheeler, reiterating his support for the proposed addition of Minden to the National Priorities List, noting the significantly higher rate of cancer among local residents, compared to other residents of Fayette County.