EPA may ex­pand its Su­per­fund list of sites

Six sites are be­ing con­sid­ered by agency

Tulsa World - - Datelines - By Brady Dennis The Wash­ing­ton Post

For decades, since a lo­cal com­pany dumped un­told amounts of in­dus­trial chem­i­cals nearby, res­i­dents of Min­den, West Vir­ginia, have been search­ing for an­swers.

Year af­ter year, they say, this once-thriv­ing coal town an hour south of the state cap­i­tal has ex­pe­ri­enced an alarm­ing num­ber of can­cers and other health is­sues. The roughly 250 peo­ple who re­main have long sus­pected that the poly­chlo­ri­nated biphenyls, or PCBs, dis­cov­ered through­out the area have played a role in sick­en­ing res­i­dents.

While state and fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors have said that re­peated tests have yet to es­tab­lish those links — and might never give de­fin­i­tive an­swers — those push­ing for ac­tion in Min­den won a no­table vic­tory Tues­day when the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­posed adding the lo­ca­tion to its “Na­tional Pri­or­i­ties List” for cleanup. The site is among six that the EPA is propos­ing to add to its Su­per­fund list, which con­sists of the coun­try's most toxic sites.

“Clean­ing up sites that pose risks to pub­lic health and the en­vi­ron­ment is a crit­i­cal part of our mis­sion,” EPA Act­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tor An­drew Wheeler said in a state­ment.

West Vir­ginia Gov. Jim Jus­tice, a Repub­li­can, also praised the move, say­ing in a state­ment that “on­go­ing study will de­ter­mine the best way to move for­ward and en­sure that the threat to pub­lic health and the en­vi­ron­ment is fi­nally elim­i­nated.”

From the early 1970s un­til 1984, the Shaffer Equip­ment Co. in Min­den built elec­tri­cal equip­ment for the lo­cal coal min­ing in­dus­try, in­clud­ing trans­form­ers and ca­pac­i­tors that used oil con­tain­ing PCBs. The chem­i­cals, which can linger for years in air, wa­ter and soil, have been banned since 1979, and the EPA clas­si­fies them as a “prob­a­ble hu­man car­cino­gen.”

When the state Di­vi­sion of Nat­u­ral Re­sources in­spected the site in 1984, of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered sev­eral hun­dred dis­carded trans­form­ers and ca­pac­i­tors. In­ves­ti­ga­tors also found that Shaffer had buried or dumped PCB-laced oil in drums and other con­tain­ers there, as well as in aban­doned mines, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral court doc­u­ments. Some had leaked.

The EPA has un­der­taken sev­eral rounds of cleanups in Min­den, be­gin­ning in 1984. The agency even­tu­ally hauled away nearly 5,000 tons of soil and re­moved dozens of drums. Work­ers have re­turned over the years to re­move more bar­rels of chem­i­cal and place an earthen “cap” over the Shaffer site.

In re­cent years, lo­cal ac­tivists who had been track­ing can­cer deaths in the town be­gan a re­newed push for an­swers. Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors agreed last year to re­turn for more rounds of soil sam­ples. So far, ac­cord­ing to the EPA, the tests “con­tinue to show PCBs but do not in­di­cate an im­me­di­ate threat to hu­man health.”

Ayne Am­jad, a lo­cal doc­tor who has been help­ing re­search health prob­lems in the town, said Tues­day's news that the former Shaffer site and part of nearby Ar­buckle Creek could be added to Su­per­fund is a first step to­ward what she hopes will be a re­lo­ca­tion of the res­i­dents who re­main.

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