Minden residents still fighting for relocation one year after EPA’s national priority designation

MINDEN, WV (WOAY) – It is an environmental justice fight that goes back to the 1980s.

Last year, on May 13, the small Fayette County community of Minden was put on the EPA’s National Priority List because of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination after a mining equipment company known as Shaffer Equipment dumped it into their water and soil in the ’70s and ’80s.  

One year later and Minden residents say not much as changed as they continue to wait for answers and hope for relocation.

Susie Worley-Jenkins, a longtime resident and advocate, remembers the day they were deemed a priority well.

“They talked really really good about everything. And they made people happy about being on the NPL List. Finally. And they bragged about what they were going to do for folks,” she said. “Well, I haven’t seen them since and that was back in May.” 

Worley-Jenkins says she hasn’t seen or heard from an elected politician besides Senator Joe Manchin since.

EPA officials did make their return this past winter and began a soil removal process.

In order for the EPA to conduct the soil removal there must be 50 parts per million (ppm) of PCB, a chemical that has now been closely linked to cancer.

Although the EPA says only 25% of their results have come back, the highest they tested returned at 215 ppm, 4 times their limit.

Despite their testing and removal, residents are still dissatisfied as they feel the EPA did not test where the residents felt they should, and they did not go deep enough into the ground as they feel certain areas would return even higher results.

The contamination has been connected to the abnormally high rate of cancer for the small community with a population of about 250. Darrell Thomas, one Minden resident, says two people have died from cancer just this year.

“People worried about this virus and stuff. You know, they’re concerned about their health and stuff and worried about when they go to doctors that, ‘I got it’ and this and that. Well, this is Minden’s life every time you go to the doctor,” Thomas said. “You wonder that, ‘Is this the day I get cancer from PCB?’ That’s normal life here in Minden.” 

This is why they want to relocate the community, especially the young and sick people. 

However, according to the EPA, to date, the data they’ve collected “does not show that residential relocation is an appropriate response action.”

“If they say they’ll relocate, they’re admitting guilt, and I think that’s it right there, because they know that they have screwed up so many times in the past and if they admit guilt, then look at all the things they’ve done, look at these people that’s died because of this,” Worley-Jenkins said. 

The EPA also says they are monitoring the COVID outbreak at each of their sites to see when they can return. 

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Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.