A local environmental rights group will be staging “March for Minden,” a re-enactment march of the 1989 Toxics National Day of Action, to draw attention to the threat of PCB contamination in Minden, and group members are asking local churches, organizations and businesses to help raise awareness.
Brandon Richardson, founder of the environmental group Headwaters Defense, said the City of Oak Hill has issued a permit for the march on June 8. The march will follow the route taken by the group Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County in June 1989, as the group was petitioning the EPA for help in cleaning up Minden or relocating residents — a plea that Richardson said was not honored and that is still being made today.
“Minden has been faced with the threat of living amongst the toxic chemical, poly-chlorinated biphenyl (PCB) for many decades,” Richard said in the press release. “In the 1980s and 1990s, a group of dedicated activists started the Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County to address the issues in Minden after learning of the toxic effects of PCBs.
“The purpose of the march is to raise awareness about the issues facing Minden, remember the many lives that have been lost, show support for those that are currently suffering from PCB-related illness, and show respect for the work done by the Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County in the 1980s and 1990s.”
Minden has been contaminated by the carcinogen and industrial chemical PCB since at least 1985, Richardson said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) botched at least two efforts at cleaning the small community, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR) failed to examine existing state data on Minden cancer death rates when agents were conducting a mandated health report on Minden in 1992.
ATSDR agents also reported an inflated population for Minden that U.S. Census Bureau officials in 2017 said was not supported by Census data. ATSDR officials cited report findings when they told Minden residents that PCB posed no cancer risk for them and that they did not need federal support to monitor their health.
Since then, Headwaters Defense and Minden residents have reported an alarming number of those who live in Minden have died of various cancers. Although federal and state health officials have said there is no statistical evidence to show an increased risk of cancer deaths in Minden, residents say that more than 150 people have died or are dying of cancer in the community of 250.
“The EPA made many mistakes with this,” said Susie Worley-Jenkins of the Minden Community Action Team, which is helping to plan the march. “I hope they get it right, after four attempts to fix it.
“The original group was right all along.”
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, urging Wheeler to add Minden to the EPA National Priorities List. In the letter, Manchin referenced Senate Resolution 76, which the state Legislature passed during the 2019 session.
The resolution urges the EPA, ATSDR, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Bureau for Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist Minden residents with both relocation assistance and specialized medical treatment “as a result of their long-term exposure” to PCB, dioxins and other pollutants.
The resolution mentions the importance of NPL designation to the effort.
“This contamination has had lasting effects on the Minden community that can only be properly addressed once the Shaffer site is added to the NPL,” Manchin wrote. “With this designation, the residents of Minden, West Virginia, can finally begin to find some relief.
“Health reports clearly show that Minden residents have a significantly higher rate of cancer than that of other Fayette County residents,” Manchin wrote. “They need our help.”
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Worley-Jenkins said the upcoming march will show people that help is still needed for Minden.
In the original march, she said Concerned Citizens co-chair Larry Rose marched with 35 Minden residents and environmentalists from other states.
Lucien Randall, a 1989 march participant and founding member of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, later died of cancer, she added.
“We are also remembering and paying respect to people like Lucian Randall who helped with testing and even pushed a drum to the city park in the 1989 march,” Worley-Jenkins said.
Annetta Coffman, lifelong Minden resident whose mother died of cancer, said that nearly every resident currently living in Minden has lost loved ones to cancers and other illnesses that they believe are linked to PCB exposure.
“I feel that any resident capable of participating in the march should do so,” Coffman said. “That gives their loved ones a continued voice in the issues still plaguing Minden, decades after the original march.
“That’s why the march is important to me, to give my loved ones, such as my mom who died of cancer, a voice still and to show that we intend on fighting until the PCB epidemic in Minden is completely resolved and no one else has to suffer at its hands.”
The June 8 walk is endorsed by Sue Workman, an original member of Concerned Citizens and a 1989 march participant. Workman is working with Richardson to make the upcoming march as historically accurate as possible.
“It’s difficult to recall specific things about the walk, other than we had some support from different groups throughout the United States,” Workman said Monday. “I really wanted the action to bring more attention to the problem, which is always a good thing.
“Attention, especially by media outlets, brings pressure on the elected officials and that’s when they do something.
“They don’t care about the people or their problems, but if they’re made to look bad, things change.”
Richardson encouraged all Minden residents and others to march on June 8. He added that the Minden Community Action team is currently planning logistics to make the event as accommodating as possible with water, bathroom and shade stops along the route.
“For those that cannot walk the 2.8-mile route, a motorcade has been permitted to follow right behind the march so that supporters can drive the route if needed,” he added.
Darrel Thomas of Minden has worked for several years to raise awareness about the issues in Minden through photographs and videos.
He said, “After 30 years, marching for justice is only reasonable.”
Additional information is available on Facebook at Headwaters Defense.