The Fayette County Office of Emergency Management asked West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to use a Lusk Garbage Inc. site in Carlisle as a temporary disposal area for flood debris from the contaminated enclave of Minden, West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Communications Director Lawrence Messina verified Monday night.
“The Fayette County Office of Emergency Management asked that this site be used as a temporary staging area,” he reported in an email. “The W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection’s technical staff reviewed this request and had no objections.”
The confirmation verified reports made Monday by Minden residents and Beckley attorney Stephen New, who reported that West Virginia Army National Guard clean-up crews were taking Minden debris, which is potentially contaminated by the cancer-causing PCB, to another part of the county.
New is set to file an injunction later this week, he said, in an effort to stop the transport.
While New and Minden residents oppose the transport, Messina said state officials are in keeping with federal law, based on past and recent soil samples taken by the EPA in Minden.
Messina said that “recent and historic sampling” have led WVDEP to classify the Minden flood debris as “non-hazardous” under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which describes how to handle solid and hazardous waste.
He said that “recent and historic sampling results show that any materials potentially impacted by PCBs from the Shaffer site would be considered non-hazardous and could be sent to a Subtitle D landfill – or the same category suitable for the management of nonhazardous solid waste such as household garbage and nonhazardous industrial waste.”
He said both WVDEP and EPA officials had approved the disposal.
Minden, an Oak Hill community, is contaminated by PCBs, a carcinogen. Clean-up crews have been in Minden since a heavy rainfall on June 14 caused overflow to a recently upgraded $22 million sewer system in upper Oak Hill. The deluge washed toilet waste downhill into Minden and caused small Arbuckle Creek in Minden, a tributary to the New River, to flood.
Floodwaters also engulfed Shaffer’s Equipment, a site designated last year by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Superfund site. The now-defunct Shaffer’s had moved to Minden from Scarbro in 1970 and had supplied nearby mines with equipment until 1984. EPA learned that Shaffer’s workers had disposed of the industrial lubricant PCB, manufactured by Monsanto, improperly on the property and sprayed Minden roads with it, in order to keep down dust.
International health organizations recognize PCB as a carcinogen, and current and former Minden residents report a higher number of cancer cases and deaths. Due to a series of errors in the 1980s and 1990s by the EPA and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR), Minden residents were never notified of the dangers of PCB to their health, and federal and state health officials failed to track residents’ health after PCB was discovered in Minden.
Federal agents “capped” Shaffer’s to contain the PCBs as part of a past clean-up effort. EPA and WVDEP agents said that the June 14 flood waters did not damage the cap or wash out contaminants. Minden resident Darrell “Butter” Thomas has published cell phone footage of mounds of earth and disturbed sand from the actual site and has challenged federal and state officials’ assertions that the flood did not cause PCB to flow into other parts of Minden.
In the past, EPA agents had declared clean-up efforts in Minden to be successful, left the community and refused to return and conduct additional tests until citizens, activists and politicians applied pressure. Later testing showed more PCB contamination and another clean-up effort was launched.
Testing has shown a consistent “actionable” level of PCB contamination in parts of the town.
Residents of Minden reported on social media Monday that they had witnessed trucks moving debris from Minden to Empire Waste, the Lusk-owned disposal site on Coaldale Road in Carlisle near Scarbro. New said the move could be placing National Guard members in a harmful situation.
Messina said that the risk is low.
“WV DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have conducted inspections of the capped material on the former Shaffer Equipment site after the recent flooding events,” he reported. “They found no indication that any capped site material has moved from the site.
“Recent and historical sampling indicate there are low concentrations of PCBs in certain portions of Arbuckle Creek soil and sediment that may be included in the materials that have been deposited as a result of the flooding,” he stated in an email. “Given those low concentration, handling and disposing of this debris calls for the same precautions as for sewage overflow impacted materials.”
Former Shaffer’s worker Frank Ward told The Register-Herald in 2017 that workers placed barrels of PCB oil and old transformers that contained PCB in abandoned mines throughout Minden. WVDEP officials have stated there is no evidence of the barrels or transformers but admitted that state agents have not searched the mines because it is unlikely, they said, that the federal Mine Health Safety Administration would permit entrance.
New said that West Virginia National Guard crews were not wearing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) while removing Minden flood debris. Messina said Monday that the clean-up crews had adequate PPE.
Messina had gathered information from WVDEP and West Virginia Department of Homeland Security on Monday evening in order to answer questions about the disposal of flood debris from Minden.