In a long overdue step forward for the chemically contaminated Fayette County town of Minden, the Environmental Protection Agency has designated it as a National Priorities List Superfund site.

We are holding off on a celebration for now, but note that, at least, the EPA – after delays, multiple rounds of testing and botched cleanup efforts – is moving in the right direction. Soil samples taken at various times over the past 30 years in Minden have shown elevated and “actionable” levels of PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls once deployed in electrical transformers in service of the coal industry back before its production was banned in 1978. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers PCBs as a carcinogen, and Minden residents have kept tabs on up to 150 people they say have died of various forms of cancer over the years.

Only now has the EPA acted in the best interests of the people of Minden. But, still, what lies ahead? More testing, we are told.

This has taken too long. And, as such, we wonder if much has changed at all.

Yes, the designation is important because it allows for soil sample testing to bedrock levels – deeper than previous testing – this summer. Additionally, EPA workers will rely on Minden residents to direct them where they would like the federal agents to test water and soil.

Had our federal workers listened to the people who pay their salaries nearly 40 years ago, had the EPA done its due diligence back then, we are certain remediation would be complete and deaths and illnesses would have been prevented.

That’s what is terribly sad in all of this.

PCBs are not such a perfect fit for human health, but they are ideal for industries. They do not easily break down or degrade. They are not water soluble. They hang around – especially when sources leaking the toxic oil are still buried across the landscape or deep in the mines, as is the case in and around Minden, according to locals.

A 2017 report by EPA stated that soil testing at a former landfill site at nearby Concho, near ACE resort, showed a toxic stew of low concentrations of PCB, pesticides and dioxin, along with lower levels of lead in the soil.

On May 10, 2018, contractors unearthed a 150-gallon tank containing a variety of chemicals, including elevated levels of acetone, benzene and toluene and low levels of naphtalene, a pesticide.

And, according to local activist Susan Worley-Jenkins, who says that PCB tanks are buried in other places in Fayette County, Shaffer’s Manufacturing – which did the work on the transformers – once accepted shipments of an insecticide from other states and improperly disposed of it, much in the same way Shaffer’s workers improperly disposed of PCB oil.

Not that the ground isn’t saturated in toxicity – and not as though the EPA didn’t know.

From 1984 to 1991, the EPA spent at least $5 million in Minden, including $1 million in a failed cleanup effort led by EPA coordinator Robert Carron, who had lied about his credentials and education, according to federal court documents.

When an out-of-state hazardous waste site refused soil from Minden – after the botched EPA experiment of cleaning soil on site – nothing much happened.

Well, except for rounds and rounds of testing, which continued to turn up evidence of PCB poisoning.

Remediation?

No.

Treating citizens like collateral damage?

Yes.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but during the announcement on site, Gov. Jim Justice extended a further indignity to the people of Minden, using the long-simmering tragedy and the town’s citizens as political tools to create yet another campaign poster for his run for re-election.

“All the people you knew in the past and all the carnage that was going on here, they couldn’t get it done, could they?” the governor bellowed, blaming others for inaction. “They didn’t get anything done and more and more people died and more and more carnage and more and more people living in fear forever.”

It would have been appropriate for Gov. Jim Justice to celebrate – in a bipartisan, nonpolitical manner – the news with residents of Minden.

It would have been appropriate to give credit to those in the Minden community who have not given up the fight and who understand this is yet only another step toward remediation.

And it would have been wholly inappropriate to turn the announcement May 13 into a political showcase for one pure, unadulterated political moment.

But that is exactly what Justice attempted.

Governor, the optics were obvious, embarrassing and unfortunate.

Trouble is, the people of Minden and their dire situation is nothing to game for your own self-interests. Besides, the work – your work – is not done. Not even close.

We would advise getting back to it.

— The Register-Herald

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