The public testimony at the church was heart wrenching. The government’s response? Less than convincing.
Agents from various state and federal government bodies including the Environmental Protection Agency held court at the New Beginning Apostolic Church in Minden on Friday and Saturday, attempting to impress upon those gathered of a new effort afoot to study the presence of a probable carcinogen lingering in soil, sediment and waters in and around the tiny and all-but-forgotten Fayette County community.
Like Minden residents who have been living with PCBs — Polychlorinated Biphenyls — for the past 34 years and watching one neighbor after another contract a mixed menu of cancers and die, we remain highly skeptical of the government’s intent.
This isn’t the first time Minden residents have called for action. And yet the government’s response seems to follow a script: Order up another round of testing — and do nothing else.
The answer, we think, needs to be far more robust, far more actionable, than what Minden has seen to date.
EPA officials, with a request from Gov. Jim Justice, are now thinking about adding the former Shaffer Equipment Co. property — the source of PCBs since the mid-1980s — to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. That would be an important designation for Minden, essentially putting it on a short list of sites scheduled for cleanup.
We would advise Minden residents not to get their hopes up.
Only now will there be a site assessment to determine if the area will be added to NPL.
Only now will there be residential testing of previously untested areas.
Only now do government officials admit that “there was a PCB problem out here, no doubt about it” — long ago.
Only now does our government admit “significant contamination at this site” — way back when.
Only now are government officials asking to see what medical evidence has been collected and tabulated by those living in Minden.
Tell that to Brandon Richardson, the founder of the grassroots environmental group Headwaters Defense, who has reported more than 120 cancer deaths in Minden since 2015.
Tell that to Susie Worley who recalls the 800-gallon drums of PCB oil that workers had overturned in the mines decades ago.
Tell that to residents who have witnessed PCB oils pooling on standing water after a heavy rain.
Tell that to homeowners who have seen the color of contamination when waters flooded their lawns.
Tell that to Minden residents who can detail autoimmune disorders and kidney tumors among the population.
Tell that to a high school boy who stopped growing and developed osteoporosis, the result of a pituitary brain tumor.
Tell that to a college student who, when she was 16, felt milk leaking from one of her breasts and now suffers from a pituitary brain tumor.
Tell that to any one of those who walked to the front of the church on Friday and reported miscarriages, polycystic kidney disease, skin cysts, liver disease and infertility.
Go ahead, tell them how concerned the government is now — after 34 years of benign neglect.
Tell them how focused the effort is now, citing December test results that topped EPA’s “actionable” standard in two samples while conveniently ignoring previous testing that showed greater concentrations of PCBs in multiple locations.
Go ahead and try to convince Minden residents that there is no correlation between the PCBs and cancer.
“I can stand on my porch, and there are 35 people on one side of the road, and they’re dead,” said resident Annetta Coffman at the Friday meeting. “They’re dead, of cancer, every single one of them.
“I have no neighbors left.”
If all of these government officials and agencies cared a lick about the people they are employed to serve, then Minden would be inundated not by PCB-contaminated waters but by medical professionals, excavation experts and relocation services.
If they were out to do the right thing.
If they cared.