Toxic Town: Minden deals with dangerous PCB levels

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MINDEN, W. Va. (WOWK) – Minden, West Virginia has a population of 250 — but that number is dwindling fast. 

What was once a hustling coal community, has quickly turned. Now Minden is full of dilapidated buildings and abandoned homes. You’ll also see many signs that read: “PCB’s Kill Communities.” 

A PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, is a highly toxic chemical. The odorless chemical can be found in both solid and liquid forms and described as a “probable human carcinogen.”

The chemical was formerly used in the USA as hydraulic fluids, adhesives, heat transfer systems, and transformers. The Environmental Protection Agency banned them in 1979, but their effects are still being felt — especially in Minden. 

From 1970 to 1984, the Shaffer Equipment Company built electrical substations for the local coal mining industry and oil containing PCB’s was used in much of the equipment. 

According to the EPA, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources inspected the site near the company in 1984. They found several hundred transformers and capacitors on the site and after conducting research, the EPA concluded that there were elevated levels of PCB’s in the area. 

“Everybody has a turn.” 

This is no secret, something residents have known for years. However, many residents told 13 News that they would leave Minden if they could, but most can’t afford it. 

“I would definitely leave, but financially that is not in the cards right now,” said life-long Minden resident, Annetta Coffman. “Most people would, but most can’t afford it. We went door to door two years ago asking if people would move and about 85 percent said they would. Most of the older folks said they might as well die here cause everybody else did.” 

For Coffman, the problem is personal. Many of her neighbors, even some of her family members, have died from cancer.

“I really believe it will be my turn eventually,” Coffman told WOWK 13 News. “Everybody has a turn here in Minden.” 

Relying on the Future

16-year-old Marcayla King knew never to go near the water growing up. Her grandmother wouldn’t let her play near the water and made the family use bottled water to cook and clean. The problematic history of her hometown wasn’t anything new, but Marcayla was curious as to how she could help. 

Through a school program called Health Science Technology Academy, also known as HSTA, Marcayla began conducting research on the problems of Minden. With the help of a few classmates, she began running soil and water tests looking for dangerous chemicals. 

After years of testing, the trio believes that the dangerous chemicals are still around. 

“Most of the results are well above the dangerous level,” said Marcayla. “It’s not surprising.” 

The Numbers 

In a 1979 PCB ban ruling, the EPA declared anything over the 50 parts per million, or ppm, as dangerous. 

According to the research done by the Marcayla and her classmates, both the water and soil still test above that number. 

In early 2017, residents contacted the EPA to express their continued concern about the potential migration of contamination from the Shaffer Equipment Company Site into the surrounding area. According to the EPA’s website, they are currently conducting an assessment of the Shaffer Equipment Site and other surrounding areas throughout Minden. 

In September of 2018, the EPA proposed to place Minden on the Superfund National Priorities List. The NPL is the list of sites of national priority among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. As of April 30, 2019, there was no decision regarding the placement of Minden on the NPL. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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