A former employee of Shaffer Equipment said Friday that he dumped PCB-laden transformers at a former dump site above the Arbuckle Public Service District in Minden during the 1960s and that he’d spread oil containing PCBs on the roads in Minden to stifle dust during the same period.
Frank Ward, 70, said he also dumped PCBs at the Shaffer mine site, now named a Superfund site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and at a then-operational mine “powerhouse” on Minden Tipple Road.
The EPA currently lists PCBs as a “possible” carcinogen, but Oak Hill physician Dr. Hassan Amjad said Friday that he has verified more than 100 cases of cancer, including less common varieties and possibly an unidentified “lymphoma-like” cancer, among Minden and Rock Lick residents and former residents.
Residents reported that several pets have died of cancer.
Amjad is convinced that the abnormally high number of cancer cases among people and animals in the community of around 250 is linked to PCB exposure.
Ward, who said his mother, a Minden resident, died from cancer, believes that PCB exposure has created a cancer cluster in the small but once-booming coal community. He has watched family and neighbors, and even neighbors’ pets, die of cancer.
“I’m guilty of it, big time,” Ward said. “A lot of people died because I dumped that stuff, and I didn’t know.
“My mom died of cancer down here. I watched her go from 170 pounds to ninety.
“I didn’t know (about a possible link to cancer) until after I left Shaffer,” Ward said. “I didn’t know it until a guy that lived right up there (above Scrapper’s Corner) got it.”
Ward said the neighbor was a Shaffer employee who handled PCB “barehanded all the time.”
“About everyone in this line of houses has died of cancers,” Ward said, pointing to a line of houses along Main Street in Minden and naming four surnames.
Manufactured by Monsanto until the late 1970’s, when federal law banned PCB production, the chemical was used in electrical transformers and fluorescent lighting.
During the 1960s, when Minden was a thriving community with a local school, he said Vernon Miller Jr. at Shaffer’s hired him for a nighttime job as a welder and to do mechanic work. His “day job” was at Homer Rates’ sanitation service in Oak Hill.
At Shaffer, he had several jobs, he said.
“About anything they wanted done, I’d help do it,” Ward recalled. “I figure if a man pays me eight hours a day, I’ll do whatever he tells me. That’s how I look at it.”
Ward said the roads in Minden were paved with “red dog” and often got dusty.
“We had a tanker, and all these roads down here was dirt,” Ward siad. “They had a truck with a pipe coming out to the road.
“They would put the oil on here to keep the dust down. It got so dusty in the summertime, they covered the roads with that stuff.”
Ward said Shaffer’s also sold the oil to people to start fires in fireplaces.
At Shaffer, transformers that couldn’t be rebuilt were set out for trash disposal.
As a Rakes’ employee, Ward was often on the sanitation team that picked up the trash from Shaffer’s place.
“We picked up trash for them and hauled it around and dumped it,” he said. “I dumped truckloads of stuff.
“The old transformers we couldn’t repair, they was dumped around there at Concho,” he said. “They’d haul them around there and dump them in the landfill around there.”
The closed-over landfill is located on Concho Road, within two miles of Arbuckle PSD on privately-owned property.
Other transformers were dumped at the “mine powerhouse” on Minden Tipple Road, Ward said.
“All of that stuff was supposed to be hauled out of here to landfills down south,” he recalled. “They wouldn’t accept it. They took it to Beckley, and they wouldn’t accept it.”
In the 18-month period that he worked for Shaffer’s, Ward estimated, he and other workers “dumped out 150 gallons of oil about every two or three days.”
“We thought it was just oil,” he said