Marching for action

Percy Fruit, of Minden, pushing barrow, Minden residents and other participants recreated a march that took place 30 years ago to demand justice for Minden and commemorate the lives that have already been lost to PCB exposure. They marched from 1574 Minden Road which is the old company store to Collins Park on Burgess Street in Oak Hill.(Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald)

Thirty years after an initial march for recognition, residents and those concerned about the presence of potentially harmful polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in the soils near Minden took to the streets again to demand more action.

With areas around the coal camp being added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities List (NPL) Superfund list, those with concerns over the possible harms PCBs have caused the community still believe that not enough is being done.

Led by the Minden Community Action Team, the march was aimed at three goals: the relocation of residents who want out of the community, lifelong health care centered on PCB exposure for past and present Minden residents and a cleanup for residents who stay, with those residents having decision-making power.

For Susie Worley-Jenkins, the march was also about remembering those she believes died because of contamination and those who have worked for 30 years to right a wrong.

"I can't name all of them, but it's more for them and to let people know that we still remember them and that we're still fighting," Worley-Jenkins said. "We're not going to give up."

While many may be excited about the addition of Minden to the Superfund list, Worley-Jenkins is cautiously optimistic.

"I think some people want to be trusting, want to trust people, but they really shouldn't," Worley-Jenkins said. "They've (the EPA) messed it up three or four times. Let's have proof whether they're going to follow through this time or not."

Another Minden resident, Elmer Roles, also shared his distrust for the government's reaction to the Minden problem, adding that the EPA still won't admit that they missed the problem when it was first brought to them.

Born in 1958 in the same house he lives in today, Roles said as a child he would play around areas contaminated with PCBs, including hiding inside transformers that once contained PCBs.

Happy to see the involvement in the march, Roles said that his main concern is getting better health care for those exposed or possibly exposed to PCBs.

"I hope something gets done," Roles said. "Really I do, but I don't really think it will."

Some of those who came to pay respects to past community activists included Emory Wallace Jr. and Demita James.

Wallace and James' uncle Lucian Randall was a local activist who was diagnosed with cancer after falling in Arbuckle Creek.

Wallace said his uncle would be proud of the march and that Minden has been added to the Superfund list but said that it was too late.

"It should have been done years ago," Randall's nephew said. "They knew the chemicals were here."

James said that while she was proud to participate in Saturday's march, she regretted not becoming involved sooner.

She urged others to become educated on the situartion in Minden and argued that those who want to move should be helped.

"It's only right," James said. "So much injustice has been done to them. Sickness and death. I think if someone wished to leave, that someone should help them."

Another proponent to helping Minden residents leave if they so wish is Dr. Ayne Amjad.

Amjad's father, Dr. Hassan Amjad, was one of the leading voices hoping to get Minden recognition and attention to its PCB problem who took detailed medical notes attempting to tie the chemical to Minden's cancer rate.

"It's a nice feeling," said the younger Amjad, who has taken up her father's mission to help Minden. "He would have been happy if he had been here."

While excited for Minden's inclusion on the Superfund list, Amjad explained that inclusion doesn't mean that those living near the site will be removed by the government.

Amjad said that she and other interest parties are working toward the goal of getting funding for those who wish to move.

"This (inclusion on the Superfund list) just gives us another catapult to hopefully get us more funding and grant money to relocate," the doctor said.

Amjad said that the struggles of Minden residents are often not considered by people who aren't directly impacted, adding that she is hopeful that something will get done.

"We have to keep remembering to fight for people who live in this situation," Amjad said. "Recognize it and be part of it to help them."

As for Worley-Jenkins, she isn't ready to trust the EPA just yet and said that she has arranged independent testers to come to Minden in the next couple of days to do further tests.

Worley-Jenkins doesn't believe that the Shaffer site and Arbuckle Creek are the only PCB-contaminated areas and is concerned that more chemicals were also dumped in the area.

What Worley-Jenkins is sure of is that those who wish to move and need assistance to move should be helped.

"All these younger people need to be relocated," Worley-Jenkins said. "They still have a lot of life left in them and they shouldn't be here putting up with this."

PCBs fluids once used in electrical equipment in local mines and by Shaffer Equipment, a now-defunct company that allegedly dumped PCBs in the Minden area, have been found in concentrations that the EPA deems too high and in need of remediation.

According to the EPA, 98 sample tests completed in June 2017 resulted in four tests being above the EPA threshold of one part per million.

Two soil samples of local properties showed concentrations of 1.2 ppm and 1.3 ppm respectively, while two sediment samples from Arbuckle Creek resulted in concentrations of 6.2 ppm and 50 ppm respectively.

— Email: mcombs@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH

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