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Federal regulators confirmed Thursday that they had again found potentially troubling levels of toxic contamination at a former mining equipment operation in the Fayette County community of Minden, and said more extensive testing is needed before government investigators can pinpoint the source and devise a response plan.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it found high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at the former Shaffer Equipment Company site, in a community that has been the subject of repeated and controversial EPA cleanups that many residents worry haven’t really removed the potential dangers from their town.

EPA officials said that they are going to conduct more testing at the Shaffer site and are gathering more information and awaiting additional sample analysis from a nearby landfill that residents have pointed to as another potential source of harmful pollution in the area. No firm timetable was provided for EPA’s continued work.

“We’re going to be there for a while, honestly,” EPA acting regional administrator Cecil Rodrigues said in an interview.

The EPA said Thursday that its testing earlier this year near the Shaffer site had found levels of PCBs in the soils at two residences of 1.2 parts per million and 1.3 parts per million. Those concentrations were slightly above the 1.0-parts-per-million level that EPA coordinator Melissa Linden described as kicking in the need for further agency investigation. The EPA also found that two samples of sediment from Arbuckle Creek, which flows through the area, contained PCB concentrations of 50 parts per million and 6.2 parts per million.

Agency officials said their next step is to conduct additional sampling “to determine the extent of the contamination” and also to “determine if there is another contributor because the highest result is approximately one-half mile from the Shaffer Equipment site.”

The EPA said related testing done in the Fayetteville area, where residents were concerned a chemical tanker truck had been buried, found “metal anomalies” that could have been such a tanker, but that follow-up sampling of soil found only 0.150 parts per million of PCBs, and that those PCBs were of a different type than those at Shaffer Equipment.

“[The] EPA will have no further action at this location,” the agency said.

Also, the EPA tested around an unnamed tributary of Arbuckle Creek, near a former city landfill, and found what the agency described as “low concentrations” of PCBs, pesticides and the toxic chemical dioxin. Some metals contamination, including lead, was also found, the EPA said.

Additional information on that dump site is being collected, and the EPA is waiting for the results of additional testing “before making any determinations,” the agency said.

The EPA said it would hold two open house meetings on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 in Glen Jean to discuss the issue. The sessions will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 and from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 28 at the National Guard Armory, 409 Wood Mountain Road.

From 1970 to 1984, the Shaffer Equipment Co. built electrical substations for the local coal mining industry, the EPA said. The substations incorporated various types of transformers, capacitors, switches and related voltage regulation and distribution devices.

Oil containing PCBs was used in the electrical transformers and other equipment. The Shaffer Equipment Company also stored nonessential, damaged or outdated transformers and capacitors on the site property. PCBs have been found to cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer and problems related to the immune, reproductive and nervous systems.

Over the years since 1994, the EPA conducted multiple cleanups at the Shaffer site, but those efforts were marred by, among other things, revelations that government lawyers had covered up a top EPA cleanup official having misrepresented his academic credentials. Earlier this year, Minden-area residents sought EPA help over concerns about potential health effects of continued contamination.

Results of the recent EPA tests were already publicized by the Beckley Register-Herald after the data was obtained by a local citizen group, and the ongoing controversy in Minden recently was featured in the British newspaper The Daily Mail.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

Environment Reporter

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