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Minden, West Virginia Marches On After Superfund Designation

From the leaders of Minden’s movement for justice: 

Reflecting on the March for Minden

On Saturday, June 8th, over 150 Minden residents and allies marched through Minden into Oak Hill to bring awareness to the long-term impacts of PCB exposure. They took to the streets to memorialize the Minden residents who they believe lost their lives to PCBs, to support those who are currently suffering from PCB-related illnesses and to pay tribute to the activism that first brought attention to toxic dumping in Minden in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The march was a 30th anniversary historical reenactment of an event that took place in 1989, when Concerned Citizens for Fayette County organized a march to demand that the government provide clean up and relocation for Minden residents. Meeting a goal that was made by those same marchers decades ago, Minden was recently added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. The EPA’s National Priorities List is reserved for the most toxic sites in the United States. Placement on the list gives Minden more access to funds for testing, clean up, and potentially, for relocation.

The Minden Community Action Team has three major demands. First, members demand that those who wish to leave Minden receive government support for relocation. In addition, the group believes it is essential that past and present Minden residents should have access to specialized healthcare for those who have been exposed to PCB’s and other chemicals. The group also is demanding a thorough clean-up and decision making power for those who may choose to stay after the community is relocated.

According to marchers, the long, uphill route out of Minden that participants walked during the march symbolizes the uphill battle for justice and relocation in this small but strong community. Allies from all over West Virginia and six different surrounding states marched with Minden residents. Their energy and support strengthened the marchers resolve to keep walking and keep fighting. As Jean Evansmore, a community activist from Mt. Hope, stated about the marchers who travelled many hours to stand in solidarity with Minden, “People realize that this issue affects all of us because we’re all humans who want to put an end to suffering. “If it’s hurting you, I don’t care where you live…it’s hurting me.

Minden residents and allies spoke at the culmination of the march in Oak Hill about their motivation for making that long walk and getting involved in organizing for justice. Eddie “Percy” Fruit pushed a barrel up the length of the march in homage to Lucien Randall, who did the same 30 years ago. Thinking of these organizers decades ago, Percy reflected, “My thanks goes out to Lucian Randall, Larry Rose and John David, who started out a quest to make a wrong right. So many lives have been lost to cancer from PCBs. Thank you pioneers…the fight will continue.”

Sixteen year-old Marcayla King took to the stage and expressed her desire to see justice for Minden residents. “I’ve lived in Minden most of my life and have been told to stay away from the creeks and the soil,” she said, “Even with the death tolls rising, with family and neighbors getting sick, we’ve been told that it’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about. The only solution is to relocate so that people in Minden have an opportunity to have a better quality of life.” Marcayla then went on to explain how she and a group of high school students conducted tests for PCBs in Minden and determined that levels of the chemical were over 50 parts per million–far from safe for human exposure.

Kimberly Duncan spoke about the loss, grief and illness PCBs have inflicted on her body and the lives of family members. “I’ve lived in Minden since 1989, in a little white house, right next to the Shaffer site,” Kimberly said. “Our kids use to play in mines where they didn’t know the PCBs were dumped. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007. Because of the aggressive treatments of chemotherapy, I went from being an independent person to needing help with everything. I grieve for my lost loved ones and family and neighbors. My dad had skin cancer on his face. My son is getting checked for thyroid cancer. I have over five family members that have seizures.” Reflecting on the activists of the 80’s and 90’s, Kimberly noted, “The women who marched then were called hysterical housewives. But those women were right.”

Lois Gibbs, whose organizing in her community of Love Canal, site of the infamous environmental disaster, led to a national emergency declaration and eventually to the creation of EPA’s Superfund, also attended. Local environmental activist, Pamela Nixon whose work in her hometown of Institute, West Virginia, led to the creation of the Community Right to Know Act that was enacted in 1986 showed up in support as well.

While Minden residents and allies grieve for the lives that have been taken by PCBs, they continue to have faith in the power of community to serve as an instrument for hope, change, and justice. Remarking on Minden’s placement on the NPL list, Lois Gibbs said of the Minden Communit Action Team, “you might not have had a perfect victory, but you have power, and you are a force to be reckoned with.”

For further media inquiries about the March for Minden, contact Brandon Richardson at 304-640-6353