Green Guide

Unsealed documents shed light on West Virginia toxic dump

Posted October 14, 2020 12:46 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2020 12:47 p.m. EDT

— Newly unsealed court documents shed light on a little-known toxic dumping site in West Virginia that has contaminated a nearby waterway, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday.

The documents are part of a series of lawsuits brought in federal court by landholding firm Courtland Co. against chemical giant Union Carbide Corp. after Courtland found elevated levels of toxic chemicals on land it owns near Carbide's Filmont landfill in South Charleston.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, solid waste, drums of unidentified material and waste from a nearby wastewater treatment plant were dumped on the site. Courtland said Carbide did not report the landfill to federal and state environmental officials as required by law and needs to begin cleanup immediately.

The unsealed documents include multiple lengthy groundwater monitoring reports that show contamination with arsenic, mercury, lead and other chemicals. A 2018 report notes that groundwater from the site flows toward Davis Creek, a tributary of the Kanawha River, and some pollutants including arsenic and an ether were found on the other side of the creek.

In expert testimony for Courtland, Scott Simonton, an engineer and professor at Marshall University, said the pollutants at Filmont “pose a significant risk to human health and the environment.”

Carbide, in an emailed statement to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, said the company has complied with all laws and regulations regarding the landfill. It reported the existence of the site to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1981 under the Superfund law, the company said.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection conducted a preliminary assessment of the site to determine if it contained hazardous waste, noting groundwater, surface water and soil contamination were all a “potential hazard.” But it is unclear what happened after the assessment. The landfill does not appear on the EPA's Superfund database, and an EPA spokesman said the WVDEP informed the agency in August that they would take the lead for any further action under the state’s Voluntary Remediation Program.

In its statement, Carbide said it has “shared the status and results of its on-site assessments with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 and on further occasions in subsequent years.”

Last week, Courtland submitted additional documentation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, in support of forcing Carbide to take immediate action to clean up the site. In a court filing, Simonton describes a kayak trip in mid-September on Davis Creek and Ward Branch, two waterways that border the Filmont site. He describes “orange sludge” in the water and says water samples showed high levels of aluminum, manganese, arsenic and lead. Simonton also noted children fishing immediately downstream of the mouth of Davis Creek.

In court documents, lawyers for Carbide argue the landfill poses no significant threat to human health or the environment and an expedited timeline for cleanup is not needed.

The newly unsealed documents were made public after Senior U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver ruled in mid-September to unseal them. The decision came after West Virginia Public Broadcasting and several local conservation groups wrote to the court urging transparency.

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