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Testimony: Local Officials Knew Of Toxic Site Years Before Public

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A map and outline of the Filmont Landfill in South Charleston from Dow and Union Carbide records.

Testimony in a federal trial reveals local officials knew about the presence of toxic substances in a South Charleston landfill nearly a decade before the public.

South Charleston’s mayor, Frank Mullens, and the city attorney, Michael Moore, knew as early as 2010 that Union Carbide was monitoring its Filmont Landfill, according to testimony in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Jerome Cibrik, Union Carbide’s remediation expert, testified on Friday that the company sought permission from the city to drill two monitoring wells on city property.

Cibrik testified that the city asked Union Carbide to draft a public relations plan and a set of frequently asked questions for residents. Cibrik said he didn’t know if city officials told the public about the wells. The wells would have been visible from a nearby subdivision, he added.

A copy of the FAQ filed in the court’s docket is stamped “restricted – for internal use only.”

Cibrik’s deposition in a lawsuit in 2019 is the earliest known public disclosure of contamination at the Filmont site.

Moore said there are monitoring wells all over the city of South Charleston, and Union Carbide’s request to drill a couple more raised no concerns. No residents asked about the wells, he said, and the request for PR guidance was made in case anyone did.

“We were always told, from 2011 on, there were no health and safety risks,” Moore said.

Moore said the city relied on the expertise of the company and its state and federal regulators.

“As you can understand, the city is not the EPA or the DEP. We’re not an enforcement agency, either,” he said. “It’s not a cop-out. It’s a matter of expertise and everything that would go with it.”

The owner of an adjacent property, Courtland Co., has sued Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, four times since 2018. Courtland alleges that Union Carbide has contaminated its property, groundwater in the area, and Davis Creek, which flows into the Kanawha River.

Sampling done in 2011 by Union Carbide across Davis Creek from the Filmont site showed levels of 1,4-dioxane – a synthetic industrial chemical and likely human carcinogen according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – at levels 177 times above the screening level.

Union Carbide’s testing showed the presence of arsenic, 1,4- dioxane, multiple types of ethers, benzene, chloroform and vinyl chloride, which have been measured in groundwater on the site in excess of federally established screening levels, and in some cases dozens of times above federal drinking water limits set by the EPA.

In human health and ecological risk assessments conducted in 2014 and 2015, Cibrik said, Union Carbide concluded that no further action was needed to address the contamination.

The South Charleston City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance in September 2016 prohibiting the extraction of groundwater in industrial areas.

Energy & Environment Reporter, ctate@wvpublic.org, 202-679-8470, @tatecurtis

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