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EPA says ‘no imminent health risks’ for Paden City High School

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EPA says ‘no imminent health risks’ for Paden City High School

Jun 13, 2024 | 3:14 pm ET
By Lori Kersey
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EPA says ‘no imminent health risks’ for Paden City High School
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The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it disagrees with a West Virginia school district’s decision to relocate students from a superfund site for the upcoming school year. (Getty Images)

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it disagrees with a West Virginia school district’s decision to relocate students from a Superfund site for the upcoming school year.

An EPA spokesperson said Thursday that based on sampling of the site so far, the agency has not recommended that Paden City High School close. 

“Current EPA Superfund Remedial Investigation data shows no imminent health risks related to the Superfund Site for the students at the Paden City High School,” Kelly Offner, a media and public affairs specialist for the EPA, said in an email to West Virginia Watch Thursday.

EPA representatives have expressed to the Wetzel County School District and the community that there are “no unacceptable health risks caused by vapor intrusion from the Superfund site,” Offner said. The agency is planning another public meeting in late summer to give an update on the Remedial Investigation progress, including to provide final results from vapor intrusion tests in February 2024. 

Earlier this week, Wetzel County School superintendent Cassandra Porter announced that students of Paden City High School would be moved to New Martinsville School and Magnolia High School because of health concerns about the school being located on top of an Environmental Protection Agency designated Superfund site. 

“A safe learning environment for our students is fundamental and imperative,” Porter wrote to staff and faculty. “Fortunately, in Wetzel County, we can prioritize student safety without interrupting the instructional process during this temporary school closure. As county superintendent, I am charged with and given the authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of our students and employees. 

“Having an environmental hazard like an EPA Superfund site underneath PCHS leaves little room for error or half-measures,” Porter wrote. “Decisive action is needed.”

According to the EPA, the site, located in the 200 block of North Fourth Avenue, has soil and groundwater plumes contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, a likely carcinogen used for dry cleaning fabrics. An EPA site inspection that began in 2020 determined that the site poses a risk and would require long-term clean up. It was added to the National Priorities List in March 2022.

Offner wrote that the agency is taking steps to evaluate the Paden City Superfund site, including installing additional wells to confirm the extent of the groundwater plume and monitoring the plume with regular sampling.

“There are several wells in the school’s vicinity,” Offner wrote. “We’ve also conducted three rounds of vapor intrusion sampling at the Paden City High School, with more planned this year. If future sampling results exceed unacceptable risk, thresholds mitigation measures can be implemented quickly.”

In an email to West Virginia Watch Thursday, Porter acknowledged the EPA had not recommended relocating students and that the agency said there is probably not a risk. 

“We do not wish to have any students in a ‘probably’ situation,” she wrote. “We have two choices. 1. remove the threat or 2. move the people. The second option is easily achieved in our county. We do not have the capacity to mitigate the risk to zero. Our number one priority is the health and safety of our students and staff.”