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State says DuPont not cooperating on Spelter waste pile



(May 27) The state's plan to clean up a hazardous waste pile in Spelter is being slowed by a lack of cooperation from DuPont, the company the federal government holds liable for the pile, state officials said.

The state's plan to burn the pile appeared to be set six weeks ago. State officials scheduled a public meeting in Spelter to explain the project, and there was talk of eliminating the pile in six to eight years.

That meeting is now on hold, said Corky DeMarco, an aide to Governor Cecil Underwood. DeMarco blamed DuPont for being unresponsive to the state's plans.

"They don't seem to be interested in doing anything but what they want to do," he said. "Every time I talk to them, all they want to do is cover the pile with a bunch of dirt."

Craig Skaggs, the manager of DuPont's mid-Atlantic region, said the company has to have time to study all possible solutions. DuPont hasn't owned the pile since the 1950s and the government had been looking at it for a year before DuPont was informed of its liability, he said.

"We have to have some time to come up the learning curve," Skaggs said. "We want to make sure any solution is a permanent fix."

Burying the pile and moving the pile are simple solutions that are always looked at, Skaggs said.

The state strongly opposes burying the pile and moving it is extremely costly, DeMarco said. That only leaves the state's proposed plan, he said.

The pile, which is 2 million tons of coal slag and hazardous metals, including lead, arsenic and cadmium, has been described by state officials as one of West Virginia's biggest environmental disasters.

The pile has dominated Spelter's landscape longer than even some of town's oldest residents can remember, and it is now polluting the soil, ground water and the West Fork River. The river is so badly polluted that the City of Shinnston, which sits on the West Fork, draws its water from the Tygart River, 15 miles away.

Last year, the Department of Environmental Protection hatched a plan to burn the pile and sell off the remaining metals. Tests results showed in April that the pile must first be ground into a powder and the metals must be separated before it can be burned, said Jack Hando, an inspector specialist. Plants could be set up on the site to remove the metals, burn the coal and sell the energy, and prepare the metals to be sold on the open market, he said.

But DuPont is approaching the plan cautiously, Skaggs said. It is a complex undertaking and a number of problems could sink the project, he said. For example, building plants on the site may not be feasible or the market for the metals could fall out, he said.

Both DuPont and the state have said they are committed to cleaning up the pile. Skaggs said DuPont workers have already begun work to stop the pile from leaking into the river, and the company will continue to study its options.

"We're absolutely committed to moving as fast as we can," he said.

The DEP's new chief, Mike Miano, plans to visit the site next week, and there is still the possibility to hold a public meeting, DeMarco said.

"The state's committed to moving this thing forward," he said. "As long as it's there, above ground or below ground, it has the potential to pollute."