Local Residents’ Group Organizes Water Tests in Advance of Industrial Operations
Featured Image: There are hundreds of wells and several municipal water source protection areas in the karst area surrounding the Rockwool facility (the dash-line circle indicates a one mile radius).
Concerned that West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) oversight is insufficient to protect the water underlying their property from the threat of pollutants from the planned nearby Rockwool factory, a group of local residents is hiring experts to test their water to establish a record to use in possible future legal action.
Jefferson County Foundation (JCF), a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, has designed and is administering the well testing program, which will focus on the area surrounding the planned Rockwool factory in Ranson. The Foundation consulted with multiple experts to design the program, including geologists, hydrogeologists, biologists, water sampling experts, and lawyers.
What will the tests look for? “We will test for over 100 substances that are, to the extent possible, specific to what we expect to be released by Rockwool,” said Foundation President Dr. Christine Wimer. “These well tests, in combination with the other portions of the testing program, are designed to monitor for pollution and provide evidence that can withstand the scrutiny required to use in court, if necessary” she continued.
The program is using a laboratory that performed water testing for area residents of Flint, Michigan who experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of water contamination. Wimer noted that while the cost to participate in the program is significant, it covers not only an array of customized laboratory testing but also the services of a separate environmental consulting company to collect the samples using a forensically-sound approach. “It’s unfortunate that private citizens need to foot the bill to monitor their own drinking water source to provide a basic health safety assurance that by WV and Federal law should be provided by the WVDEP,” said Wimer.
In parallel to the testing program, the foundation has filed legal challenges to the stormwater permits issued to Rockwool by the WVDEP, alleging that the agency acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” way in approving general permits for the facility without requiring specific plans to mitigate pollution risk when constructing an industrial facility in the karst topography of Jefferson County. The Foundation is requesting that the WVDEP require Rockwool to change its stormwater handling process to better protect the groundwater. The conclusion of a multi-day evidentiary hearing in one of the proceedings is expected to be held in February before the WV Environmental Quality Board.
Information about the well testing program and how to participate is available at the Foundation’s website. The Foundation is also accepting donations to fund its continuing work to protect the resources of Jefferson County (online donation page).
Visit The Observer’s Sightline stories for related articles and resources about water in Jefferson County, West Virginia.