WSAZ Investigates | DEP responds to cancer-causing chemical concerns

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary Harold Ward released a...
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary Harold Ward released a video message on Friday about WSAZ's investigations into cancer-causing chemicals in Kanawha County, but he has refused to do an interview with WSAZ.(WSAZ)
Published: Feb. 19, 2022 at 12:02 AM EST
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said potentially cancer-causing chemicals are being released into the air in Kanawha County at one of the highest rates in the country.

WSAZ has been trying to talk with the West Virginia Department Environmental Protection (DEP) about the issue for months, but the agency has refused to do an interview. On Friday, the DEP Cabinet Secretary Harold Ward released a video statement in response to our investigation instead of doing an interview. Ward said he wanted to take the opportunity to reiterate the steps the DEP has taken on the issue.

WSAZ Investigates | Cancer-Causing Chemicals

This week, we’ve been telling you about the two Union Carbide facilities in Kanawha County the EPA says release ethylene oxide, known as EtO. The colorless, odorless gas was declared a cancer-causing carcinogen in 2016, according to the EPA. The areas where those plants are located, Institute and South Charleston, are among the 25 communities identified as potentially having the highest risk from EtO emissions in the entire country.

On Friday afternoon, the DEP sent out a press release along with the video addressing and attempting to discredit our investigation. This is the first time we have heard from Ward after countless calls, voicemails and emails requesting an interview on the topic. We even went to his office in hopes of sitting down with him to learn more about what the DEP is doing to protect the people who live near the plants.

When that didn’t work, we went to Ward’s boss, Gov. Jim Justice. He also refused to answer our questions about what is being done to protect people from these toxic chemicals, and said, “the DEP is doing great work.”

WSAZ Investigates | Officials refuse to answer questions about cancer-causing chemicals

“Over the past several months, the DEP has continued to participate in interested parties by participating in both the Institute and South Charleston Community Advisory Panel meeting and providing updates to ethylene oxide in town hall meetings and the agency environmental advocate,” Ward said in his video message.

For months, we’ve been asking what communication the DEP is having with the plants. After receiving Ward’s statement, WSAZ confirmed with the City of South Charleston that the DEP attended a single meeting in November with the Community Advisory Panel. That panel is made up of representatives from different chemical companies in the city and residents.

Ward went on to talk about fenceline monitoring of ethylene oxide the DEP started in January. We previously reported on that testing and showed viewers video of the testing locations. When we asked the DEP for a copy of the test results, they told us in an email the results won’t be available for months.

Ward also said the agency is deeply committed to its mission of protecting the state’s people and resources. “The DEP strives to maintain transparency and provide the highest level of public service to our citizens as we navigate this situation.”

WSAZ appreciates the Secretary’s desire for transparency, but he continues to refuse to do an interview with us. That video message was only posted on social media, so we didn’t have the ability to ask follow up questions. We still have a long list of questions we are hoping to ask Ward in an on-camera interview.

Gov. Jim Justice, R-W.Va., also sent out a press release about our investigations. Justice said, “The level of unnecessary alarm that these stories are causing the good people of West Virginia is shameful.”

WSAZ obviously disagrees with the governor that asking questions about environmental issues potentially affecting the public’s health is shameful.

We would like to invite Justice to sit down with us for a one-on-one interview on the topic. In an effort of fairness, we would post the raw video of the interview on our website.

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