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Facilitating a community meeting about toxic exposure, health impacts, and the mitigation process

Paden City, West Virginia

Featured image for the project, Facilitating a community meeting about toxic exposure, health impacts, and the mitigation process

Image by Marcin from Pixabay

We are organizing a community meeting facilitated by knowledgeable professionals who can articulate the severity, potential health impacts, current exposure levels, and future mitigation plans regarding tetrachloroethylene in Paden City’s drinking water aquifer. This meeting will help residents better understand the contamination issue and empower them to be involved in the remediation process as well as be proactive in ensuring the chemical does not cause further impact on their health and community. As a result of the community meeting, residents will feel equipped with the knowledge to stay up-to-date with the issues regarding the Superfund site and become aware of toxic exposure pathways present in their community.  


About the Project

Paden City is a small, rural town in northern West Virginia, nestled atop a riverbank plateau on the eastern shore of the Ohio River. The population of the town is around 2,200 residents. Paden City has a rich industrial history.

The Paden City Water Crisis group formed as a community effort to seek answers and corrective actions for the toxic legacy of the town’s industrial history. The group started in January 2020 after the local newspaper posted a public notice regarding a chemical found in the municipal water supply, above the state limit, for the past four quarters. The notice reported that an average of 13.6 parts per billion of Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) was detected in the town’s municipal water supply over the past year of water testing.

Since 2020, the grassroots group has distributed clean water in town, conducted a health registry of Paden City residents, urged the water municipality and city officials to take the issue seriously, conducted independent water quality testing, and demanded the Environmental Protection Agency facilitate a community meeting in the town after the city’s aquifer was listed on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites in 2021.

Our goal in working with Thriving Earth Exchange is to host a community meeting to better address the issues presented with the contaminated aquifer in a forum that is more easily digestible to the general public than the EPA’s formally-presented community meeting. A community meeting facilitated by scientists knowledgeable on the issues of tetrachloroethylene water contamination and vapor intrusions and the health impacts presented by this chemical’s exposure pathways will equip residents with the understanding needed to make informed decisions to keep their family and community safe.


About the Community  

The community would like to learn about the health impacts associated with toxic exposure pathways present in Paden City and share it with the residents of Paden City so that they can become informed about potential threats to health, which will result in accountability for remediation and exposure limitations.

To achieve this goal, we will engage the scientific community to interpret EPA surveys and health research for the general public to easily understand. We will also reach out to policy experts who can help the community access and utilize resources available for securing funding to ensure drinking water is clean and residents aren’t subsidizing the continued maintenance of the city’s water infrastructure. The target audience of this project is the general public, including local city officials and municipality workers as well as county representatives. We will deliver an informal presentation to the community about the toxic exposure pathways present in Paden City and how this exposure impacts public health. We will share information regarding the drinking water, air, and soil contamination present in town.

As a result of a community meeting, residents of Paden City will become informed about the current remediation efforts of toxic pollution in town and will become equipped with the resources to demand accountability for remediation of chemical pollution. Paden City is just one of 600 plus communities across the country dealing with PCE contamination. We hope that this project can act as a template for other similar communities to address their contamination issues.


Timeline and Milestones

  • Find technical expert(s) to facilitate the community meeting (June 2023) 
  • Technical expert will interpret available data (July and August 2023) 
  • Recruit volunteers from the community to help with meeting outreach and organization (July and August 2023) 
  • Develop meeting content with the technical expert (Fall 2023) 
  • Set up meeting logistics of scheduling and booking a venue (Fall 2023) 
  • Meeting advertising (Winter 2023) 
  • Hold the meeting (Spring 2023? dependent on UKY testing timeline) 

Project Team

Community Leads


Tonya Shuler, Founder of Paden City Water Crisis

Tonya first sounded the alarm about contaminated drinking water in 2018 when the first public notice was released to residents regarding PCE in the drinking water aquifer. Since then, she has rallied her community around the issue and demanded accountability from city officials as well as representatives at the Environmental Protection Agency. To make her voice heard, she was elected to the city council, joined a national collective of community leaders advocating for clean water, and met with representatives from the EPA to address concerns and learn updates on the progress of listing the aquifer on the National Priorities List of Superfund Sites. As part of the Paden City Water Crisis, Tonya has distributed bottled water to the community and has conducted a health registry with over 200 submissions to identify current health issues faced by residents. Tonya continues diligent work to bring a mobile health clinic to Paden City and hold the EPA accountable for providing cleanup updates and health impact information to residents.  


Lisa Davis, Member of Paden City Water Crisis 

Lisa and her family lived in Paden City for 25 years and were business owners in town. After her son endured a traumatic accident resulting in his need for full-time care, Lisa and her husband Mike became dedicated to endless supportive care of her son. Lisa diligently advocated at the state capitol in order for a bill to be passed that would allow parents to receive pay in order to provide full-time care for children who have endured traumatic brain injuries instead of needing to rely on outside agencies to provide care. After learning about the PCE contamination, Lisa joined forces with Tonya and worked tirelessly to support the Paden City health registry project. After learning about the health impacts of PCE and receiving test results of vapor intrusions in her home, Lisa and her husband moved out of town in hopes of alleviating their health issues. Still, Lisa remains an advocate for clean water in Paden City.  

Hannah Spencer, Community Organizer 

Hannah has over a decade of experience with environmental non-profits that work to restore water quality and provide education about impacts of pollution on both the human and natural communities in West Virginia and the broader Appalachian region. She grew up near Paden City and her beloved aunt currently owns a business in town. When she read a public notice about the water contamination in 2020, she quickly turned to social media to provide more information about potential health issues associated with PCE. Hannah and her husband Tyler helped the Paden City Water Crisis group create a health registry and have continued to ensure the EPA provides answers to residents seeking solutions to their contaminated drinking water. Hannah dives deep into research on EPA studies, health impacts, and available information about PCE in order to relay this information to the group.  


Community Science Fellow

Irene Duba

Irene is a graduate student at The Rockefeller University in New York City, where she studies how DNA folds inside cells. She grew up in Minnesota, then received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR. Irene has experience in science policy through the Science and Education Policy Association at Rockefeller, and is passionate about food justice and climate resiliency in the city. Irene is looking forward to working with communities to use science to advance their goals.

Scientist Wanted

Scientist Role

We are looking for a scientist with knowledge and experience in groundwater contamination and potential health impacts who can effectively communicate scientific information to the general public. The scientist will work with the community team to organize and put on a community meeting for the residents of Paden City. The scientist can be located anywhere and the planning stages can be virtual, but we would like someone who is willing to travel to Paden City for the community meeting. Preference is for the scientist to be regional to the Ohio River Valley. We are open to students being involved in the project. 

Desired Skills and Qualifications (bulleted list): 

  • Experience working with Superfund sites 
  • Expertise in PCE contamination and the related health impacts 
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement 
  • Public speaking skills 
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills 
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns 
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in person, at least once (for community meeting) 
  • Available for zoom meetings leading up to community meeting 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage. 

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!