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A sign posted at the First Community Bank drive-thru location alerts customers the drive-thru is 'temporarily closed due to nearby environmental concerns.' (Photo by Monica Zalaznik)

DEP, EPA on site investigating odor in downtown Buckhannon

BUCKHANNON — Federal and state agencies are investigating the origin of a possible soil contamination site in the vicinity of Speedway in downtown Buckhannon.

Steve Wykoff, director of the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Thursday the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are heading up an investigation to determine what’s causing the odor that led to the temporary closure of First Community Bank’s drive-thru — and where, exactly, it’s coming from.

Wykoff issued a prepared media statement late Thursday afternoon.

“The City of Buckhannon and Upshur County officials are assisting the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region on a potential soil contamination site near the Speedway station in Buckhannon,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say the agencies are actively monitoring the air quality.

“City, county, state and federal agencies are on-site working to identify the material and any potential causes or sources,” the statement reads. “The EPA has initiated air monitoring to determine what, if any, the soil contamination may have on air quality.”

The agencies will then develop and implement a remediation plan, the press release says. It also notes the contamination site is not likely to impact drinking water.

“The site is nearly two miles downstream from the city’s drinking water intakes, so no impacts to drinking water have been observed or are anticipated,” the release states.

Wykoff said he was first alerted to the issue on Jan. 12, 2024, when employees at the standalone First Community Bank drive-thru reported the presence of a gasoline-like odor in the area.

“The fire department went down, and they were not able to locate a source, and the air monitoring that they did down there did not show any hazards – it was just an annoying and off-putting smell,” Wykoff said.

The Upshur DHSEM director said the First Community Bank drive-thru notified the E911 Upshur County Communication Center a second time on Thursday, Feb. 1.

“The bank decided, at that point, that they were going to shut down because it was bothering their employees, and so we started investigating it again,” Wykoff recounted. “We started at the city level and the county level, but because of the nature of the incident, we brought in the DEP and the EPA, and they’ve taken the lead on it.”

The bank issued a press release earlier this week announcing its temporary closure and assuring residents and clients the contamination “did not occur on or reach our property” but has detrimentally impacted the air quality at the drive-thru.

“We understand that the Buckhannon drive-thru is a staple of convenience for many of your banking practices,” the bank said. “As such, we’re extending our lobby hours at 2 West Main Street in Buckhannon from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday; and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.”

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