Celebrating EPA’s Wheeling Office, 50 years of Pioneering Environmental Protection

Cross posted on EPA Connect, EPA’s leadership blog

By Shawn M. Garvin

In the midst of a season of many celebrations, I’m reminded of the rich environmental history we have in Region III as we get ready to celebrate another important occasion:  The 50th anniversary of our Wheeling, W. Va. Field Office.  As a pioneer of many environmental controls and methods, the Wheeling Field Office is one of the places where environmental protection began in this country.

Before the EPA was established in 1970, environmental protection was taking hold in various pockets across the nation, including in the Ohio River area.  During the late 1950s, the U. S. Public Health Service (U.S. PHS) collected extensive data on declining fish populations in the Ohio River and its tributaries, and concluded that there was a serious human health threat from rivers full of untreated sewage and castoff industrial chemicals.

To address this threat, the U.S. PHS, supported in large measure by the efforts of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, formed the Ohio River Basin Project and in 1963, the Wheeling Field Office opened as part of this project.  The office’s original goal was to evaluate water quality across 72,000 square miles in six states in the upper Ohio River valley.

In 1966, the Wheeling Field Office was assigned added responsibility under the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to determine water usage and to oversee water storage needs in reservoirs in response to water quality and extensive acid mine drainage problems.  In the late 1960s, the Wheeling Field Office recorded the most acidic rain ever documented in the United States.

In 1970, the Wheeling Field Office was incorporated into the newly formed EPA under the Mid-Atlantic Region.  Emphasizing inspections and enforcement, the office was instrumental in EPA’s early charge to help local governments and industry comply with new laws governing air and water pollution.

Until 1986, the Wheeling Field Office operated a chemistry laboratory and continues to run a freshwater biology laboratory, and engineering, inspection and enforcement sections, to keep up with the latest environmental challenges, including among others acid rain, municipal water pollution, fish kills, air emissions, oil spills, hazardous materials, and mountaintop mining. Operations in the office and lab space have continued since its early days, likely making the Wheeling Field Office the oldest functioning environmental facility in the same location in the nation.

Currently, Wheeling houses staff from eight EPA Region III programs who maintain the focus on collaboration with state governments to advance science and environmental compliance in the Mid-Atlantic Region.   Scientists, hazardous cleanup managers, inspectors, and other staff continue the fifty year legacy of protecting human health and the environment. Learn more about the Wheeling Field Office here.

So, as we enjoy all this holiday season brings, let’s also celebrate the Wheeling Field Office by looking back on the past 50 years of environmental advances and looking forward to the opportunities to continue pioneering environmental protection.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the Agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.