The West Virginia Ordnance Works (WVOW) was a TNT manufacturing facility near Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
West Virginia Ordnance was constructed at the cost of $45 million, operated from 1942 and 1945, employed 3,500 at its peak. Following the war, the land was utilized by a landfill, the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, an airport, and an industrial park.
Construction of the 9,000-acre West Virginia Ordnance Works (WVOW) began in March 1942, 7 a project that was overseen by the E. B. Badger Company of Boston. 1 Over 7,500 workers were employed in the building of WVOW.
On August 3, an estimated 4,000 construction workers staged a walk-out to protest the local wage scale. 16 Workers were demanding pay rates that were equal to that of defense plants in other areas. They returned to work on August 4 after the strike was labeled a misunderstanding after the workers walked out without the sanction of their union officials. 17
Production of explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) began by General Chemical Defense Corporation 12 on October 12, 1942. 7 13 A flag-raising ceremony witnessed by 1,000 workers marked the start of operations. 13 14 The flag utilized was one donated from the mother of Private Clifford M. Quessenberry, a Point Pleasant soldier killed in action in 1941.
At production peak in 1942, an estimated 3,500 persons were engaged in producing up to 720,000 pounds of TNT per day. 7 15 Work at WVOW proceeded mostly without a hitch but inadequate housing and high demand for workers led to labor shortages at WVOW, the West Virginia Malleable Iron Company, and the Marietta Manufacturing Company, all competing for workers to work on defense-related projects. 2
TNT production was suspended at WVOW on August 15, 1945, 15 following the end of World War II. 7 Workers were ordered to report to their regular shift after a two-day holiday for plant clean-up. 15 WVOW was declared surplus on December 4 8 16 and custodial functions were transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District. 16 On April 16, 1946, WVOW was declared surplus to government needs, and the War Department transferred the site to the War Assets Administration on October 2, 1946. 7 16
General Chemical Defense Corporation was dissolved on January 14, 1949. 12
By November 1949, all of the equipment associated with TNT manufacture had been removed except for the contaminated sewer lines running to the Red and Yellow Water lines; the lines were abandoned in place. 16 The Burning Grounds Area and Red and Yellow Water Reservoirs were fenced off.
The War Assets Administration named the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation as the high bidder on the surplus WVOW TNT plant. 6 The company offered $223,000 for the closed facility.
On August 7, 1948, West Virginia University announced that it would establish a permanent agricultural research center at WVOW. 4 Much of the site was also considered for redevelopment for a gaseous diffusion plant to produce enriched uranium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. 3 Ultimately, the Atomic Energy Commission selected a site near Piketon, Ohio in August 1952 for the $1.2 billion facility because it would cost too much money to remediate the former WVOW site of past uses, and because of flooding issues. Additionally, 2,350 acres of WVOW had a recapture clause and much of the land had been returned to its previous landowners. 5
By the end of the year, WVOW had been split between various interests: 500 acres were owned by the federal General Services Administration, 500 acres by the West Virginia National Guard, 2,150 acres by the West Virginia State Conservation Commission, 50 acres by the West Virginia State Experiment Farm, and 3,650 acres by other state and national governments. 5 An additional 1,700 acres were also divested to Industrial Ryon Corporation.
Eventually, only 172 acres remained owned by the Department of the Army, including seven acres by the National Guard, and 2,451 acres by the Conservation Commission of West Virginia. 16 The remaining 5,700 acres were held by other private and public entities, which included a county airport.
Following reports of environmental contamination by fishermen in 1979, including red water seepage at a pond, 8 studies began to be performed at WVOW by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and others in May 1981. 7 Contaminants discovered included nitro-aromatic residues including TNT, DNT (dinitrotoluene), toluene compounds, spent acids, metals, and other waste products associated with the TNT manufacturing process. WVOW was placed on the National Priority List (NPL) as a Superfund site for remediation in 1983. 7 9
In 1991, cleanup began at the Red Water and Yellow Water reservoirs, which involved relocating Ponds 1 and 2, filling and capping the original ponds, and extracting and treating the groundwater. 11 Groundwater extraction and treatment also occurred in the Pond 13 area. Removal of drums, soil, and debris from the “Toxic Swamp” area was completed in 1994, followed by the demolition of the power plants in 1994-95, and the removal of 35 drums from the Sellite manufacturing area in 1999. Asbestos was abated from the Main Switch House in January 2005.
As of 2006, 2,704 acres remained on the NPL and $71.4 million in cleanup funding had been appropriated. 10 It was estimated that cleanup efforts would conclude by 2020 at an additional cost of $27.9 million.
While much of the remediation work has been completed, a groundwater pump and treat system remains in operation to treat contaminated groundwater from three different locations. 11 A comprehensive long-term monitoring system is also in place and samples are collected from numerous locations from designated points and from perimeter sentry wells. Remediation work is been handled by the U.S. Army under its Defense Environment Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites (DERP-FUDS). 9
In West Virginia folklore, the Mothman is a humanoid creature seen in the Point Pleasant area between November 15, 1966, and December 15, 1967. 17
On November 15, 1966, two couples from Pt. Pleasant told police they saw a large grey creature whose eyes glowed red when the car’s headlights picked it up. 17 It was described as a large flying person with ten-foot wings that followed their car while they were driving at WVOW.
Other people reported similar sightings over the next few days. 18 The collapse of the Silver Bridge and the death of 46 people on December 15, 1967, gave rise to the connection of Mothman sightings and the bridge collapse.
The Mothman and the surrounding circumstances were later chronicled in John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies book and in its 2002 movie adaptation.