The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail
From 1931 until 1971 the American Cyanamid Company operated a 50-acre site in Piney River to extract and reﬁne titanium ore for the manufacture of titanium dioxide used in paint pigments.
Although bringing prosperity to the region, American Cyanamid left a costly legacy of environmental destruction. When the company closed in 1971, the acidic contaminates remaining from titanium production were left in wastewater lagoons, settling ponds, and waste disposal sites. Ferrous sulfate dissolved into sulphuric acid which, along with heavy metals (aluminum, iron, copper, nickel, and zinc), then leached into ground water and the Piney and Tye Rivers. This contamination contributed to six major ﬁsh kills in the rivers between 1977 and 1981 where more than 200,000 ﬁsh died.
The site was designated as a Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1982. A spin-off company from American Cyanamid, Cytec Industries, agreed to begin clean-up measures in 1990. More than a decade later, the process was considered complete, although monitoring and testing continues.
A great deal of environmental remediation has taken place since the Cyanamid plant closed in 1971. The left image shows the site in 2010, while the right shows the active plant in 1959. 1959 image courtesy of USGS Historical Maps Collection.
American Cyanamid purchased Virginia Chemical Corp. in 1944 and took over operations to mine ore to produce titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is the basis for white pigments used in paints, plastics, rubber, paper, and numerous other items. Image by Stephen Lamanna courtesy of Paul Saunders.
The International Minerals and Chemical Corporation processing plant also used the railway between 1941 and the 1970s. Located a few miles west of the Piney River Depot at Rt. 151, the plant shown above was used to process aplite, on ore used in the manufacture of glass, insulation, bricks, and roofing materials. Courtesy of Carl Lathrop.