A railway system once ran through Nelson County in the early 1900’s. The Blue Ridge Railway was established in 1915 to run along the Tye River and haul harvested Chestnut trees to the surrounding mills. The railway ran from the Tye River depot to Massie’s Mill and often went into Lowesville and sometimes into the mountains. The transport of lumber was stalled during WWI, as hauling lumber in this area did not contribute to the war effort. After the war, the railway resumed operation but the Chestnut tree had been hit with a blight that eventually wiped out the entire population (Pollard). The Chestnut tree has never fully recovered from this blight. Many programs are currently underway to try and reestablish the once abundant species. A passenger service began on the Blue Ridge Railway and ran until 1936. The blight and the end of the passenger service nearly shut the railway down (Pollard). However, the railway was repopulated with trains when a company named American Cyanamid began extracting Titanium Dioxide from the Piney River area in Nelson County. Several other companies used the railway system while extracting Aplite from the area until the late 60’s. The railroad officially closed in the late 1970’s (Pollard).


American Cyanamid was the largest company to use the land around Piney River. It created a transport boom and an industrial uprising in its inception in the 1930’s. Along with the railway and many other surrounding businesses the plant shut down in 1971 never fully able to recover from the devastating effect on the area from Hurricane Camille. American Cyanamid created jobs and a flourishing economy in the small town of Piney River, Virginia. The closing of the plant saw an exodus of people and money from the community but most important was what the plant left behind (Johnson).

American Cyanamid manufactured Titanium Dioxide which is used in paint, chalk and other heavily used products in the U.S and abroad. The highly acidic, Ferrous Sulfate is a byproduct of the manufacturing that took place at the American Cyanamid plant in Piney River. This harmful remnant of Titanium Dioxide, along with several other heavy metals, was found on the 50 acre site of the American Cyanamid plant years after the plant was abandoned. The pollutants were found in settling ponds, wastewater lagoons and waste disposal areas. The site was proposed in December of 1982 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be added to the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL contains sites that are seen as the most serious and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites which should be eligible for federal funding for clean-up, these sites are commonly referred to as “Superfund Sites.” The Piney River site was formally added to the National Priorities List on September 8, 1983. While some discussion took place as to who would take responsibility for the clean-up, the successor to American Cyanamid, Cytec Industries, Inc. eventually agreed in 1991 to perform the necessary clean-up on the full 50 acres. EPA conducts a review of the Cytec’s clean-up progress every five years. No inconsistencies have been found as of yet and the next scheduled review is in March of 2010. In previous testing, some chemicals were found both on the former plant site and on adjacent property not used by the plant. These potential contaminants were found after routine clean-up had been conducted, but the findings were not linked to neglect on the part of Cytec Industries. The contaminated area is large and natural occurrences have caused the pollutants to spread to other areas. No immediate concern is issued in the contamination of drinking or recreational waters for area residents. As of present day, the contaminants have been controlled and are being properly handled by Cytec Industries, Inc. (EPA). Above and below ground the contaminants were being carried into the river and subsequently coming in contact with humans and surrounding wildlife. Stormwater runoff would pick up the contaminants as the water flowed straight into the Piney River. Groundwater was soon contaminated as the pollutants penetrated through springs and seeps, all flowing into the Piney River. The Piney River is a major tributary of the Tye River, therefore, contaminants in the Piney River will soon be present in the Tye. The movement of the chemicals from the former plant site into the Piney River created unfavorable conditions for all of the Piney and Tye Rivers’ aquatic life. Because of the heavy pollution carried in by stormwater runoff and groundwater seeps, six major fish kills were recorded from 1977 to 1981. An astonishing 200,000 fish have been killed as a result of chemical contamination in the Piney and Tye Rivers. These major fish kills brought the much needed attention to the rivers and could be seen as a prime factor in the decision to begin clean-up of the abandoned plant site (EPA).