CTS neighbors deliver demands to county, state and federal agencies

Tate MacQueen says he can now pronounce a long list of hazardous chemicals — such as trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and other polyaromatic hydrocarbons, not to mention the more familiar cyanide, chromium and cadmium — owing to his work investigating pollution by the Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS Corp., which owned and operated a now-vacant electroplating facility on Mills Gap Road in south Asheville.

There are other choice words he doesn’t hesitate to use in describing the tragedy surrounding the contamination released into the environment at the facility, along with state and federal agencies’ failure to respond effectively to the hazard: “Incompetence.” “Malfeasance.” “Homicide.”

In a public meeting at the Skyland Fire Department Monday, Dec. 21, the CTS Citizens Monitoring Council, led by MacQueen, delivered a report listing actions it says local, state and federal agencies need to take to halt the spread of the contamination plume and protect at-risk residents from additional vapor intrusion and contact with affected ground water. David Gantt, who chairs the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, was in attendance along with other local officials.

As CTS neighbors have sickened and died — in numbers outstripping the normal background rate for renal cancer, brain tumors and rare immune disorders, MacQueen asserts — the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources has utterly failed to develop a cleanup response to safeguard public health, his group maintains.

What’s needed, he and other residents say — what’s been needed since hazardous waste was first detected at the CTS property in 1987 — is coordinated action to halt the spread of the contamination that lurks in the soil beneath the facility and in the ground water that transports it off-site.

The citizen group’s recommendations include designating the CTS property a Superfund site — rather than the Rice family property next door, as is currently the case due to bureaucratic error — and relocating the family, since the state’s “fundamental failure to protect the Rice family for more than two decades” has led to serious health impacts affecting at least two generations there. Further, the family’s property values have been irreparably damaged by the contamination, MacQueen argued during the meeting.

The group also demands that complete and accurate test results from previous and future agency studies of ground water and vapor testing be made available to residents. Dot Rice, whose well water was found to contain high levels of TCE contamination, confirmed that she’s never received any official notice of the test results. Two other families say the state never notified them that it had found excessive levels of lead, chromium and cyanide on their property.

“The Robinsons continue to use their spring for their [swimming] pool because former Emergency On-Scene Coordinator David Dorian indicated there were no risks, while never providing the results that indicate otherwise,” the report notes.

The Citizens Monitoring Council’s report also says that recorded contamination levels indicate the state is failing to enforce its ground-water-protection laws, endangering public health and the environment.

The Rice family was placed on the public water supply in 1999, some nine years after a government contractor found their spring to be contaminated with levels of TCE at up to 90,000 times the state-defined hazardous level. But the first call about the contamination had come three years earlier, when resident David Ogren called the state agency to report an oily substance and sheen in the Rice family’s spring adjacent to CTS property. (See “Fail Safe?” July 11, 2007, Xpress.)

MacQueen said he hopes his group’s report will help enlist Buncombe County in the effort to get the site cleaned up at last.

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