Some residents near the former CTS of Asheville site — recently placed on the federal Superfund list of seriously contaminated properties — still want the public water hookups they say they’ve been promised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Although a few residents closest to the site were given municipal water service years ago, only water filters have been offered to those whose private or neighborhood wells have more recently tested positive for contaminants.
In an agreement between the EPA and the Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS Corp., whole-house filters for residents would be provided and installed for residents who live within a one-mile radius of the plant and are still on well water. A few residents have considered taking that offer; many others insist they want public water service installed, according to promises they say were made.
Emails between EPA staff and Mills Gap residents seem to indicate that action to get new water service was under way by July 2011. Samantha Urquhart-Foster, EPA remedial project coordinator, wrote the following to a group of Mills Gap residents on July 6, 2011:
So sorry to hear about the challenges that you are facing. I hate to hear that you have to sell your homes. If I can help in any way with the sale by providing a letter to potential buyers about the status of the Site and more specifically your address, please let me know.
Although it may seem to you that nothing has happened, a lot of effort has gone into the paperwork process to get the water line action under way. Because this is a priority, EPA upper management decided that provision of municipal water should be handled under ‘removal authority’ rather than ‘remedial authority,’ which will make the process move faster. An hour or so ago I sent out the draft Action Memo for the water line to the people in my office that have to review it before we send it out to CTS (and possibly other parties that could be liable for the contamination). … Hoping to get it all out the door within the next two weeks. CTS (and possibly others) will then have a specific time-frame to respond as to whether they intend to implement the action (municipal water connections) or not. If they refuse, EPA will prepare to fund the installation.
But by the fall of 2011, the EPA and CTS were in negotiations on an agreement under which CTS must cover the costs of a new round of studies that could determine the extent of the contamination surrounding the 9-acre core site, where last year Buncombe County’s Board of Commissioners ordered and had carried out the demolition of the last remaining building. Residents contend that the primary source of contamination remains below that building site and that local, state and federal officials have never sought to compel CTS to remove it, instead relying on such measures as vapor extraction and continuing to monitor nearby private wells.
During these negotiations, CTS agreed to provide whole-house filters for those still on well water — not public water, which would presumably cost considerably more. That move has elicited emails expressing dismay and anger from many Mills Gap residents, who argue there have been decades of studies but little real action.
Lori Murphy expressed her concern to EPA officials, reporting that the Murphy’s pediatrician advised the family not to use the household water to prepare formula for their daughter’s baby. Murphy’s and other residents’ complaints led to this April 12 email from Urquhart-Foster to Murphy:
I understand your frustration. When I wrote that email in July , I was being open and transparent about the options that we were evaluating to address the potential of future drinking water contamination. … After careful consideration of the many factors, the decision was made to not act on this … unless wells were actually contaminated above removal action levels. [However,] municipal water has not been completely ruled out as the final remedy, but it will take time to go through the evaluation process before the final decision can be made. In the meantime, CTS Corporation has offered to install, maintain and monitor filtration systems to protect your drinking water.
Resident Tate McQueen responds, “All we ever asked for was the site to be cleaned properly [and] city water [provided] for the residents and accountability for the responsible party. To date EPA is batting .000, and in baseball that is beyond woeful.”
EPA officials say that a CTS Corporation consultant will submit a work plan for the filtration systems within the next few weeks. Based on sampling data, the system will be modified, if needed, to ensure safe water is provided to each home.
“The filtration systems are an interim measure,” Urquhart-Foster tells Xpress. “Municipal water is not off the table for consideration as the final remedy for the drinking water component of the site.”