Activists tonight called for reparations to victimized neighbors and a cleanup of the contaminated former CTS of Asheville site, arguing that there has been gross negligence, stretching back over a decade, by officials charged with investigating and cleaning the polluted area. Below is an edited version of the live coverage of those allegations by Xpress staff reporter David Forbes.
Mills Gap Rd. resident Tate MacQueen says: “Our basic questions have not been answered” on contamination. “We hope after tonight, there won’t be an option” except for government officials to do full a clean-up. The contamination levels at some areas of the CTS site are 40 times higher than Camp Lejeune pollution, he said.
Before it closed in 1987, the activists at the meeting are saying, CTS produced annually: 44,000 lbs. sludge, 8,307 lbs. solvents, 52,800 lbs. organic compounds.
EPA officials refused to investigate presence of Chromium-6 toxins, even though CTS employees said the chemical was used, says MacQueen. He reads a list of cancers, brain tumors, diseases from two contaminated properties, and brandishes a 1995 EPA letter that removes the CTS site from its list of contaminated places. According to MacQueen, EPA’s project manager in 1999 shrank the monitoring region from 57 acres to 9 to hide the extent of contamination.
Neighbors at the meeting are calling for excavating contaminated soil, for bringing city water to the area and for a congressional investigation. They are also calling for the state to investigate NCDENR’s role in cleanup, for adding the general site, not just the Rice property, to the federal Superfund list, and for compensation of the Rice and Robinson families.
In 1990, county officials got word the area had contamination issues, passed the information to the state, but didn’t inform affected families, MacQueen claims. He shows an old blueprint marking hazardous waste storage and drainage gates near residents’ properties. MacQueen: Government reactions to problems since the ‘90s has been “simply a matter of covering oneself.”
In 1993, state toxicologists placed the area on the NC Superfund site list, MacQueen says. Yet in 1995, despite Superfund status, the state gave the go-ahead for development near the site, he says. Not wanting to admit the mistake in clearing the site from the state list, the U.S. EPA instead declared Rice’s property a Superfund site. Agencies’ desire to cover up this mistake explains the reluctance to do any clean up today, MacQueen alleges. County deed maps still don’t show TCE contamination, MacQueen declares, saying, “That’s a fraud; it needs to be fixed.”
The 44 acres that were “lopped off” the original 57 acres include areas where development has since been allowed — because they were removed from the Superfund list, MacQueen says.
Despite a 2002 EPA recommendation to remove soil, the state opted for vapor extraction, at the suggestion of a company hired by CTS, MacQueen alleges. The vapor extraction system was removed in January, “because it doesn’t work,” he says.
According to MacQueen CTS has the EPA by “scruff of the neck” because forcing soil cleanup would mean admitting past mistakes.
“Dealing with this idea that this problem can be studied away… That’s an insult to our intelligence,” MacQueen declares.
MacQueen: Cleanup, honest dealing with the history of mistakes “is the only way forward.” He notes that this information is on the way to congressional representatives because, “This is a bipartisan issue.”
Staff for Rep. Shuler, Sen. Hagan, local, state agencies are present at this meeting. No one from EPA is at the meeting.
MacQueen: “No is not an option”; we will keep pressing for cleanup. “We’re talking about life and death here. … CTS could cut a check today” for cleanup, but government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands on studies.
Asked what officials people can press for action, MacQueen encourages calling on the Chair of the Buncombe Board of Commissioners, David Gantt, to condemn site.
Information from tonight’s presentation, MacQueen says, will be available http://cleanasheville.info/