Seeking relief: CTS neighbors file lawsuit

Residents who live near the contaminated former CTS facility on Mills Gap Road have waited for years for cleanup, and as the time draws closer for EPA’s review of the site for inclusion on the National Priorities List (which would place it among the most severely contaminated sites in the U.S.), residents have decided to wait no longer. A group of 16 individuals and families filed suit against the Elkhart, Ind.-based corporation yesterday in federal court. Complainants include Tate MacQueen, spokesperson with the advocacy group Citizen’s Monitoring Council, which has worked to get the issue noticed and addressed, and Lee Ann Smith, whose young sons were treated for cancer after they were exposed to high levels of contaminants in a stream flowing from the CTS property near their home.

The Citizens Monitoring Council says it has found evidence of an illegal dumping system constructed some years ago on CTS property — presumably used to funnel hazardous waste off the property. The system may have allowed contaminants such as trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride to enter ground and surface water, as well as residential drinking-water supplies. Relying largely on hazardous-waste tracking documents filed with the state, the lawsuit alleges that CTS failed to account for over 1,000,000 pounds of the toxic solvent and known carcinogen, TCE, which presumably was released to the environment over the course of several years (and still contaminates now unused residential wells in the vicinity). The lawsuit also aims to show that, as part of its efforts to sell the facility and surrounding land, CTS Corp. represented to realtors and the community that the site “has been rendered in an environmentally clean condition.” Part of the property was subsequently sold to become the Southside Village housing development.

Remediation at the shuttered electroplating facility has moved forward fitfully over the years (see the Xpress CTS file here). A soil vapor extraction system — installed in 2006 to remove and treat contaminants present in the soil under the plant — was unexpectedly shut down last May when presumed thieves broke into the CTS facility and removed copper pipes and wires, including those that serviced the system. After cutting off the lock on the gate at the facility, the vandals/thieves installed their own lock, perhaps planning to return.

The system was not repaired, adding to CTS neighbors’ long-standing concerns for their health and safety, according to MacQueen, spokesperson for the CTS Citizen’s Monitoring Council. Meanwhile, MacQueen told Xpress, levels of the contaminant TCE in surface water near the site remain high, as measured in samples collected last month by a group of UNCA environmental studies students, who also found TCE in the tissue of trees downslope from the facility. “Nothing has changed; things have only grown worse,” says MacQueen. “Why is nothing being done to safeguard surface water? The state standard for TCE in surface water is 81 parts per billion; we’re at over 1,000 ppb now. It’s inexcusable.”

For its part, EPA says it has plans for confirmation sampling of groundwater, “to see whether the machine is still needed,” according to press officer James Pinkney. The EPA’s emergency on-scene coordinator Carter Williamson concurs, saying that the soil vapor extractor has recovered some 6,000 pounds of volatile organic compounds at the site since it was installed — but that lately the volume of contaminants recovered has declined steadily, to the point that evaluation of its usefulness is needed now.

“We don’t know if a [contamination] source is still present [underground],” Williamson told Xpress. “Sampling will tell.” Meantime, he says, the search is on for “a panel of experts in VOCs in fractured bedrock” to help create a plan for proceeding with remediation.

Representatives at CTS Corp. were not available for comment at press time.

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2 thoughts on “Seeking relief: CTS neighbors file lawsuit

  1. I’m happy to see these folks have finally resorted to legal means to protect themselves, their families and their investment. Going the route of our City or County officials todo the right thing is futile. they are not doing anything for these people…no matter how broad the smile or how big the tears for the situsation is, from D. Gantt and others and phony platitudes of how concerned they are….they will do nothing. Vote their sorry butts out of office, next time around.

  2. Olivia Steinke (age 9)

    Good story, Susan. I don’t want anyone else to get sick. They should have cleaned it up a long time ago.

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