CTS agrees to assess ground-water contamination

Some 150 south Asheville residents turned out Jan. 31 for an arduous, heated public meeting to talk about the ground-water contamination at the former CTS of Asheville plant on Mills Gap Road. Representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the N.C. Division of Waste Management, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and others presented two hours’ worth of information concerning the recent sampling of wells in the area and the projected next steps for the site.

Sounding off: Activist Barry Durand (standing) speaks while state Rep. Charles Thomas (at right) looks on during a meeting about the former CTS plant. Photo By Jonathan Welch

But residents periodically interrupted to voice their frustration over declining property values, potential health effects and what they see as sluggish pace of action.

The sampling identified one contaminated residential well, some three-quarters of a mile from the abandoned facility, with 58 parts per billion of trichloroethylene—more than 10 times the safe standard for drinking water. A second well also tested positive for TCE, though at a level that meets the agency’s safety standards. Ambient air tests revealed traces of TCE vapors emanating from springs, and surface water sampled near the plant tested as high as 5,000 parts per billion for TCE. Asked if the contaminated wells are linked to the hazardous-waste site, David Dorian, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator, said, “CTS is the only known source” of contamination in the area.

Division of Waste Management representatives announced at the meeting that they’re in communication with CTS Corp. “We have compelled CTS to perform a fully extensive ground-water investigation to move toward a remedial action,” reported Bruce Parris, western regional supervisor of the Division of Waste Management. By March 28, he said, CTS has agreed to submit a plan—not for cleanup, but to assess the scope and magnitude of the ground-water contamination. (If the company doesn’t follow through, the agency can force compliance, noted Parris.) The corporation has hired Mactec, an environmental consultant, to draft the assessment plan.

But an actual remediation appears to be much farther down the road—much to residents’ dismay. Gina Horecky, who lives nearby, demanded that the agencies provide a timeline for a full-scale cleanup. “You get so stressed out—it’s just sad that innocent people have to pay for all this,” she said. “If I had known, I never would have bought that house. … How long will it take for that area to be cleaned up?”

At first, Parris declined to give specifics, saying, “I would be speculating entirely.” But under pressure from the crowd, he said: “I’ve worked in this industry for 18 years. It is not uncommon—and generally the rule—that it takes decades to clean these sites up to pristine conditions.”

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