Group to sue CTS; well sampling under way

Residents living near the former CTS of Asheville plant, a hazardous-waste site on Mills Gap Road, have upped the ante in an ongoing push for a full-scale cleanup, announcing that they intend to file a federal lawsuit. Meanwhile, both the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have launched a fresh round of well-water sampling in the area surrounding the abandoned facility. The testing will measure levels of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent suspected to cause cancer, which has been detected at significant levels in the soil and ground water beneath the factory.

KEEP OUT, HAZARDOUS WASTE: The CTS facility on Mills Gap Road in south Asheville is the source of trichloroethylene contamination. Photo By Jonathan Welch

On Nov. 20, Hot Springs-based environmental attorney Gary Davis and associate Rebecca Kaman sent out a notice of intent to sue on behalf of 29 area residents, many of whom live in an adjoining subdivision called Southside Village. Citing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the letter states that the residents intend to sue “for abatement of an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment caused by disposal of hazardous waste on the CTS property.” The suit will be directed at the Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS, Mills Gap Road Associates (the current owner of the property) and The Biltmore Group LLC (the developer responsible for building Southside Village on land that was originally part of the CTS site).

Residents are also in the process of chartering a nonprofit, the Alliance for Environmental Safety, to keep the pressure on for a full-scale cleanup. One of the group’s stated purposes is to oversee the agencies testing of soil, air, surface and ground water in the area. Representatives of both DENR and the EPA arrived at the site Nov. 27 to begin an extensive round of well-water sampling.

Environmental Engineer Harry Zinn of DENR said the two agencies plan to sample more than 70 wells initially and as many as 80 or 90 eventually. The wells are all within a one-mile radius of the former electronics manufacturing plant, and the vast majority are residents’ primary drinking-water sources. Buncombe County, meanwhile, has agreed to sample wells beyond the one-mile radius.

“This is not the first time we’ve sampled wells in this area,” noted EPA On-Scene Coordinator David Dorian, who had traveled from Atlanta. “There was well sampling done in 1999, in 2001, in 2003 and also through the administrative order on consent with CTS Corp. and Mills Gap Road Associates. They were required to sample wells in this area in 2006.” One well, he added, was taken out of service in 1999 after contamination was detected.

Dorian said he expected the test sampling to take two weeks, plus another three weeks to analyze the data. Residents will receive their results in the mail, he said, adding, “When we get the results, we’ll have to evaluate whether or not the [cleanup] actions to date are appropriate.”

The EPA sent out a media advisory about the sampling on the Friday evening before Thanksgiving, giving residents who wished to have their wells sampled until the following Tuesday to sign up for testing. The deadline was later pushed back by one day, and the Alliance for Environmental Safety helped spread the word. In any case, noted Dorian, the response was very strong.

The group also arranged for a third-party observer from Altamont Environmental, an Asheville-based environmental-testing firm, to make the rounds with agency staffers as they took samples.

“We want to put as much pressure as we can to get this cleaned up,” Southside Village resident Glen Horecky told Xpress. “We want every bit of toxic waste out of here.”

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