CTS contamination report says no new dangers; residents say the study is flawed

Residents living in the vicinity of the abandoned CTS plant in south Buncombe County — where groundwater contamination is known to be spreading beyond the plant property — listened to but did not seem placated by North Carolina officials at a public meeting yesterday, Jan. 21, held at TC Roberson High School, to go over the state’s most recent findings regarding the level of threat to residents.

While officials declared that the study had found no new imminent threat, the response from area residents, some of whom have had their wells capped and others who have health problems, was understandably and predictably poignant.

Unconvinced residents argued the study was flawed. Officials said, we can only go by the facts we have, but we’ll keep studying.

Those whose wells had tested highly toxic wondered who would pay their medical bills. Officials said that was not in their purview.

Xpress reporter David Forbes was on hand to cover the meeting via Twitter and with a forthcoming written article that will be carried by Mountain Xpress. He began tweeting at 6:35 p.m. His last tweet was at 10:43 p.m.

What follows is a lightly edited version of his Twitter coverage:

Despite the rain, 40+ people are in the theater of Roberson High for the meeting on the contamination study, with more trickling in. One area resident is holding a sign declaring: “CTS paid for this health assessment.”

Buncombe Health Director Gibbie Harris is speaking. She says, “I hope you will accept [the study] information and be satisfied with it.” She says the topic is “emotional,” but asks audience to “keep an open mind.”

The study’s author, Sandy Mort, says it took longer than expected to write, because “this is a very complex site,” with many different chemicals involved.
He explains that, while NC Dept. of Health and Human Services conducted study, it used samples from various federal, state and local agencies. We wrote study “for the public.”

New information reveals that the chemical TCE is in streams and some wells near site. It is harmful at much lower levels than previously thought, Mort says.
However, there are no adverse effects from exposure to groundwater “if it’s not used as a drinking source.” TCE was high enough to “cause adverse health effects” in the wells that were closed in 1999.

TCE was used for degreasing at the CTS plant from 1952 to 1986, and may cause health affects in amounts over 5 parts per billion. One spring well had 21,000 ppb.

Mort: The study found that cancer rates are not detectably higher in the 1-mile radius around plant.

Some audience members are expressing doubts during the presentation. One woman says, “Not all of us who worked at the plant lived within 1-mile of it.” Another woman in the audience: “Your study is based on invalid data.”

The study found dangerous levels of lead and chromium in monitoring wells on the site — although none yet has been found in private wells.

Mort: Testing will be extended to all homes downstream from the site, and will be expanded to check for lead and chromium.

Man in the audience: “Would you tell my children they can’t play in the stream [due to toxins]?”

Mort: For the additional level of protection it would afford? Yes.

After Mort says, “Don’t let your children play in the stream,” one woman shouts, “And don’t breathe the air!”

Mort: Well testing and cancer testing will continue. We are advising people with health concerns to contact NC Division of Public Health.

Harris asks audience to hold questions until after Mort’s presentation.

NCDHHS is gathering public comment for the next 60 days, before issuing a final report. The public can comment by email sent to nchace@dhhs.nc.gov

One man in audience thanks Mort for coming, acknowledges that the issue is “emotional. It’s peoples homes here.”

The study says 2,979 people live within one mile of site.

Area resident Tate McQueen says cancer studies are unreliable to establish the danger of toxins. He says the study “cherry-picked information.”

Mort: “We looked at data available; we screened for every contaminant.”

McQueen: There are 397 wells within three miles of the site & the danger has been known since 1991. “This has been an imminent threat; it is an imminent threat.” Contamination is spreading, the danger isn’t going away.

Mort: We need more data, we’ll do more testing.

Area resident Margaret Riddle: “Either this is a big, toxic mess and it needs to be cleaned up, or it’s safe & we can sell our homes.”

Area resident Stephen Gruber: “Why isn’t there a plan to clean up the source?”

Mort: “We haven’t found an imminent hazard.” The crowd laughs.

Mort: “We deal with health status,” adding that cleanup is EPA/DENR’s business. Audience members shout, “They don’t listen!”

Area resident Becky Robinson: My well was one of first tested. My family had immune damage, liver failure, multiple health problems. There’s been no public-health help for medical problems.

Mort: “I thought public-health physicians had contacted both families.”

An NCDHHS staff member says to Robinson: We’ll get medical personnel in touch with you.

Robinson: “OK, who’s going to pay my medical bills?”

Members of Rice and Robinson families are saying they never had any public-health help to deal with consequences of contaminated water.

NCDHHS staff: Paying for medical bills is not in our authority.

Audience members say EPA should pay.

Activist Barry Durand: Contamination “will migrate… Waiting for it to evolve, means it will get worse.” Some samples gathered by a contracted tester show that independent sampling is needed.

Mort: Data was gathered by other agencies and sources as well, and all verified.

Durand: The report is incomplete and has limitations. The study should follow pathways of groundwater, possible contamination routes, not a 1-mile radius.

Mort: Groundwater pathways are “complicated” to track in the mountains. We will expand the radius if the data suggest it.

Area resident Aaron Penland holds up a sign saying, “CTS paid for this health assessment.”

Mort: “We’ve never even talked to anyone from CTS.”

Penland replies that information used by the study, and the tests conducted by EPA, were paid for by CTS, and adds, “[Cancer-risk] assessment is a load of crap.”

Mort: “Not every contaminant causes cancer.”

Penland: I’ve watched family members die from cancer, neighbors with tumors. You “can’t tell me it’s not connected.”

Activist Don Yelton: “If the report is worth the paper it’s printed on,” it will acknowledge the county’s negligence in paying for vapor cleanup and needed tests.

Area resident Scott Hollowell: The cancer study includes the uphill area that has little danger of contamination. The study should measure along the water’s path.

Mort: “We don’t have specific exposure information to determine an area,” so we had to use a 1-mile radius.”

Hollowell says “When you’ve finalized your study…” but a man the in audience interjects: “By then, we’ll all be dead.”

Hollowell asks for final study to be independently peer reviewed.

Area resident Paul Capp: We have two children who we have to keep out of the stream. “If [the study] is where my tax dollars are going, I’m mad.” Capp is also concerned about contamination around the bus stop near the Rice family’s property. “Tell me I can put my kids on that bus.”

Mort: “No indication that there’s a danger in that area … We have to base evaluations on data we have.”

Audience member to Mort: “Do you have a heart? Do you hear what these people are saying?”

Mort: “We work with the information we have. That’s reality.”

Area resident Patricia Pinner: Will NCDHHS do assessments regularly?

Mort: “We’ll monitor information as it becomes available.”

Pinner: House on Chapel Hill Church Road near where a well recently tested positive for massive TCE contamination, needs city water. She asks NCDHHS to tell county officials that health risks justify running city water to her area. “How close does it have to get?”

Mort: “I can’t answer that question,” but send e-mail and they’ll look at Pinner’s well samples.

Area resident Dot Rice: My family drank contamined water for nine years. She says she’s had two thyroid operations and her husband had multiple tumors. EPA tested for nine years before warning about water. We’ve had no assistance on medical tests or treatment. “No one helped us.”

Activist Jerry Rice (no relation to Dot Rice): Mission Hospitals should use their new cancer center to help with tests and treatment.

Tate McQueen: “This is, has been, and will continue to be a coverup.” He says NCDHHS is walking into a situation. “The warning sign on the CTS site has been removed.” This speaks volumes, and there’s not a single county commissioner in this room. “Stop doing studies and clean up the source.”

Mort: As new data comes in, we will release it publicly in some form.

Gruber: Residents should call Rep. Heath Shuler’s office, ask for an onsite advocate for victims of contamination.

Mort: There were 64 cases of cancer found in the 1-mile radius.

Area resident Frank Abrams: “If it’s not imminent threat, why don’t they just go demolish the plant? Is it the aesthetic appeal?”

Campbell: “You’re very right to be concerned about exposure to any carcinogen,” but there’s a difference between risk and imminent threat.

The meeting wraps up with officials promising to talk to individuals and incorporate comments into the report.

I’m out for the night, everyone.

All the original tweets that made up this report can be viewed at http://www.mountainx.com/media/twitter/xpressville/cts/200 For questions about well-testing, call 828 250 5036.


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4 thoughts on “CTS contamination report says no new dangers; residents say the study is flawed

  1. SRogers

    In response to:
    Mort: There were 64 cases of cancer found in the 1-mile radius.

    I was never contacted and I lived well within the 1-mile radius with my family for over 8 years during peak contamination. My brother and I played in a stream daily that sometimes had foam, suds, and discoloration, frogs and salamanders were deformed. We played in the dirt and there were severe floods where we had to wade through water thigh high to get to safer ground. There were 5 other children that played with us during this time. This was in a trailer park below the CTS plant just before Sweeten Creek Road on the left, gee could it be the stigma of trailer park that kept us from being contacted? There were and ARE 10 lots in that park and I recall lots of the adults there being sick and dying during the time I lived there. Now as an adult myself I can look back and see that their sickness and deaths were not at an “average” rate for the number of homes involved. My brother has been diagnosed with kidney cancer, I had to have surgery for tumors that were only abnormal in the “amount” of tumors involved not the type of tumor involved; one of the children that we played with was diagnosed with neurological issues; the owner of the trailer park died of cancer; my Dad died of cancer; my Mom was sick alot; even our dog got tumors and had skin problems.

    No one has ever contacted us. So the research is flawed and incomplete. Property records should show who paid taxes in the area over the course of the contamination period they list and EVERYONE should be contacted not just those that currently live in the area or just a one mile area.

    It should also be noted that water is changeable – water becomes whatever is put in it whether it’s healthy or cancerous. This means that all the water that runs through any of the contaminated area is contaminated as is the dirt and all the water and dirt beyond the CTS plant.

    I hope that someone will do something about finding all of “us” that lived in the area from the inception of the plant until current, only then will the actual number of health issues be correct. I am sure that more children than those of us in the trailer park played in the creeks, streams and ponds that are now probably killing us.

    64 Cases of cancer – I can add to that already so no 64 is not correct and what about the other health problems – cancer isn’t the only one.

    When is the next meeting about this???

  2. SRogers

    I failed to point out in my previous remark that the current issue with the CTS plant appears to be the 1985 date to present, however, with the history that I personally have of the contaminated water, deformed amphibians, cancer rates and deaths of my immediate family and friends that lived close by that the situation would appear to be more far reaching than one might first imagine. Apparently when the plant turned to producing electronics they were already spewing toxins into the nearby water systems or else we would not have been playing in sudsy, foamy, oily water in the time period of 1973-1980 that I know of personally. We never saw the stream water without an oily surface on it. So I would venture to say that further research and deeper investigation is in order to determine when the contamination truly began and just how many people are dead and injured by both processes that the plant did after changing over to electronics. This would explain why the cancer rate at 64 is incorrect – they did NOT consider that the water was already contaminated before 1985. My plea is to find everyone who lived in the area during the electronic phase AND electroplating phase of the plant then the health statistics might be more accurate.

  3. PeoplePowerGranny

    Can anyone tell me any information about levels of miscarriages in the area under question? And how long does a person have to live in an area in order for exposure to have an affect on fetal health?

  4. srogers

    That is a very good question. It would be great if someone would answer our concerns.

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