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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.