Increased attention has been directed at CTS of Asheville, a former electroplating facility on Mills Gap Road in south Buncombe, since an Xpress story noted that levels of contamination migrating from the site had been detected at very high levels, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup efforts.
Some neighbors in the area began circulating a petition demanding a rapid cleanup of the site. And RiverLink’s French Broad River Keeper, Hartwell Carson, met with representatives from Rep. Heath Shuler‘s office. Shuler, in turn, contacted the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources to express his concern. Barry Durand, the concerned citizen who initially brought the issue to the attention of Xpress, raised the issue at Buncombe County Commissioner’s meetings and made surprise visits to DENR offices in Raleigh and EPA offices in Atlanta. State Rep. Charles Thomas, who happens to live near the site, has also expressed concern about the site.
So when three representatives from DENR, joined by EPA staffer David Dorian, turned out at the site on the morning of Sept. 26 to take water samples, they were met with a bigger crowd than they’d anticipated. Rep. Thomas was there, and so was a news crew from ABC channel 13.
The unlikely group headed into a swampy area infested with poison-ivy to watch as DENR staffer Harry Zinn drew samples of the water leaching from the site, which was shiny and gave off a sharp odor.
“At this point in time, I don’t think anyone from the area should feel threatened,” Zinn said when he gave an interview in front of a television camera. Any possibility for contaminated drinking water was eliminated in 1999, he later told Xpress, as all nine wells located within a half-mile radius of the site were brought offline. “To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen any new wells located within that half-mile radius. To the best of our knowledge, no one has set a new well in any area that could remotely be a threat,” he said.
Durand felt differently, saying the hazardous materials migrating from the site still represent a threat to public health. “This is a time-critical issue, and we’ve got to assess what has to be done here,” he said. “It is a substantial endangerment to public health — those are words from that [EPA] document itself. It also says that over time, this is a worsening problem. And it seems to have been that. [Levels of trichloroethylene contamination] went from 21,000 parts per billion in 1999 to 34,000 parts per billion in 2002. Now, that same test is showing 293,000 parts per billion.” Trichloroethylene — or TCE for short — is a suspected carcinogen. It is infamous for the widespread contamination of the Camp Lejeune military base.
For his part, Dorian said the point of drawing new samples was to verify the reported test results (293,000 ppb), which had been collected independently of the agencies. Depending on the results, the agencies will determine whether to explore an alternative method for dealing with the contamination. The current system, which extracts hazardous vapors from the soil, has pulled some 1,600 pounds of volatile organic compounds from beneath the old plant.
“We have no basis of knowledge as to how much was spilled, so whether that was a significant percentage or just a fraction of what was released is largely unknown,” Dorian noted.
— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor
photo by Jonathan Welch