EPA inspector general blasts agency’s handling of CTS site

A report released today by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General strongly criticizes the agency’s response to contamination at the former CTS of Asheville site. The report asserts that while testing standards were followed, limited oversight, along with poor record-keeping and communication, harmed the effort and failed to communicate the hazards to the public.

“We concluded that the Region’s assessment of drinking water and air quality showed that the Region’s oversight and administration of drinking water sampling and assessment of air quality was limited,” the report reads. “In addition, emergency response actions taken provided limited protection, and communication of sample results was not always clear. As a result, contaminated drinking water wells went undetected, Site risk remains, and the Region’s communications may have misled and confused some residents.”

Further, “we also found that the Region’s recordkeeping practices did not satisfy EPA requirements” and that plans for cleanup and communication “didn’t adequately address current site activities. As a result, the Region may have impeded its ability to effectively respond to and manage community concerns and relationships.”

As one example, the report notes that EPA’s Region 4 — who are overseeing the cleanup along with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources — didn’t follow up with a well owner who reportedly refused testing in 2006. In 2009, that well was found to have more than 160 times the legal limit of trichloroethylene, one of the main contaminants detected in groundwater near the former electroplating plant.

“Had Region 4 evaluated the completeness of its own well sampling, or conducted better oversight of the 2006 sampling done by [CTS’] contractor, the Region may have known the extent of drinking water contamination earlier.”

Dealing with air contamination, the report also says that a vapor extraction system set up near a contaminated spring failed, and “Area residents will remain at risk from potential TCE exposure through coming into direct contact with contaminated springs and breathing nearby contaminated air.”

Region 4 officials also failed to communicate with residents of the surrounding area in danger from the contamination, the report declares.

“Some letters communicating air sample results were not clear and did not address safety concerns at the Site,” the report reads. “The letters were not consistent with the principles of EPA’s public participation guidance.”

“This complex site is of great interest to the community and poses public health risks,” the inspectors’ report concludes. “We concluded that shortcomings in the Region’s oversight of activities under its authority have been a factor in not detecting some Site contamination until recently. In addition, the Region has not always communicated effectively with the community regarding the safety of drinking water and air around the Site. The Region’s Community Involvement Plan is incomplete; it neither addresses all of the Region’s activities at the Site, nor includes a communication strategy. The Region also had inconsistent recordkeeping practices.”

It suggests that Region 4 focus on a smooth transition of the cleanup operations to the state, or on declaring the abandoned plant a Superfund site:

These shortcomings impede the Region’s ability to effectively respond to and manage community concerns. Region 4’s completion of its response work at the Site will neither remedy remaining Site contamination, nor mitigate potential future risks. The Region must be proactive in developing a clear plan to transition the Site to the State.”

Region 4’s performance has long been a subject of harsh criticism from residents and activists, who’ve accused it of incompetence and an unwillingness to face or deal with the full extent of the contamination.

According to the report, the response from the office Region 4’s acting director is that it “will do everything within our authority to ensure the safety of the residents in the Mills Gap area.”

— David Forbes, staff writer

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14 thoughts on “EPA inspector general blasts agency’s handling of CTS site

  1. John Edmonds

    Outrage? More like lip service. That seems to be all we get from the EPA since the Clinton Administration. The CTS waste was handled by our own Robert Hunter of now Buncombe Coputy waste fame. Much went into the old unlined land fill at Woodfin. I have warred with the EPA for years over Chemtronics, the old land fill and CTS. But finally gave up. After I found the Chemtronics clean up was a pure joke. CTS water problems look at the water table on lower Bee Tree Road also. and the waste going into the French Broad from the old land fill. Thank you MR BOB HUnter and all you liars at the EPA. I give up. Lots of luck folks is all I can say. Youy whipped me into silence.

  2. Jeff Fobes

    John Edmonds: I’m sorry you got whipped into silence; some of us haven’t yet.

    Here’s my take: Part of your pain stems from media coverage like that of tonight’s Asheville Citizen-Times, which comes close to being an apologist for polluters.

    AC-T headline: “Report: EPA activities provide limited assurance of extent of CTS contamination” Link: http://www.citizen-times.com/article/2010100519040

    The Citizen-Times version, bylined “staff reports,” about the EPA inspector general report reads like like an old-timer who lost his teeth years ago: all gums, and no bite.

    This is what our daily paper makes of a report of EPA’s own policing unit (its Office of the Inspector General) virtually damning the EPA’s Region 4 response — a report that comes an administrator’s hen’s tooth from declaring that Region 4 has endangered the public.

    The daily paper seems incapable of understanding that the EPA Office of the Inspector General is upset enough that its report suggests that Region 4 has acted so badly that it may have rendered itself incapable of mustering public confidence on this project (“the Region may have impeded its ability to effectively respond to and manage community concerns and relationships”).

    But what does the Citizen-Times report? It leads its story thusly: “Water and air quality sampling conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency at the former CTS of Asheville site has provided limited assurance of the extent of contamination and risk at the site on Mills Gap Road, according to a report released today by the EPA Office of Inspector General.”

    That’s pablum. And it’s crap for journalism.

    The residents living around CTS must be wondering what role some members ofthe fourth estate wants to hold onto.

  3. And what about the lack of leadership from our local elected officials? CTS activists have literally begged the City and County to do something….begged time and time again for a water line to this area, begged for serious action on the clean up….and have gotten nowhere. This has been going on over ten years. It is a travesty on the part of the EPA, CTS, and our elected officials.

  4. Gordon Smith

    Davyne,

    I’ve been paying close attention, and if I can figure out a way to be helpful, I will. It’s my understanding that the City put an offer on the table, but the neighborhood rejected annexation. When a neighborhood representative came to Council at the beginning of my term, she repeated the choice of the neighborhood not to come into the City and receive City infrastructure.

  5. Gordon, thank you very much for your interest.

    I remember seeing activist on several occasions during the past year, make heartfelt pleas to both the City and County during public comments: (Before your time, btw) The residents got hand wringing, but little else. Now this extremely damning report. Where has the local leadership been??????????????????????????????

    We may be speaking of different areas, when it come to a water line being run. My understanding is the contamination is in a large area. That said, that this has been allowed to drag on for years and years…is disgustingly troubling at the least.

    http://www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles/040908ctssite

    http://www.mountainx.com/topics/find/CTS+of+Asheville

  6. Don Yelton

    John please contact me directly. You are very right on your explaination of problems at the old landfill. You might like to know that I also reported to EPA about the sludge from all of the metal plating operations in this area being dumped in the landfill. The monitoring well next to the river was destroyed. John Bornholm was the guy who came here and inspected the destroyed well and is now the person overseeing the CTS site and was also involved in the deal at chemtronics.

    According to this report they will turn it over to the state and the state knew all along about the dumping in the Southside village. So they will be better at doing something???????

    I personally told the commissioners about this since 1999. That included David Gantt, David Young, currently the state chair for the democrats, Patsy Keever, the big environmentalist, and Bill Stanley who was dethroned as Garbage Czar.

    Frankly the solution is a law suit against the state of NC for abuse of Federal Funds. Million of our dollars have gone to NC state to protect water quality. They ain’t done it..

    The information that I got from EPA Atlanta was the key in breaking the way that EPA covered this up. Actually the Director when she came here for the big meeting at Skyland told me that today that information would not be made available to citizens. So much for transparency.

    This is not a democrat or republican issue this is about misuse of our money. This is not a political tool to be used to annex the area, Gordon.

    This is about life and death and responsibility for your actions. John do not get silent, now is the time for all of us to come together and push for the total clean up paid for by the folks that made the money from the deal. They are easy to identify.

  7. JWTJr

    “I’ve been paying close attention, and if I can figure out a way to be helpful, I will. It’s my understanding that the City put an offer on the table, but the neighborhood rejected annexation. When a neighborhood representative came to Council at the beginning of my term, she repeated the choice of the neighborhood not to come into the City and receive City infrastructure.”

    The residents had to choose from getting ‘help’ by being annexed or having a cancerous lagoon in their neighborhood.

    They chose the lagoon! That tells you what people think about their community being annexed in the feeding frenzy that’s going on here in NC.

    Its like doing business with the Mob. Sure they help at first, but then you wonder what you were thinking as they start taking their ‘juice’.

  8. Don Yelton

    Actually this shows exactly why they wanted to charge 2X the rate for water outside of the city. I think that a few on the council feel that water is a necessity for life and should be available except for large users and then charge them throught the nose.

    Water as a bargining tool..Annexation to get safe water. Sounds like bribes to me.

    The County, Planning Board, investors and developers, and CTS were able to do this because the local, state and federal employees were pressured by politics to keep their mouths shut.

    Actually the hazardeous waste officer was move under Bob Hunter’s control to help cover up what was going on. Remember Norman Lewis, Bob Hunter and Bill Stanley were very close and both Hunter and Norman worked at the plant. Bill even admitted that Norman told him they dumped the stuff on the ground.

    That was the way it was done and yet they build over it with houses. Now that is just plain stupid and actually participating in a death sentence for others.

    The State knew it too so what will they do??????

    We need a MOB to demand clean-up now and no more studies. Actually the levels here exceed those found at Camp LeJeune.

  9. `John Edmonds

    I’ll pull no punches on this one. The offer by the city is like your Doctor telling you to slash your wrists and your headache will go away. All I have seen the City of Asheville offer is a League of Municapalities view of unneeded taxes and poor services and many more regulations.Has anyone lately looked at the actual water lines that were paid with county funding. Yeah you pay both taxes. But you also get County money and services.They could force annex you if they had the water line in place.

  10. Gordon Smith

    I ought to have also mentioned that the City has offered to pay half the cost of installing new water lines without annexing.

    Didn’t mean to turn this thread away from the CTS outrage by mentioning the “a” word.

  11. “Staff for Rep. Shuler, Sen. Hagan, local, state agencies are present at this meeting. No one from EPA is at the meeting.

    MacQueen: “No is not an option”; we will keep pressing for cleanup. “We’re talking about life and death here. … CTS could cut a check today” for cleanup, but government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands on studies. “
    http://www.mountainx.com/news/2010/follow_tonights_cts_press_conference

    Official response (s) from elected officials to the requests put forth at the press conference mentioned in link?

  12. John Edmonds

    Gordon, that was just to show my position on where I stamd. We must all continue to fight TOGETHER, be we, county or city to clean up our enviroment. This is not a political issue but an ever present danger to ourselfs and our children.
    The chemicals in the site and in several others are cancer causing and are deadly in the air as well as in the water. The tricloralethane does not mix with the water but floats and can go to gas when exposed to air. Breathing it is just as deadly as drinking it.

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