The list of inactive hazardous-waste sites documented by the state of North Carolina is 72 pages long. The inventory lists 47 sites in Buncombe County, but the actual number is probably larger, as not all the sites are documented. Among the ones that end up on this roster are things like landfills, junkyards, shuttered industrial facilities and dry cleaners.
The Division of Waste Management, one spoke of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is charged with overseeing remediation activities at documented sites and addressing ground-water contamination associated with them. But due to limited resources, many of the nearly 3,000 sites across the state tend to languish on the list. State Rep. Charles Thomas happens to live close to the former CTS of Asheville site, and he says the lack of timely action he’s seen in that case prompted him to offer an amendment to House Bill 2499, demanding that aggressive action be taken to address ground-water contamination around inactive hazardous sites.
“They’ve known about this site,” a frustrated Thomas told Xpress. “And there are others. There are other members’ districts where the same sort of thing has happened, where human beings are drinking this contaminated water, and our government, at the state level … has done nothing—and has chosen not to enforce existing law.”
Thomas’ amendment was heard July 15. It reads: “It is the intent of the General Assembly that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources aggressively compel persons who are responsible for contamination of groundwater that results in contamination of drinking water to assess and remediate the groundwater contamination as required by law.” The amendment passed unanimously.
Frustration also ruled the day at a July 17 information session presented by the Division of Waste Management at the South Asheville Library to discuss the CTS site.
In attendance were Section Chief Jack Butler; Charlotte Jesneck, head of the Inactive Hazardous Sites Branch; hydrogeologist Bruce Parris; hydrogeologist Bonnie Ware, who’s charged with overseeing remediation activities at the site; and Public Information Officer Cathy Akroyd. Some 60 residents turned out.
Early last November, the state asked CTS Corp. to draft a plan for determining how far the contamination plume has migrated, which will require drilling monitoring wells (or “punching holes,” in agency lingo). After nearly nine months of discussions involving CTS, the state and MacTec—an independent contractor hired to do the work—the project is finally poised to begin. Ware estimated that the assessment would take at least a year. As to when the actual remediation work would begin, she said, “At this point we have no way to gauge that.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to retest all the wells within a one-mile radius of the abandoned factory, officials announced at the meeting. But neighboring residents say their wells should be tested at regular intervals, rather than just once. Dangerous levels of trichloroethylene were detected in two wells in The Oaks subdivision, they pointed out, six months after those wells had tested negative.
But state officials made it clear that they lack the resources to conduct periodic testing: “Sampling of a private drinking water well is the responsibility of the land owner,” according to a handout produced by the state and distributed at the meeting. “The interval at which a land owner’s well should be sampled should reflect the land owner’s level of confidence in the well’s water quality and the amount that the land owner is willing to spend for analytical costs.”
Meanwhile, residents of The Oaks subdivision still have more than a month to wait before a water-line extension connects their neighborhood to city water supply, and in the interim, only those households whose wells have tested positive have been provided with bottled water. (The waterline extension was made possible by a city/ county partnership that was decided upon in mid-May.)
“We don’t know where the contamination in The Oaks is coming from,” said Ware, suggesting that it might not be connected with the CTS site—and eliciting laughter from the audience. The assessment, she added, will reveal the source once and for all.
Another concern to come up at the meeting was that under state law, CTS—an Elkhart, Ind.-based company with net sales totaling nearly $700 million last year—would be required to spend no more than $3 million on remediation (excluding the assessment), because the company has agreed to enter the state’s voluntary-remediation program. The remediation, said Jesneck, might cost less than $3 million, but activist Barry Durand scoffed at that, noting that similar cleanups have cost a great deal more.
One resident also noted that the highest levels of airborne trichloroethylene had been found to be concentrated near a school-bus stop, according to EPA test results presented in January.
“Maybe the bus stop should temporarily be moved,” suggested Jesneck. The contamination, she added, “isn’t going to magically go away overnight.”