The 74 homes in Southside Village are not part of the CTS of Asheville Superfund site next door, say several residents of the gated community off Mills Gap Road. In two recent letters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backs up that assessment, saying it “does not believe contamination associated with the CTS of Asheville Superfund Site poses unacceptable risk to residents of SSV.”
“We want to set the record straight,” says Southside board member Therese Figura, who contacted the agency late last year seeking clarification on the residential development’s status after The Associated Press ran a story that, in her view, was misleading. “We need to be focused on cleanup; all of us want the Penland, Rice, Robinson and other affected families to get the help they need.”
Extremely high levels of such cancer-causing solvents as trichloroethylene have been found in monitoring wells and in the air on the nearly 9-acre site where CTS ran a manufacturing operation until the late 1980s. TCE and other toxins used in the company’s electroplating operations have also been documented in extremely high concentrations downhill from the site, particularly to the south and east, where the Rice family built a home decades ago and, in the years since, they and other families unknowingly used contaminated spring and well water.
But Southside residents are on city water, says Figura. And most of the town houses are uphill from the long-defunct CTS site, which is marked only by a small brick guardhouse, a high fence and a large concrete pad where the building once stood. “We’re on a mountainside,” says Figura. “Water doesn’t roll up uphill.”
Few or no contaminants have been detected in or near homes in the community, notes Southside board member Bill LaMée. He and his fellow residents are responding to media reports that “painted with a broad brush” in reporting on the contamination case, he explains, mentioning a Dec. 30, 2014, The Associated Press piece headlined “An Old Plant, Tainted Land and Worried Homeowners.”
The story, which ran in such media outlets as the Asheville Citizen-Times and The Washington Post and was mentioned on the Mountain Xpress website, implied that Southside was built on the Superfund site and is contaminated, says LaMée, a retired newspaper publisher who bought his home there in 2011. “We want [the CTS site] cleaned up as badly as anyone else,” he says. But the AP reporters, he maintains, didn’t get the whole story.
Southside was built on about 45 acres that were once part of the CTS property but were sold for development in the late 1980s. It’s steep land, rising quickly from the Mills Gap Road entrance. In winter, it’s easy to see the concrete pad from several vantage points in Southside, as well as a shallow, wooded gully and small stream that run between the town-house development and Mills Gap Road. In 2009, that stream, which is not part of the Southside property, tested for TCE at 330 parts per billion — significantly higher than the 5 ppb level the EPA considers the tipping point between safe and unsafe, but still only a tiny fraction of the 10,000 ppb found at the concrete pad, or the nearly 20,000 ppb found in a stream on the Rice property.
“It’s inexcusable, what’s happened to the Rices,” Southside resident Sally Lordeon declares, citing the AP piece, WLOS-TV reports and a March 5 story in The Atlantic magazine that make clear how local families have suffered. The Rices have reported a high incidence of cancer and other serious illnesses that may be linked to the CTS site (a 2008 state study of cancer cases in the community surrounding the property was inconclusive). Lordeon, a retired technical writer who lived in the nearby Cane Creek Valley for nearly 30 years, strongly supports getting the family the help it needs, saying the company should clean up the site once and for all. But Southside is safe, she maintains.
When Lordeon and her husband were considering buying a home there more than two years ago, they researched what was happening on the CTS site and what effect it might have on their potential purchase. “The fact that Southside is on city water was a major factor for us,” she says. “The original owner gave us a letter [concerning] test results; we knew that contamination was not an issue, and that Southside was not in the Superfund site.”
Figura says she’s lived in Southside since 2004 and has been very involved in community efforts to get other neighbors of the CTS site on city water and to demand a full cleanup. “The EPA’s been testing … for years,” she says, adding, “I’m not concerned about anything I’ve learned. The EPA results speak for themselves.”
To view the letters and maps, click here: 150309_Final_SSV_HOA_Letter (2)
Contact Craig Zeller, the EPA’s project manager for the CTS of Asheville site, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-562-8827.