EPA community survey and comment period on interim cleanup!

Weigh in on ongoing cleanup and investigation at the CTS of Asheville site this month:

CTS ACTION ALERT!
An interim cleanup plan for the CTS of Asheville site has finally been developed, and your help is requested to ensure its implementation will begin as slated in 2017.

The plan is currently open for comment and laid out in detail in the Consent Decree: http://bit.ly/2hzjlcJ

Members of the South Asheville community who have dealt with the effects of pollution from this Superfund site for decades are requesting that you briefly write to express strong support for the Consent Decree. This will help ensure forward progress toward remediation of the CTS site.

Please offer your remarks by January 6, 2017, closing date for the comment period. Thank you!

Comments should be sent via email to: pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov. Or simply click here for an easy action page to submit your comments. Or, by mail to Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ—ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044-7611.

Suggested wording:

Dear Assistant Attorney General Cruden,

I write to express my support of the Consent Decree (2016-29355) referencing groundwater contamination by tricholorethylene at the CTS of Asheville, Inc. Superfund Site in Asheville, NC.

For too many years people living near the CTS site have dealt with the effects of this pollution. Please do everything within your power to ensure this decree is implemented quickly, effectively, and efficiently so that cleanup can begin in 2017 as slated and continue until a full and complete remedy is achieved.

Sincerely,
[your name]

Also, EPA is inviting public input on how they’ve been doing keeping the community informed and engaged in the process of cleanup at the CTS site. You can print out and fill out a short survey here to let them know what they could be doing better to keep you informed about the site.

EPA Office of Inspector General releases report on CTS

Yesterday, the EPA Office of Inspector General released the results of its investigation into the agency’s handling of contamination at the CTS of Asheville site. This investigation has been underway since 2014, and members of POWER and other community members have participated in the gathering of information, including speaking out at a listening session.

Read: “Report: EPA did too little to warn residents near CTS,” Asheville Citizen Times, August 31

The investigation concluded that EPA Region 4’s actions since 2012 have done too little to protect residents’ health, and made 12 recommendations to improve the region’s procedures for site investigation, sampling, monitoring, and communicating with the public.

The Office of Inspector General report validates POWER’s long-standing concerns that the site-wide RI/FS hadn’t moved forward; that there should have been a routine ground water monitoring program in place; and that the bedrock/deep ground water should have been investigated further by now. POWER has pushed for the first step in remediation that is expected to begin this fall.

Proposed NC law would limit disclosure of harmful contaminants in water

Oppose House Bill 1005 / Senate Bill 779

People in our community around the CTS site know what it is like to fear that contaminated well water is affecting their families’ health. For many years while CTS has dragged its feet to cleanup the site, residents have had allies in the Buncombe County Health Department, who have always been willing to talk through information and explain the latest science about health risks of TCE and other chemicals.

Most families in the area now have filtration systems and/or public water line hookups, but not everyone in NC is so lucky. The NC General Assembly is considering a bill that would prohibit local and state health officials from warning residents about any contaminants found in their water that might harm their health unless they are among a limited set of chemicals that have federal or state standards, and the amount in the water exceeds that standard. This could keep health experts from providing helpful information to North Carolinians about whether their health could be at risk due to what’s in their drinking water!

Drinking water is not a partisan issue. Call your Representative and Senator now (look them up by county here, then click their name to view contact information), to ask them to oppose “Issuance of Advisories/Drinking Water Stds” bill!

View Clean Water for NC’s factsheet on the bill.

Please call or email your state representative and state senator today!

Update: you can still comment on cleanup plan through Nov. 29

The highly-contaminated CTS of Asheville Superfund site is now in the comment phase of the interim remedial action plan! After the October 13 public meeting, the comment period was extended through the end of November! Here’s a quote from the EPA Region 4 update sent out to the community:

The majority of the comments received to date encourage EPA to expand the proposed one-acre treatment area to include additional acreage to the north. Data shows elevated levels of trichloroethene (TCE) in groundwater north of the proposed one-acre treatment area, near monitoring well clusters MW6 and MW7. EPA recently discussed the community’s comments with representatives of CTS Corporation. As a result, CTS has requested a 30-day extension to the initial comment period. During the extension, CTS plans to prepare and submit an Addendum to the Focused Feasibility Study that will evaluate Electrical Resistance Heating (ERH) and In-Situ Chemical Oxidation (ISCO) for the expanded treatment area north near MW6/MW7.

This is good news, but as many public comments as possible will make it even more likely that a larger area of the site will be cleaned up in the immediate future! Please consider submitting a brief email to Remedial Project Manager Craig Zeller: zeller.craig@epa.gov. Comments are due by November 29, 2015.

Suggested email/comment:

Dear Mr. Zeller,

The proposed treatment area at the CTS of Asheville site should be expanded to include an adjacent highly contaminated source area (near Monitoring Wells 6 and 7) beyond the proposed one-acre treatment area to the north. Sampling data shows this additional area presents a potent source of TCE that will continue to migrate to the west and southeast and contaminate off-site ground water if left untreated.

In the interest of effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and responsible protection of human health and the environment, we ask that EPA exercise its Superfund authority to expand the treatment area. Doing so will make the interim remedial action more effective as the Electric Resistance Heating (ERH) method is implemented by ensuring that re-contamination of the treated area is not as likely to occur prior to implementation of the long-term, site-wide remedy.

Please move ahead as quickly as possible with the remedial cleanup action and suggested expansion.

Thank you for your consideration of this important request.

Public meeting Oct. 13 on interim cleanup plan

You’re invited!

What: Public meeting to share information and accept comments on EPA’s Interim Remedial Action Plan
When: Tuesday, October 13, 6:00PM
Where: TC Roberson High School Auditorium, 250 Overlook Road, Asheville

You can also submit written comments through Friday, October 30 to Craig Zeller, EPA Remedial Project Manager, at zeller.craig@epa.gov or US EPA Region 4, Superfund Division – 11th Floor, 61 Forsyth Street, SW, Atlanta, GA 30303.

Questions for EPA: Contact Angela Miller, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, miller.angela@epa.gov or (678) 575-8132.

Statement: POWER Supports Proposed Interim Remedial Action at CTS Superfund Site – Pushes for Increasing Treatment Area as EPA Tells CTS would get Better Results

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it plans to approve an Interim Remedial Action to begin cleaning up the residual hazardous waste still saturating the ground at the CTS Superfund Site, which causes widespread ground water contamination at off-site private properties to the east and west of the old plant site.

CTS contractor AMEC Foster Wheeler proposes to treat approximately one acre of soil near the old building slab, where the light, non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) contamination is concentrated (called the LNAPL Source Area).

EPA wants CTS to expand the treatment area, however, to include about one additional acre to the north, where extremely high levels of TCE exist also in soil, ground water, and weathered bedrock. TCE has been found in ground water there at up to 62,100 parts per billion (more than 12,000 times the maximum allowable level!), so it is a major source of contamination that continues to flow off-site.

A process called Electrical Resistance Heating (ERH) is proposed for the Interim Action

  • Electrodes driven into the ground conduct electric current into the subsurface
  • Ground heats up, and actually boils ground water
  • Hazardous chemicals including the primary site contaminant, trichloroethylene (TCE), and petroleum compounds are vaporized by the boiling
  • Vapors are collected by vacuum extraction wells so they can be treated
  • Any liquid LNAPL collected in vapor wells is collected and disposed off-site
  • Treatment would be completed in less than one year (after design)

AMEC studied various alternatives of remedial action earlier this year, but determined that none of the other methods would be as effective or quick, compared to ERH

  • LNAPL was not mobile enough to pump efficiently; residual LNAPL would remain.
  • Collection of liquid and vapor phase TCE using multi-phase extraction (MPE) would take up to ten years.
  • Washing LNAPL from soil by injecting chemical solution to flush it toward collection wells also inefficient; not all LNAPL removed and two years needed.
  • Injecting chemicals into the ground to destroy the TCE would require multiple injections to reach all LNAPL; would take three years.

POWER Action Group believes that ERH should be used, but that EPA should force CTS to increase the treatment area to include the additional part of the site to the north where so much TCE remains in the ground water. Otherwise, a major source of ground water contamination will still be there after AMEC treats its one-acre LNAPL Source Area, and off-site contamination may not be reduced much, if at all. If you agree, tell EPA to make CTS clean up the additional area NOW, as part of the Interim Remedial Action, to better protect off-site ground water.

Documents:
Interim Remedial Action Plan (PDF)
Our suggestions for what to include in your comments (PDF)

In The Guardian: “I was diagnosed with cancer at age 11”

The London-based magazine The Guardian published an opinion piece written by Gabe Dunsmith, member of POWER, who grew up near the CTS site.

I was diagnosed with cancer at age 11. A factory leaked chemicals near my home
by Gabe Dunsmith
Published September 15, 2015

When an MRI of my spine revealed an enlarged thyroid instead of the scoliosis the doctors had feared, they whisked me away for a biopsy. I lay awake as the surgeon stuck a needle into my neck and wiped away the blood. The next day, my mom told me the test result when I got home from school: thyroid cancer. I was eleven years old.

As the surgeons put me under for an operation that would remove my thyroid, I hoped I would still be able to run around outside with my brother, to clamber through the groves and streams that surrounded my home in the mountains of North Carolina.

While I lay on the operating table, an abandoned factory a mile from my house silently seeped toxic chemicals into the creeks and valleys.

Yet no warnings were posted outside the gates. The polluted streams were not fenced off. Like the other neighborhood kids, I had no idea of the toxins lurking in our midst.

At its headquarters in Elkhart, Indiana, the company that polluted my hometown is alive and well. CTS Corporation set up its Asheville, North Carolina, factory in the 1950s to take advantage of right-to-work laws that kept workers from organizing, and it soon began to manufacture sensors and electronics components for the US military. When it finished electroplating, CTS dumped its leftover solvents out back. This desecration continued unabated for decades, until the company seized cheaper factories overseas and shut down its Asheville plant in April of 1986 – the very month that Chernobyl exploded.

The shuttering of the factory did not spell the end of the pollution, however, as chemicals continued to migrate from the dumping-ground into the local environment. In 1999, the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE), CTS’s primary solvent, tested in one woman’s well at far past the legal limit of five parts per billion: she was drinking 21,000. Thyroid cancer had struck her several years before.

The assault on human health did not end there: non-Hodkin’s lymphoma, birth defects, and liver and kidney disease showed up in droves. By the time of my diagnosis in 2005, such ailments had already taken a toll on my community. Over a single decade, one man lost ten family members to cancer.

When I woke from my surgery it was with a desire to get outside, to take to the woods as I had always done, for I had long found refuge on the mountaintops and deep in the glens. Affirming my relationship with the natural world was a healing process. And it would also be a healing process when, years later, I saw a news clip about the pollution in my backyard: coincidence crystallized into cause-and-effect, and I began to fight for cleanup. Just as my body had been rid of cancer, so too should the hills and waterways run clean.

In 2015, nearly three decades after CTS Corporation fled Asheville, precious little has been done to rectify the mess left behind. In 2012 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed the site on its Superfund inventory, a list of the most polluted sites in the country. But the agency has gone so far as to blame residents for the contamination, threatening to fine one man – whose well was polluted with TCE – $37,500 per day if he failed to release documents on materials in his house. The agency has also been slow to force CTS Corporation into any sort of action.

This is not just a problem in Asheville but at thousands of polluted sites across the country: the federal agency in charge of safeguarding human health and the environment panders to polluters and lacks the political wherewithal to make them rectify their injustices. The Superfund tax once held polluters liable for their refuse, but since it expired in 1996 Congress has failed to renew it.

Chemical legislation is no help either: when the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) became law in 1976, it grandfathered in 60,000 untested chemicals.

Five years ago a handful of Asheville residents, no longer content to wait for the EPA to act while CTS’s pollution spread, sued the company. The lawsuit wound up at the Supreme Court last year. The Obama Administration, the American Chemistry Council and the American Petroleum Institute all lent their support to CTS, threatened by the prospect of millions of dollars of cleanup costs. Had we prevailed, we would have set a precedent for communities like ours to hold polluters – including the federal government – accountable for eradicating their toxic waste. The justices, however, voted against us.

Time and again, the United States steps in to safeguard corporate profit in the face of outrageous suffering, threatening millions of Americans with exposure to pollution. When we speak of American freedom, we don’t often think of freedom from toxic chemicals or freedom from cancer. But it is just these freedoms that we need.