Pollution Problems at the CTS of Asheville Site
The biggest contaminant of concern at the CTS site is trichloroethylene (TCE); it can affect the central nervous system, causing dizziness, headaches and confusion. Long-term exposure can damage the liver, kidneys, immune and endocrine systems.
Extremely high levels of TCE have been found in soil, ground water and surface water as far as two-thirds of a mile away from CTS, causing EPA to designate it as a Superfund Site. EPA’s maximum safe level of TCE is 5 parts per billion (ppb). Nearby groundwater contains up to 42,000 ppb.
Last summer, EPA evacuated residents who live near the site due to the unsafe levels of TCE in indoor- and outdoor-air in the area. Air pollution is released by toxic ground water that discharges to the springs just downhill and southeast of the CTS site.
What’s Being Done
As part of EPA’s Superfund program requirements, CTS Corporation and EPA will perform a site-wide, comprehensive Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study to determine the “nature and extent of contamination” and evaluate alternative cleanup methods to find the best clean up solutions.
In response to the vapor contamination, CTS placed a cover over contaminated springs southeast of the site, and in October 2014 activated a system to capture and treat the TCE vapors emanating from the springs and ground water. Residents were told that vapors were at safe levels and they could return to their homes on the evening of November 17, 2014.
EPA also directed CTS to perform a Focused Feasibility Study to evaluate ways to collect and/or destroy the contamination that is present in the shallow soil near the former plant building (referred to as the Source Area). CTS contractors found a lot of petroleum and TCE in the soil there; in some cases the hazardous waste is a distinct liquid oil/solvent mixture floating on the ground water surface in layers as much as six feet thick (this is called a light, non-aqueous phase liquid, or LNAPL). The Focused Feasibility Study (FFS) is supposed to be a fast-tracked study to find the best way to clean up the LNAPL so that can begin as soon as possible, before the comprehensive studies can be completed. On December 5, 2014 EPA gave CTS approval to begin the FFS and published a project schedule that indicates the FFS will be completed in the fall of 2015. AMEC began the field work for the FFS on January 5, 2015.
Areas of Greatest Concern
POWER’s main focus has been to get CTS to take concrete action to stop the release of contamination from the site. For many years, the former plant property has been an uncontrolled source of hazardous waste sitting atop a hill, releasing contamination, and endangering nearby people and the environment. CTS will take the first step toward that goal with the Focused Feasibility study, but this will only address one part of the problem: the LNAPL in shallow soil.
There are still a lot of problems with plans to study and remediate the site:
- The much bigger problem of extremely high levels of TCE in deep ground water in the bedrock has not even begun to be studied. Previous studies indicate presence of a residual TCE in the form of a dense, non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL). DNAPL in fractured bedrock represents a long-term source of ground water contamination and is one of the most difficult types of contamination to clean up.
- CTS’s proposed Focused Feasibility Study is woefully inadequate and will not do much to expedite LNAPL cleanup. Review by POWER’s Technical Advisor, EPA’s Superfund Technical Services Section, and the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) finds CTS’s proposal lacking, especially in that we still do not have basic yet critical information about the extent of the contamination, because CTS did not sample other areas of the site where LNAPL is likely to be present.
- Overall, POWER remains concerned that CTS has been delaying real action as much as it can. CTS has dragged its feet at every step along the way, fighting EPA’s listing of the site on the Superfund National Priorities List, questioning EPA’s technical analyses that the site contaminated far-away, deep bedrock wells and other obstructions. CTS continues to get away with doing only the minimum, performing inadequate studies that only draw out the time it takes to determine the extent of the site problems. The remedial investigation is already delayed by over two and a half years.