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 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, 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.

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.

Opportunity to participate in a photography project about CTS

Local photographer George Etheredge is interested in exploring the personal stories of community members affected by the CTS site. His website is If you are interested in participating in his project, his contact information is below!

my name is George Etheredge and I am a student at UNCA and freelance photographer in town. I grew up in Asheville and have known about the CTS plant for a long time but have never heard personal stories from community members on how they have been affected.

I feel that personal accounts are the most important stories to tell and I am grateful for those that are willing to share with me. I am particularly interested in talking with those of you who have been directly affected by the contamination of the land, but I believe any and all stories are important.

The photographs I envision making are portraits and landscapes that can work together, showing the relationship between people and the land. I would also like text to accompany the images to give a personal an intimate account of those who want to be involved. I want this to be a collaborative process and am open to feedback, suggestions, and any other ideas so that we can make the most truthful images possible to the stories being told.

Thank you,

George Etheredge

Updates from Technical Advisor–recent sampling

POWER’s Technical Advisor, Frank Anastazi, recently provided us with a summary of two technical documents regarding recent tests conducted on or near the CTS site. You can read these summaries below! Please feel free to share with other community members, and if you have any questions, contact

  • In March, AMEC (contractor for CTS) prepared a report about the springs removal action and the preliminary results they have seen after installation of the treatment system at the springs to the southeast of the CTS site. Here is the TA’s summary, including some follow-up questions and concerns: Springs Area Removal Action Report
  • In May, AMEC prepared a work plan that they are now carrying out for additional groundwater, soil, surface water, and sediment sampling to the west of the CTS site, to see the extent of contamination in that direction. Here is the TA’s summary of this workplan: Review of AMEC’s Western Area Remedial Investigation Work Plan

Thanks for taking action!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our successful “Show a Little Love” Campaign!

CTS Kevin DeBeck
The box has successfully been delivered to CTS headquarters!
We established allies in Elkhart, Indiana (the “City with a Heart”) who delivered our community’s Valentine box to CTS. This photo of Kevin DeBeck was taken shortly after Wayne Royer delivered our box to the CTS headquarters.

Our “Show a Little Love” Box by the numbers:

  • 1,323 names on a petition calling for a full-scale cleanup
  • 146 signed “Road to Cleanup” postcards
  • 135 homemade Valentine cards
  • 1 box full of hope

View other community members’ video postcards:

CTS Environmental Policy

Elkhart residents deliver Valentine’s message to CTS Corp.: ‘Show Some Love; Clean Up Your Asheville, N.C. Superfund Site!’

Press Release: (PDF)

ELKHART — This Valentine’s Day, Elkhart residents join in solidarity with friends in Asheville, N.C., impacted for years by toxic pollution from CTS Corp.’s abandoned Superfund site. They will deliver signed Valentine’s cards, video messages and a petition with more than 1,300 signatures to CTS officials asking them to “have a heart” by immediately cleaning up all the poisons the corporation left in Asheville decades ago.

The petitions and other messages gathered by Asheville-based P.O.W.E.R Action Group—established in August 2012 by concerned community members to represent the interests of people who live near the CTS of Asheville Superfund site—will be delivered to CTS headquarters at 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13at 905 N. West Blvd in Elkhart.

Video postcards directed at CTS officials can be viewed at

“We have asked for dialogue between CTS and our community in letters and phone calls directly to the CTS CEO, and face-to-face at the 2014 annual shareholder’s meeting in Lisle, Illinois,” said Pat Dunn of P.O.W.E.R. Action Group. “Yet, CTS refuses to have even one conversation with us. Their on-site consultants were even forbidden from talking with our technical advisor during a site visit on Feb. 3.We will continue to ask for this conversation and welcome the opportunity to meet with CTS and their consultants to discuss the technical issues and how we can work together toward an efficient and expedited cleanup.”

CTS closed its Asheville facility in 1986, but left tons of the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE) and other dangerous chemicals buried in the ground. These toxins are infiltrating the air, soil and water around the site.

“Our friends in Asheville have been trying for years to get CTS Corporation to take responsibility for the pollution they left there,” said Wayne Royer, Elkhart resident. “Community members there have worked through all the proper channels with very little response from CTS, and meanwhile are being driven out of their homes by air that’s not safe to breathe and water that’s not safe to drink. No one deserves that kind of nightmare and its past time for CTS to own up and clean up its mess.”

Contaminants Continue to Release from the CTS site

Clean air, clean water, cleanupAs you may have read and seen, the springs cap and collection systems are working and displaced families can now move back home. But this is not the end of the story. These families remain in harm’s way as long as contaminants continue to migrate from the CTS site.

Indeed, the entire community is at risk until the EPA uses their removal authority to compel a full and thorough remedy of the source material, trichloroethylene (TCE) and other carcinogens, buried under the former CTS building.

Technical methodologies exist that can and will make cleanup a reality, if only the EPA would use its multifaceted legal authority to oblige the polluter to clean up its toxic mess that continues to release into our beautiful mountain community.

Lee Ann Smith
Chair, POWER Action Group

“Show A Little Love” Campaign to Target CTS this Valentine’s Day

For years people living near the abandoned CTS superfund site in Arden have dealt with a toxic and carcinogenic soup of trichloroethylene (TCE) and other chemicals that oozes off-site, contaminating air, water and soil.

Just this summer nearby families were relocated because of dangerous TCE vapor. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Even though the company no longer operates in Asheville, CTS is a viable multi-million dollar corporation based in Elkhart, IN, nicknamed “The City with a Heart.”

This Valentine’s Day, area residents and friends will call on CTS officials to “have a heart” by immediately conducting a complete cleanup of poisons the corporation left behind decades ago.

POWER Action Group will deliver signed Valentine’s cards, video post cards, and a petition with over 1,200 signatures to CTS officials asking them to do the right thing and show Asheville a little love.

We invite you to join us. Add your name to our online petition. You can also make a Valentine’s Day card that we’ll send to CTS, or go a little more high-tech and make a video post card! For more info or to get instructions on how to make the video postcard, please visit our website or email

POWER’s progress

Since its inception, POWER has made significant progress including:

  • Pushing for continued attention to the NAPL clean-up and fighting for more air sampling at adjacent properties. At POWER’s urging, the EPA developed a work plan to remove buried barrels at the site.
  • Working closely with county and city leaders to extend water lines and ensure that citizens have accurate information.
  • Hiring a community technical advisor, resulting in more effective community input into the Superfund process and decision making.
  • Helping to identify opportunities for early remediation of some of the contaminants, resulting in EPA requesting work plans and technical evaluation to remediate the contaminants.
  • Encouraging Buncombe County Commissioners to seek cost recovery from CTS for water line construction and building demolition.
  • Hosting a public meeting on the site clean-up in July 2014 attended by EPA, community members and numerous public officials and their representatives.
  • We also encourage you to get involved!

Where We Are in the Cleanup Process

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.