An Asheville group pushing for the cleanup said EPA shouldn’t wait until its studies are finished before taking steps to get rid of the toxic mess.
Clarke Morrison, firstname.lastname@example.org, May 15, 2014
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ASHEVILLE – The first phase of testing performed in preparation for a Superfund cleanup revealed a plume of the toxic industrial solvent trichloroethylene mixed with petroleum floating on groundwater under the former CTS plant site.
The new information will be useful as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determines the best methods to remove the contamination, said Samantha Urquhart-Foster, remedial project manager with the agency.
It was already known that there is massive groundwater contamination from trichloroethylene, or TCE, a chemical used by CTS for nearly three decades in the manufacturing process before the plant shut down in 1986.
“The sampling we did shows us how deep and wide the most concentrated contamination is so that we can develop a cleanup plan for it,” Urquhart-Foster said. “We expected to see the plume there. We didn’t expect to see the TCE and the petroleum intermixed.”
Lee Ann Smith, chair of a local group pushing for cleanup called Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources, said the EPA shouldn’t wait until its studies are finished before taking steps to get rid of the toxic mess.
POWER received a $50,000 federal grant to hire an independent technical adviser for three years to interpret and help the community understand information about the site. The adviser, geologist Frank Anastasi, and members of the group received an update from EPA officials this week on the latest findings.
There are technologies available to go ahead and remove the plume of TCE and petroleum sitting on the water table without waiting for the full cleanup, Smith said.
“We’re asking EPA to get it out now,” she said. “It’s a blob of source material there under the site that’s a lot closer to the surface than originally thought. It is floating at just 10 to 15 feet below the ground surface. It’s spread out over a wide area under where the building was.”
Urquhart-Foster said she doesn’t know if the plume can be removed before the full Superfund cleanup, which won’t begin until at least 2016.
“We have Superfund processes that we have to go through,” she said. “We have to get legal and management approval before we go through with any type of cleanup.”
Anastasi said the meeting with EPA officials was helpful.
“While EPA has not yet committed to a specific plan of action, we believe they heard the community’s concerns and we are hopeful real cleanup will start soon,” he said.
CTS, based in Elkhart, Ind., manufactured electronic components at the plant on Mills Gap Road. In 1999, TCE was found in a spring feeding two wells next to the plant property at a level of 21,000 parts per billion, which is more than 7,000 times North Carolina’s groundwater standard for the chemical. Lower amounts of benzene, xylene and toluene also were found.
TCE, which has been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage and immune system disorders, was found in 2001 at even higher levels under the former plant. The chemical also was detected in several drinking water wells at nearby homes that since have been connected to the city water system.
Some residents say the contamination has made them sick. Smith said her sons played in the area around the plant as boys. One was later diagnosed with a rare type of thyroid cancer, and had to have his thyroid glands removed. The other developed a benign tumor.
Smith believes chemicals released by the plant played a role in their ailments.
“We have no family history of this sort of thing,” she said. “As a parent you’re thrown for a loop when you get that kind of diagnosis.”
Smith said her son’s oncologist thought environmental factors might be involved.
“When we were told he was cancer free, I started looking into what might have caused it, and I found out about this place and was shocked,” she said. “They played in the area behind the CTS site.”
Urquhart-Foster said recent testing also showed that a soil vapor extraction system was successful in removing about 6,000 pounds of volatile organic compounds from the top 10 feet of soil at the plant site.
“The heavily contaminated part is in the groundwater beneath the former building,” she said.