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Updated: Tuesday, December 17 2013, 05:35 PM EST
Asheville, N.C. - A month after News 13 airs an investigative report surrounding a toxic Superfund site in South Asheville, Federal officials are now considering launching a new criminal investigation. Meanwhile, lawmakers are also responding to that special report. Investigative reporter Mike Mason conducted a six month long investigation entitled, Buried Secrets, which exposed how EPA officials mishandled the toxic waste site for decades.
At the time, investigators with the EPA's Inspector General had nearly finished their investigation into how EPA's Region 4 office in Atlanta handled the CTS situation. After watching "Buried Secrets," the Inspector Generals office told News 13 criminal investigators have begun reviewing the new evidence uncovered in the report.
Congressman Mark Meadows told News 13 via a satellite interview, "We need to make sure from a Government standpoint that we hold the EPA accountable, I'm committed to do that." Congressman Patrick McHenry also stating, "Some of these issues that have come to light are of deep, deep concern." State Representative Tim Moffitt openly voiced his concerns stating, "You cannot trust the EPA."
News 13s investigation exposed how the CTS Superfund site in South Asheville was mishandled for decades. The new evidence included how EPA documents were withheld or missing altogether and EPA officials knew drinking water was contaminated with toxic chemicals for nearly a decade before telling residents about it. Even though lawmakers have been aware of many of the problems plaguing the site, Meadows told News 13s investigative reporter Mike Mason, "Your work and working to uncover that is certainly to be applauded."
During News 13s investigation, Mason obtained 63,000 pages of documents associated with the site. Many of them had never been released to the public before and contained new evidence supporting allegations made by activists and residents near the site. Armed with this information, News 13 confronted EPA officials who finally admitted to keeping the contamination silent for nine years. This past August, News 13 managed to track down the EPAs Region 4 Superfund Director, Franklin Hill.
After Hill met with resident Dot Rice, who lives next to the CTS site and drank well water that was contaminated, Mason asked Hill, "I heard that you admitted that you tested on the Rice property in 1990? Hill then responded, "I think the file indicates that there was a sample that was taken on the Rice's property." Mason pressed Hill asking, "And it was contaminated?" Hill admitted, "Yes."
This was the first time in 23 years that EPA officials acknowledged testing on the Rices property and finding contamination back in 1990, even though activists, residents and lawmakers have been posing this question for years. Congressman McHenry was taken aback saying, "The EPA's admitting that there were chemicals in the water, in the neighborhood, was a substantial revelation."
But Hill would not elaborate as to why the EPA failed to notify the Rice's who live closest to the site, or any other residents, about the contamination when the agency first learned about it. Meadows feels Congressional Hearings may be the only way to force EPA officials to testify and provide information about what happened. Meadows told us, "Having a hearing in Buncombe County or here in Washington D.C. is certainly something I will continue to advocate for. What I believe needs to come out is the full story, it is unfolding as we speak." Congressman McHenry supports Meadows saying, "Those who have committed these acts have to be held accountable." Representative Moffitt also supports hearings and stated, "The EPA is a broken agency and they have lost sight of what their responsibilities are."
Since CTS left Asheville 27 years ago, the EPA has been monitoring the toxins in the soil, watching them inch their way towards the groundwater. Meanwhile, CTS has denied any responsibility but has recently agreed to pay for testing and the installation of whole house filtration systems to homes located within a one mile radius of the CTS site.
Three months ago the EPA kicked off a new round of testing to determine how to best clean up the site. EPA officials say the process could take another seven years to complete. Lawmakers, including Meadows, feel that's far too long, "We need to make sure that we protect the people there in the area and that we do our best to get it cleaned up quickly, we're going to continue to try to fast track that."
Some say it's already too late for that. The EPA has recently confirmed toxic chemicals such as TCE have already reached the groundwater some fifty feet below the surface. Moffitt criticizes the EPAs inaction saying, "How much time do we need to study a toxic waste site to determine how toxic it is? It's either toxic or it is not." Meadows agrees saying, "The old excuses that it's going to take a long time are not acceptable."
Residents who live near the site say the contamination has caused them serious health problems. Dot Rices husband and granddaughter were both diagnosed with brain tumors in 1999. Rice says, "Our whole lives have been destroyed." Activist Tate MacQueen adds, "They were betrayed to the core and it hurts. It hurts when you've been served this type of injustice and seemingly no one wants to come along and make it right, people can talk about it but again we want to see it."
Congressman McHenry pledged, "We're continuing to work on this issue because we know how critical it is, not just for Asheville but more deeply about those families who are affected by this."
Democratic Representative Susan Fisher emailed News 13 to say she also supports the stations efforts to uncover the truth. News 13 contacted the EPA's top administrator, Gina McCarthy, but her office has not provided a comment. After contacting the White Houses press office, McCarthy's press secretary agreed to review our report.
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