Investigative Report: CTS Update
Updated: Tuesday, February 4 2014, 07:11 PM EST
The cleanup of a toxic superfund site in South Asheville may be in jeopardy. CTS Corporation is challenging the USEPA in Federal court, hoping to get the site taken off the National Priorities list.
EPA officials say if CTS wins this case then the state will be in charge of the Asheville site but the state already has a backlog of toxic sites and a limited budget. That means any sort of cleanup at the CTS site could either take many more years to complete, or there may be no cleanup at all.
For nearly three decades, CTS in Asheville used toxic chemicals like TCE to degrease electrical components they manufactured. Since closing the plant in 1986, high levels of TCE have been found in the soil and drinking water of nearby residents. Dot Rice lives right next door to the CTS site and says, "My family's been sick and we're reminded of it every day."
In 2012, after five attempts, the EPA placed the CTS site on the National Priorities List - or NPL. The NPL is designed to fast track the cleanup of sites that pose an "imminent endangerment" to people and the environment and it allows the EPA to force the contaminator to pay for a cleanup. In 2004, the EPA listed CTS as a “Potentially Responsible Party” but not even three months after the site was placed on the NPL in 2012, CTS filed an appeal in federal court, demanding the site be removed from the NPL.
Pat Dunn helped form a community action group focused on getting the site cleaned up. He says, “using the data that they (EPA) had they came up with a score that was high enough to put it on the NPL list. It's a big concern that there's a possibility it could go off the NPL list."
A few months ago, Dunn says EPA officials met with him and gave him all 140 pages of court records and briefs filed by CTS and the USEPA. Dunn says EPA officials warned him about how the CTS case filed in 2012 could derail all of his group’s efforts towards a cleanup.
Last November, News 13 aired an hour-long special about the CTS site called "Buried Secrets".
Afterwards, residents were upset to hear EPA Region 4 official Samantha Urquart-Foster announce they needed to do additional testing at the site and that testing could take years to determine the extent of contamination. Foster told News 13, "It's complicated, it will take a couple of years before we get through the remedial investigation, feasibility study phase." Foster went on to say it could take another seven years for the cleanup to begin but at that time she never mentioned the court case.
Dunn says EPA officials specifically told him the CTS case is affecting how they’re currently conducting tests at the site. Dunn tells us, "They said yes, this is one of the reasons why moving forward with the testing is so important, we've got to get more data points."
In a written statement last week Foster told News 13 the EPA's decision to do more testing at CTS has nothing to do with the federal court case. But UNCA Professor Jeff Wilcox says that's not what Foster told him just a few weeks ago. Wilcox recalls, "She mentioned that CTS was trying to get out of their obligations and that collecting additional samples on the Rice property was very important because it would help keep them going toward a cleanup."
All of this was news to Tate MacQueen, who belongs to the original CTS action group. He questions why the EPA didn't disclose such important information to his group or the general public saying, "We have grown accustomed to the type of misinformation and/or deprivation of information over the years."
Court documents filed by CTS state the EPA was "forced" to put the site on the NPL after "bowing to political pressure" and the EPA managed to do this by including erroneous information about TCE found at the Oaks subdivision, three quarters of a mile away from the site. CTS claims the TCE found in the Oaks drinking wells is not linked to the plant, stating the EPA "ignored" key information and "turned a blind eye" to evidence that would have proven this. The EPA denies CTS’s claims and Wilcox says several companies have already confirmed TCE likely flowed between the two locations through a fractured bedrock system. Wilcox explains, "Those fractures are providing a conduit that basically runs straight from CTS Northeast to the Oaks.” Investigative Reporter Mike Mason asked Wilcox if he was certain TCE at the Oaks was directly linked to the CTS plant and Wilcox responded, “I would say it's very, very likely. It's hard to get any more conclusive evidence than what they already have based on the USGS report in 2011."
CTS could have a lot to lose by remaining on the NPL. The corporation is now based in Elkhart, Indiana but has since expanded worldwide. In court documents, CTS attorneys claim it, "could incur significant financial loss...including damage to its business reputation and increased probability of a costly cleanup." Wilcox feels, "If CTS somehow manages to get out of this it would be tragic."
If removed from the NPL, the CTS site would revert back to the state and taxpayers would be stuck with much of the cleanup costs. MacQueen says, "The victims in South Asheville will have to pay for it and the rest of the residents in the state of North Carolina will have to pay for it and that, to me, is an egregious act of injustice."
We left messages for CTS officials but they haven't responded. This past December, EPA officials contested each claim made by CTS. They've petitioned the court to deny CTS's request to be removed from the NPL. A response brief from CTS is expected by February 5th. Coming up tomorrow night, News 13 investigates will update you on the criminal investigation into the EPA and find out why a current lawsuit against CTS could have a chilling effect on thousands of people nationwide who were harmed by toxic chemicals.