Investigative Report: CTS Update Part II
Updated: Tuesday, February 4 2014, 07:12 PM EST
There are major developments regarding the CTS toxic Superfund site in South Asheville. Since News 13 aired the hour-long special, "Buried Secrets" last November, the nation's top EPA official is now reacting and lawmakers may also be one step closer to holding Congressional hearings. Meanwhile, more residents who believe they were harmed by toxic chemicals are teaming up for a legal battle with CTS at the nation's highest court.
Before our report, some people knew little about the contamination at the CTS Superfund site and now they wonder if that could have been what caused their health problems. News 13 aired an hour-long investigation titled, "Buried Secrets", this past November and it’s now catching the attention of the nation's top EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy. In a letter to WLOS, McCarthy's office writes, "EPA personnel have watched the WLOS special report titled "Buried Secrets"....EPA Region 4 staff spoke with an OIG (Office of Inspector General) agent on December 4, 2013. The OIG agent stated that the case is still open and that they were currently viewing the WLOS special report."
EPA officials may be viewing new evidence we uncovered such as CTS's former General Manager of the Asheville plant, Charles Beitner, explaining how the chemicals leaked into the ground. Investigative reporter Mike Mason asked Beitner, “I guess there was no liner." Beitner replied, "Yeah, that's what I'm saying. There should have been something under the concrete pit to prevent it from going into the soil." Mason then asked, "So do you think CTS is at fault?" Beitner hesitated before replying, "Inadvertently, not knowingly, that something was going wrong."
Another explosive revelation may be when EPA's Region 4 Superfund Director, Franklin Hill, finally confirmed the agency knew about contamination nine years before they warned neighbors about TCE in their drinking water. Mason confronted Hill last September as he left Congressman Mark Meadows’ office in Hendersonville. Mason stated, "You tested on the Rice property in 1990." Hill responded saying, "I think the file does indicate that a sample was taken on the Rice's property." Mason prompted clarification asking, "And it was contaminated?" Hill replied, "Yes."
Congressman Patrick McHenry was taken aback by Hill’s statement saying, “The EPA’s admitting that there were chemicals in the water, in the neighborhood, was a substantial revelation." The CTS site is located in the Republican Congressman’s district. Democratic activist Tate MacQueen also lives in that district and recently announced he's running for Congress. On January 17th, Congressman Mark Meadows’ Legislative Assistant emailed MacQueen to tell him our investigation may soon be presented to the House Oversight Committee to quote, "discuss potential hearing options". MacQueen is optimistic about the news but at the same time remains skeptical saying, “When you have two Congressional members whose districts straddle that plant site you wouldn't think that we'd be at 2014 waiting for those hearings, you would think they would've already called for those hearings."
While lawmakers consider Congressional hearings, residents are teaming up for a legal battle with CTS. Last week, attorneys held a meeting to discuss the lawsuit filed against CTS seeking compensation for those who believe toxic chemicals from the site affected their health and property values. The suit, filed in 2011 by 25 residents, has now made its way to the US Supreme Court, which recently granted CTS a chance to argue whether this case exceeds the statute of limitations.
Kent Stahle says he lived at 65 Mills Gap Road for ten years from 1959 to 1969, right next to CTS and Dingle Creek. EPA, along with state testing, has revealed the presence of TCE in that water. Stahle recalls, "I must have drank out of that creek, I would say at least probably a thousand times or something."
When Stahle later moved to California he got some bad news. Stahle says, "In August of '98, I was diagnosed with CML, which is chronic myelogenous leukemia."
Medical records show Stahle had a bone marrow transplant one year after being diagnosed. After going into remission, Stahle moved back to Asheville in 2012 and has remained in stable condition. He never knew why he got leukemia to begin with but says on November 18th that all changed. Stahle says, "I was watching WLOS news and as soon as I turned on the TV I saw a little segment that you were doing, "Buried Secrets", on the CTS plant. First I'd heard of it. A light bulb came on and I'm thinking, I said to my girlfriend, I said there's my answer."
Stahle attended that meeting with the attorneys who filed the lawsuit against CTS and he signed up, along with several others, to be included as plaintiffs in that case. First, the lawyers will investigate their claims and medical history. Lead attorney Joseph Anderson says, “This is the most important legal issue that I've ever been involved with and I've been practicing law for 25 years." Anderson is also the lead attorney representing plaintiffs in the Camp Lejeune case involving hundreds of thousands of military personnel, marines, sailors and civilians who claim to have been exposed to toxic drinking water while on the military base. Anderson is optimistic about the CTS case but says if the Supreme Court sides with CTS, it could have a chilling effect on anyone who was harmed by toxic chemicals but didn't find out until years later.
Anderson says, "This case is important, it sets precedent it can affect the entire country and I think it's going to have a big impact on the development of the law and other people's potential claims."
Anderson says the state's statute of limitations for these types of claims is 10 years, but federal courts ruled the clock only starts ticking 3 years after a person is made aware of what likely caused their health problem.