Swannanoa – New pockets of contamination were recently discovered at a former military weapons site that’s been in EPA’s “Superfund” program since the 1980s. Toxins at the Chemtronics Superfund site include organic compounds like benzene and 1,2-dichloroethane, acids, explosives, and heavy metals. Nearby residents recently formed a Community Advisory Group (CAG) to work with the EPA as the agency investigates the new areas of contamination and designs a cleanup plan.
Large crowds have attended EPA’s recent presentations and meetings. The CAG group elected an Executive Board in February, including local residents and staff members from nearby Warren Wilson College. A risk assessment and remedial investigation will be ready in March. (Clean up of the original 1980s contamination is already underway). We encourage folks in the area to review the investigation and participate in the process to make sure cleanup happens quickly to protect the community’s health and safety. To sign up to receive updates on the site, contact Jessa Madosky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Represntative Tim Moffitt (Buncombe) has caused a stir in his hometown with a study of a possible involuntary transfer of Asheville’s water system. He chairs an NC House of Representatives committee to study three options: transferring
the system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District (now in charge of the wastewater system), creating a new regional authority, or keeping ownership with the City. Of the five committee members, only two represent districts in western NC.
Not surprisingly, many residents vehemently oppose legislative intervention on a local issue. At community forums giving folks a chance to hear from local leaders and decision makers, many cite the City’s good stewardship of the system in recent years. While there can be some advantages to regional cooperation, most agree that any change should be a local initiative, rather than a legislated mandate.
Rep. Moffitt’s unclear motives, and his involvement in another committee on Public-Private Partnerships, led to fears that Asheville’s water could become vulnerable to privatization if transferred from City ownership. Although Moffitt denies this and promised to support legislation to keep the system publicly owned and managed, many water advocates are skeptical.
He repeatedly refers to conflicts between the City and County, causing Rep. Susan Fisher of Asheville to warn of a “divide and conquer” approach now driving conservative legislative strategies. The committee held a public hearing in Asheville on the three alternatives on February 23. Concerned residents have started a blog with more info.
CTS Building at TCE Contaminated Site Demolished! Residents Press for Cleanup
After years of advocacy from nearby residents, Buncombe County officials last year condemned the old industrial CTS building sitting atop a legacy of toxic ground- water contamination. In December, crews demolished the eyesore, a visible sign of hope to the surrounding neighborhood, but also a reminder that the real threat still lies underground.
Since the building came down, local residents have been pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with cleanup of TCE, a known carcinogen, and other chemicals in the soil and groundwater. A decision is expected in March as to whether CTS will become a “Superfund” site. (Update: On March 13, 2012 EPA listed the site on the National Priorities List!)
In the meantime, frustration is growing over an agreement reached between EPA and CTS, stating the company will install filtration systems for residents and start another round of well testing, rather than pursuing more permanent solutions. Residents have been calling for extension of municipal water lines to serve current well users near the site, and for EPA to oversee a full site cleanup. CWFNC shares residents’ concerns that filtration systems could be used to “justify” the company’s continued refusal to pay for a cleanup. Following two recent hearings of an NC House Select Committee, where EPA officials didn’t respond to requests to appear, the Committee has now issued them a rare subpoena.
Residents in south Buncombe County have been struggling for years to draw attention to the contamination of their well water, springs and soil with trichloroethylene (TCE) and other toxic volatile organic chemicals, to fully characterize the “plume” of contamination and to begin cleanup of the area around the abandoned CTS electroplating facility. Last year, progress toward these goals was stalled by a health assessment study that failed to link high levels of TCE to health risks. Also, CTS, which is still a large corporation based in Indiana, appeared to be trying to avoid cleanup costs by deflecting blame for the toxic contamination onto residents or nearby businesses, despite plentiful documentation of TCE by the company.
Now, community members are feeling optimistic, thanks to their continued efforts to push for cleanup. The site is being considered for the Superfund National Priority List, which would bring Environmental Protection Agency action for hazardous site “remedial action.” Meanwhile, community activist Lee Ann Smith has organized a petition to conduct a concurrent emergency removal action to deal with the worst of the toxic, potentially carcinogenic pollution. As a first step toward determining the extent of TCE in the groundwater and soil, EPA is designing a plan to sample a number of sites both on and off the CTS property.
Lee Ann, the mother of two whose sons have both been diagnosed with tumors, feels it’s important for community members to work together toward cleanup. “I don’t want what happened to my family to happen to others,” she said. “I’m optimistic that with all of our efforts together, we can see our neighborhood
Weaverville – Residents of Eden Glen mobile home park recently had to start paying for water they can’t even drink. The community’s public well has been plagued with iron and iron bacteria for years, causing tap water to appear yellow or black and have a foul odor. Iron occurs naturally and falls under secondary drinking water standards, which our state Public Water Supply Section doesn’t enforce (some states do). Though iron isn’t generally considered a threat to human health, except in extremely high concentrations, most people agree the water is undrinkable and stains skin, teeth and clothing. For years the landlord, David Young (who happens to be a state political party official), included water in the rent. But in 2010, after getting a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity”, he was allowed to begin making a profit from separate water charges.
When residents began to receive bills, many refused to pay for the poor-quality water. After initial water cutoffs in response to nonpayment, public outcry forced Young to reconnect water and temporarily suspend charges until he could install a better filtration system. Residents continuee to buy bottled drinking water out of their own pockets, and are doubtful that hte new filtration system will make much of a difference. CWFNC will hold a “Water Justice” workshop in the community in November to help residents take the next steps toward affordable and safe water.
Residents near the heavily solvent contaminated former CTS facility in south Buncombe County have organized the group Clean Asheville, and have been calling for an enforceable and unlimited cleanup by the industry under the direction of EPA and the NC Dept. of Environment of Natural Resources. In addition to extremely high levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination found seeping up in water at and near the site, an increasing number of drinking water wells have shown contamination in recent rounds of testing. One well’s TCE contamination has doubled to 1500 parts per million just since the previous round. Aaron Penland and other advocates recently called on the County Commissioners to help extend drinking water lines to residents using contaminated wells in the community near Skyland. They were told that the situation wasn’t urgent enough for the County to fund the line extensions. Instead, Commissioners are writing to state officials to move forward with a more limited “voluntary” clean up. The City of Asheville has offered to extend water lines in areas of contamination, but not to fund hookups. CWFNC will be working with the community group to focus on getting safe water for well users.