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US Supreme Court rules in favor of polluter – major setback for communities

On June 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against landowners in CTS Corp vs. Waldburger, a decision that will impair residents’ ability to seek justice and compensation and hold toxic polluters accountable.

The lawsuit, involving two dozen landowners near the former CTS of Asheville electroplating facility (now a nationally listed “Superfund” hazardous waste site), examined whether North Carolina’s “statutes of repose” law prohibits suing a company more than 10 years after the pollution activity stopped, regardless of when residents became aware of the contamination. Similar provisions exist in Connecticut, Kansas, and Oregon. The court ruled 7 to 2 to side with CTS, upholding the NC law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who dissented along with Justice Breyer, wrote scathingly that “The court allows those responsible for environmental contamination … to escape liability for the devastating harm they cause, harm hidden from detection for more than 10 years.”

Springs fence sign

Springs on private property are fenced because of high levels of TCE from the CTS site in Buncombe County.

This decision has devastating implications for other communities near toxic sites, most notably the tens of thousands of Marines and their families stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC and exposed to TCE in drinking water in the 1950s to 1980s. Many of these veterans are currently seeking compensation from the federal government in lawsuits, or health care promised in a 2012 law, now also in question. Seeking to get off the hook for these liabilities, the Obama Administration filed a brief in support of the polluter, a short-sighted action that will affect communities and thwart environmental justice for years to come.

Meanwhile, residents near the CTS site continue to live with high levels of trichloroethylene in nearby soil, water, and air. EPA temporarily relocated several families this past week after confirming hazardous levels of TCE in the air, which had almost certainly been present for years. They’ve also identified a shallow plume of groundwater contamination floating near the surface, and the community is pushing for fast-tracked removal of that shallow contamination even as they move quickly to test and remove the plume deeper below the site.

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