This piece was originally written by Kelsey Peterson for Solving Urban Problems (PLAN 247) in October 2018.
In a country built upon life, liberty, and property, we cannot let businesses handle their toxic waste irresponsibly. The government must amend current laws to require developers and corporations to inform residents within an established radius of affected land about the potential hazards that their leaked waste causes. As part of this movement, Congress must reintroduce strict regulations on hazardous waste management with harsh penalties and clean up requirements for irresponsible entities. This will bring more funding to the EPA and allow them to act in a more efficient manner.
In 1952, the International Resistance Company (CTS of Asheville, Inc. Superfund) opened a factory manufacturing electronic components made for auto-parts and hearing aids. The facility continued manufacturing until 1986 on a plot of land near Asheville, North Carolina (2). During the 1990s, a sub-developer bought 45 acres of land from CTS and built many homes in the area, all connected to the ground water on site (2). The first reports of health hazards were recorded as early as 1990 when residents of the sub-division began to fall ill. When a pond with “blue green color” was reported with waste storage barrels surrounding the area, the neighborhood took action. This began the almost two-decade fight between the citizens of Asheville, their local government, and the CTS corporation. A significant amount of non-aqueous phase liquids (NAPLS) that are resistant to dissolving in water, such as gasoline, as well the compound trichloroethylene (TCE) were leaked into the ground on-site. During the fight for a clean up effort, residents were continually poisoned by these chemicals. The bureaucracy within the EPA slowed the process to a frustrating crawl until citizens began pressuring elected officials through continued media support and reporting, which led to the site being placed under the EPAs “most hazardous waste sites in the country.”(4)
These leaks proposed a large problem: 3.1 acres of land composing of 208,250 cubic yards of material were identified to contain harmful NAPLS and TCEs, presenting risks of water and air pollution to residents (2). TCE can affect the immune and reproductive systems, the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and fetal development (3). TCE is highly susceptible to evaporation (at a shallow level of ground water) and water contamination, and can cause potentially dangerous air quality levels (3). For over a decade, residents have lived under hazardous conditions with no real progress on the site being cleaned until 2017, when a court case between the United States Government and CTS Corporation, Mills Gap Road Association, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation was settled in an agreement to spend around $9 million dollars on an extensive, multi-year clean up effort (1). It was unacceptable for the local, state, and national governments to leave unsuspecting residents in a cesspool of chemicals. The United States prides itself as a developed nation that can provide all its citizens with the necessities of life, however, the dark reality is that due to inefficiency and neglect within the bureaucratic system, innocent citizens suffer life-threatening situations.
While the cleanup process is projected to remove 97% of contaminants in this area, the pace of the EPA and the lack of regulation when it comes to the construction of sub-divisions on known contaminated areas presents health hazards to past and current residents. There was a period of around 18 years where the TCE and NAPLS were able to leach into the groundwater, evaporate into the air, and contaminate a large area of ground material. To prevent such neglect, the government had a Superfund Site tax called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 on petroleum products, hazardous chemicals, and the corporations such as CTS that produced this waste (5). The money received was used by the EPA to fight against organizations that produced hazardous waste in court. However, in 1996 Congress got rid of this tax and instead allocated money to the project through their general fund, lessening the pressure on corporations to adhere to EPA regulations as well as diminishing the amount of funds available to the EPA (4).
The EPA did not have the resources nor the needed levels of organization within their channels of communication to correct this issue within a reasonable time frame. When Congress amended the Superfund Site tax during the Clinton administration, the trust was cut from around $4 billion, which was mostly collected from the established tax, to around $1 billion (4). A majority of this new and smaller superfund was allocated from taxpayer dollars. US citizens are made to pay for the mistakes and rule breaking of large corporations. The EPA does not have the funds to safely remove the massive amounts of contaminants scattered around the country. This situation must change to protect the life and liberty of innocent citizens around the country. To persuade organizations from harming other communities and making them take responsibility for their past actions the concepts laid out and enforced by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, later amended to the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 should be reintroduced (5). This would bring more money, and therefore power, to the EPA so that they could enforce regulations on a national scale while using newly acquired funds to bolster clean up efforts, bringing cleaner living conditions to all United States citizens.
It is key for local communities who possess the passion and will to act as a watchdog over not just corporations but also their government for real change to occur, as seen in Asheville, NC.
Featured Image: Asheville mountains. Photo Credit: Kelsey Peterson.
About the Author: Kelsey Peterson is an undergrad sophomore from Fairview, NC. He is majoring in Environmental Studies on the Sustainability Track and minoring in Urban Studies/City Planning. He loves everything outside and grew up white water kayaking, mountain biking, bouldering, gardening, and hiking in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He is interested in going into forestry, but also wants to start a community center/garden coffee shop combo in either the Appalachian or Rocky mountain ranges after college. He is not drawn to cities, so he has challenged himself to learn how they work and bring some of what he loves from nature and sustainable practices to the urban environment. He spends free time finding new places to explore and hunting down new music to listen to on the way.
(1) United States District Court Western District of North Carolina Asheville Division. Consent Decree for Interim Remedial Design/Remedial Action at the CTS of Asheville, Inc. Superfund Site. 7 Mar. 2017.
(2) “CTS OF ASHEVILLE, INC. Site Profile.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 20 Oct. 2017, cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.Cleanup&id=0402598#bkground.
(3) “Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Your Health – EH: Minnesota Department of Health.” Airborne Precautions – Minnesota Dept. of Health, www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/tce.html#health.
(4) Hunt, Max. “CTS Contamination Has Poisoned More than Drinking Water.” Mountain Xpress, 30 Mar. 2018, mountainx.com/news/cts-contamination-has-poisoned-more-than-drinking-water/.
(5) COMPREHENSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSE, COMPENSATION, AND LIABILITY ACT OF 1980.