ASHEVILLE (AP) — There’s been progress in investigating and cleaning up an Asheville Superfund site since 2012, but the speed of the work and investigations could be improved, a new report says.
The report issued Wednesday by the Office of the Inspector General said some of the investigations into the CTS of Asheville Superfund site were delayed as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office worked to gain access to private property.
In June 2014, federal officials urged some evacuations after air tests showed toxic levels of a carcinogen in air levels near the Superfund site. The EPA encouraged 13 people near the CTS site to leave after air vapor tests revealed toxic levels of trichloroethylene, or TCE. The chemical, once used widely as a metal degreaser, has been linked to cancer and birth defects.
The CTS Mills Gap Road site was added in 2012 to EPA’s National Priority List for cleanup. The plant manufactured industrial switches and resistors for more than 20 years before shutting down in 1986.
The Asheville Citizen Times reported that EPA officials in Region 4, which includes North Carolina, disagreed with several points in the Inspector General report, the document notes, and argued they had met with a property owner living near the site and tried to gain access to the property to collect air samples.
The report was prompted by the June 2014 evacuation of Terry Rice and a dozen other people living in three homes near the site as well as concerns of other people, said Kathy Hess, an author of the 53-page document and lead program analyst with the agency.
“In the OIG’s opinion, some monitoring activities conducted since 2012 did not meet all requirements and were delayed,” Hess said in a recording that accompanied the report. “We identified specific problems with the agency’s plans for investigative and system monitoring. Those problems potentially prolonged exposure of nearby residents to unsafe levels of TCE in their homes.”
Also, Hess is critical of the EPA’s communication with the community, and noted that while improvements have been made, the agency should bolster monitoring efforts.
“In our opinion, monitoring has been too sparse and too infrequent to ensure that TCE exposure risks remain at safe levels since CTS installed the system to capture the TCE vapors that were rising off the contaminated springs near the homes,” she said.
Though the document doesn’t name her, the report is critical of monitoring and cleanup efforts overseen by Samantha Urquhart-Foster, the EPA’s remedial project manager for CTS from 2012 through 2014.
Among officials familiar with the project, CTS was regarded as a difficult company to work with, indicating that Urquhart-Foster would have needed strong support from supervisors to move forward with demands.
Among the biggest criticisms is the agency failed to notify residents about the hazards of breathing TCE vapors.