Chemophobia Quadrupled

Wow—an irrational fear of chemicals.

OVERVIEW: Most of the toxins from the CTS of Asheville site on Mills Gap Road were migrating south and east. This map was provided to Southside Village residents to show that little or no trichloroethylene has been discovered in their community, which is west of site (seen here in the center of the image). Map courtesy of the EPA. This image is several years old, with the old CTS site outlined by the yellow line, even though it no longer exists. The author’s home is just to the right of the photo.
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By Kevin Roeten:

Demolishing Of  Icon

Wow—an irrational fear of chemicals. This old CTS building was demolished years ago, but some local residents have continued to push for a clean-up at the old CTS of Asheville on Mills Gap Road. The author almost passes this location daily, because it lies less than a mile from his permanent residence. Nothing exists anymore at the old CTS site, except for tall overgrown grass. Even the entrance shack to the removed building has been overrun by vermin, and what’s left of the shack splattered with major graffiti.

Environmental activists were completely blown away by a recent Supreme Court ruling. Yes, the “SC” ruled after 15 years, the cleanup of Trichloroethylene, TCE, under CTS in South Asheville, was over. Finished. Completed.

Supreme Court Shuts Down Injury Claims

By a 7 to 2 margin, by NC law, the “SC” ruled injuries/physical disabilities were null-and-void. This was after the necessary 10 years when the lawsuit was first filed. Not when the TCE contamination first occurred. The only two ‘outliers’ were Ginsberg and Breyer.

But for some reason, cleanup continued. Any TCE already leaked into the groundwater was essentially gone. But the EPA actually decided to label the site a “Superfund Site” in 2012. Chemophobics living close to CTS said they noticed a slight chemical smell in 1999 (what chemical?)—13 years after plant closure.

Typically, and kind of chemical release from a plant results in what is called a “plume” of toxic chemicals. In this case, the “plume’ of TCE is below ground. No one has ever seen this plume before. It’s assumed to be there because of groundwater testing.

Because any groundwater typically flows in downward gradients, any major problems with groundwater contamination would be noticed first by customers located in downstream gradients. By now, any resulting TCE contamination would likely be diluted and eventually flushed after 13 years. Any contamination has now passed.

Labeled In US Superfund

But a Superfund cleanup was prepared for anyway, but wasn’t started, because there was no supposed plume of TCE mixed with petroleum found floating on groundwater under the former CTS location.

Even the TCE Threshold Limit Value, TLV, was highly exaggerated. Earlier, after multitudes of toxicity tests, the TLV was placed at 50 parts per million (ppm) in 1990. Decades later, evaluation techniques dramatically improved, and parts per billion were able to be detected. The actual toxicity never really changed, but because determination of a smaller quantity in the sample was possible, so did the associated TLV. It’s now listed at a level of 2 mg/m3 [two micrograms per cubic meter], now considered safe for TCE.

Arbitrarily TLV Change With Altered Measurements

It’s totally illogical when toxicity of a substance remains unchanged, but lowering the TLV. In the case of TCE, one’s looking at 50,000 ppm as the TLV (instead of 50 ppm), as being the new TLV. How can that be, when the chemical never changed? About two years ago, the EPA found a reading of 16 ppb outside. Remember, a microgram is one-millionth of a gram. The local community went apoplectic with these ‘outrageous’ TLV’s. A series of TownHall meetings occurred at the local Skyland Fire Station, 5 miles from the old CTS site. With at least 200 people at every meeting, you’d think Armageddon had rained down on the small community of South Asheville.

Speakers against the alleged contamination came out in force, and a “Superfund Site” label put Asheville on the map. One may notice TCE groundwater levels on the included map close to the author’s house less than 1 mile, as the crow flies from CTS.

Gaylords Abound

Amazingly, the writer remembers those days when the shell of the old CTS plant still existed. Back then, we had arranged to temporarily store huge boxes [Gaylords] of chopped-up polyester to be washed. There was never any fear of TCE contamination at CTS, whatsoever. Old Gaylords were stored for months in the old CTS plant, where huge amounts of plating had used TCE.

In 2001 and in 2006, EPA conducted in-depth inspections of the site. In both years, it concluded CTS did not qualify for National Priorities List (NPL). Nevertheless, a Soil Vapor Extraction System, SVE, was started in 2006, and TCE-laden-groundwater aerated.

In 2008, EPA monitored all wells quarterly, until it was no longer necessary. From monitoring, EPA did not detected any additional TCEs. EPA supplied the residents with bottled water when well water had been used.

Finally On Superfund

Nevertheless, the old CTS property was officially named a Superfund Site in 2012, and placed on the NPL.

Bottom line—the number of site visits had been reduced to <10, but bottled water, analyses, and other costs were still supplied. TCE is not a chemical to play with. It took over 25 years for the EPA to proclaim CTS a Superfund Site, and over $7 million in wasted expenditures.

Why do many forget TCE was used extensively in the 50’s and 60’s for extracting vegetable oils from palm, soy, and coconut? As well as coffee decaffeination? And a gas anesthetic? Millions have breathed 1% TCE through self-administered analgesia (i.e., childbirth difficulties). The ACGIH lists it as: “Not suspected to be a human carcinogen.” Of the millions of TCE-users in the US, there has been no known case of humans ever getting cancer.

This, from a rogue Chemical Engineer  living within 1 mile of this CTS site. Evidently, ‘chemophobic’ fears tend to overwhelm common sense, with unbridled emotions ruling a normal human being.

Artificially reduced TLVs don’t help either.


Kevin Roeten can be reached at    

© Copyright by Kevin Roeten, 2015. All rights reserved.

Kevin Roeten
About Kevin Roeten 168 Articles
CHO's science editor Kevin Roeten is a former Chemical Engineer. He enjoys riding the third rail of journalism: politics and religion. As an orthodox Catholic, Roeten appreciates the juxtaposition of the two supposedly incompatible subjects.   Kevin is a Guest Columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Independent (Ohio), and writes for numerous blogs (Nolan Chart, Allvoices) and newspapers, including USA Today.   A collaborator in the book Americans on Politics, Policy, and Pop Culture (Jason Wright and Aaron Lee), he is also an amateur astronomer, and delves into scientific topics.   Kevin Roeten can be reached at