Activists pepper health study author Sandy Mort with questions at last Thursday's meeting. Photo by Jonathan Welch for Mountain Xpress
My article on the clash between activists and bureaucrats over the "imminent threat" of contamination at the former CTS of Asheville plant is in this week's Mountain Xpress:
It was a tense moment in the T.C. Roberson High School theater on the evening of Jan. 21. Sandy Mort of the state Department of Health and Human Services, the author of a recent study on the health effects of contamination near the former CTS of Asheville site (see sidebar), had just told the audience that a bus stop near the site posed no hazard. For the better part of three hours, the HHS staffer had heard a litany of neighboring residents' tales of personal pain, criticisms of the study and calls to clean up the source of the trichloroethylene contamination.
"Do you have a heart? Do you hear what these people are saying?" one woman shouted.
Holding the microphone close to her mouth, Mort gave a slight sigh and said, "We work with the information we have; that's reality."
Residents repeatedly questioned the study's finding that although there were 64 cases in the study area of types of cancer that could be related to TCE exposure, there was no elevated cancer rate. Mort acknowledged that the study's methods do have limitations but added that her agency would continue to update its studies.
Residents, however, countered with tales of cancer and maladies that they believe are linked to the tainted ground water they unknowingly consumed for many years. Although the first EPA tests were conducted in 1991, the first wells weren't capped until 1999.
"We've had a lot of medical problems in our family," said Becky Robinson, whose home was among the first to be put on city water. "We have had no medical recommendations, no guidance, nothing. We had to get our own medical testing. My two grandchildren's immune systems came back compromised. Nothing has been done; nobody has contacted us. My daughter's had lots of medical problems. Her liver started failing, she had a total hysterectomy at 23, seizures, multiple knee operations for cysts. We drank the water for nine years; we fixed our children's bottles with this water. All of them have health problems."
Mort said she thought public-health professionals had been in touch, but Dot Rice, whose well was also capped in 1999, said she hadn't heard from any public doctors until last week.
"We've got staff that can talk to your physicians," said Dr. Doug Campbell, who heads the state agency's Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch.
"Great — what about my medical bills?" asked Robinson.
"Well, we cannot offer that," responded Campbell.