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CTS Corp. Contamination Case Heading to the Supreme Court this Month

Apr 7, 2014

The CTS Corp. manufacturing plant that was shuttered nearly 30 years ago, appears to have left behind significant contamination in area soil and groundwater, according to a lawsuit that will be heard in the Supreme Court later this month.

In 1999, residents began noticing that the Mills Gap Road plant site in North Carolina began leaking oily goo into an area spring basin, according to Citizen-Times. It is the time lapse between when the contamination became obvious and the plant closure that will be a significant point of issue later. Attorneys believe the case may have a broader reach, specifically for thousands of Marines and their families who had been stationed at Camp Lejeune, as well as other alleged victims of exposures to hidden toxins, Citizen-Times wrote. This lawsuit was brought against the company by 25 property owners in Buncombe County.

A law established in North Carolina involves a 10-year “statute of repose.” This statutes imposed a filing deadline for claims associated with environmental pollution in which real property is involved, despite that victims may not be aware of the contamination until beyond the statute limit, the Citizen-Times reported. Now, the court will consider if the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act passed by Congress in 1980, preempts the North Carolina statute. The law was put in place to assist victims with additional time to file claims after discovering what caused their alleged injuries.

CTE made industrial switches and resistors at the location for tens of years using chemicals that include the industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), which have been detected in high concentrations in area soil and groundwater, according to Citizen-Times. In fact, TCE was detected at 21,000 parts per billion (ppb) at a spring next to the plant. The level is more than 7,000 times the TCE groundwater standard in North Carolina. Other chemicals—benzene, xylene, and toluene—were also detected.

Buncombe County residents have long sought cleanup of the site and continue to allege an array of health problems—including cancer—associated with the now-closed CTS site. Meanwhile, officials believe the contamination is spreading. For instance, in 2008, TCE was detected in four wells in an area subdivision, Citizen-Times reported.

A large study conducted in 2013 revealed that TCE has been tied to increased risks for developing liver and other cancers and that Scandinavian workers exposed to TCE suffered from increased risks for developing liver, kidney, and cervix cancers, according to a prior Reuters Health report. Earlier research revealed that TCE causes cancer in animals when inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large quantities, and the World Health Organization (WHO) designated TCE a human carcinogen in October 2012. The WHO also indicated that TCE has links to kidney cancer; however, prior studies suggest that TCE is also associated with liver, kidney, cervical, and esophageal cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Increased risks for Parkinson’s disease have been associated with TCE, as well.

TCE, which may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, was banned in the food and pharmaceutical industries in most areas of the world the 1970s. In 1997, TCE was banned as an anesthetic, skin disinfectant, grain fumigant, and coffee decaffeinater in the United States. Before its ban, TCE was used in paints, glue, carpet cleaners, and dry-cleaning solutions. TCE is widely used in industry to clean machinery and in some etching processes, Reuters wrote previously. In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates TCE levels in the workplace as an intermediate step in refrigerant chemical production and as a solvent to clean metal parts, Reuters wrote.

TCE drinking and bathing water contamination has been the focus of mounting lawsuits in the U.S.

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