The Atlantic – March 5, 2015
Don’t Drink the Water
In 1991, the EPA learned that there were toxins in a mountain stream. But nobody told the family who owned the property.
Terry Rice lives in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, about 10 miles outside of Asheville, in a cabin his grandfather built by hand. When his family bought the 15-acre property in 1974, they were drawn to the natural creeks that wound between the oak and pine trees. As a teenager, Rice would wade into the springs or hike in the woods, drinking from the cool water on hot summer days. The Rices drew their regular water supply from a spring just a few hundred yards behind the cabin.
In July 1999, a visiting friend, Bob Taylor, volunteered to clean out the spring. Taylor was shocked when he climbed down to the water and saw dead plants and an oily liquid near the surface. “All the vegetation was dying on the bank,” Taylor recalled recently. “We’re talking two to three feet up the bank and there was a black sheen on the water.” He also found green barrels from a factory that had once bordered the property.