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Row Over Tainted Land Heads to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - A North Carolina statute of limitations that could prevent landowners from suing over toxic contamination deserves scrutiny, the Supreme Court said Friday.

The dispute involves a tract of land in Asheville where CTS Corp. had for decades stored notable quantities of trichloroethylene (TCE) and manufactured products using TCE, cyanide, chromium VI and lead.

When CTS sold the facility in 1987, it promised realtors that the property "had been rendered in an environmentally clean condition." The company said that, "to the best of [its] knowledge, no on-site disposal or otherwise wanton disposal methods were practiced at [the] facility," and that as soon as "the existing inventory of materials contained in drums and other miscellaneous equipment within the plant [was] removed from the premises, no threat to human health or the environment [would] remain."

Dozens of buyers led by David Bradley and Renee Richardson nevertheless soon learned that their well water was contained concentrated levels of TCE and cis-1,2-dichloroethane (DCE), both solvents that have carcinogenic effects.

The landowners sued CTS for damages and remediation, but a federal judge dismissed the action after finding it barred by North Carolina's 10-year limitation on the accrual of real property claims.

A divided three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit reversed, however, after finding that the discovery rule articulated in section 9658 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Liability, and Compensation Act (CERCLA) pre-empts North Carolina's 10-year limitation.

The Supreme Court did not issue any comment, as is its custom, in granting CTS a writ of certiorari Friday.

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