Tuesday's study session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors ran the gamut as Ward 4 Director George Catsavis fired and missed in his attempt to get a repeal of the city's ban on guns in city parks on the agenda and Whirlpool was back in town in an attempt to ban drilling for groundwater wells near its former manufacturing facility on the south side of Fort Smith.
Catsavis began by introducing the repeal proposal, even though it was not on the agenda for Monday afternoon's meeting.
After failing to get a second on his motion to introduce the appeal, the board returned to its agenda.
Robert Jones III, a Fayetteville attorney with the Tulsa-based law firm Conners & Winters, representing Whirlpool, was on hand to advocate for an ordinance that would ban the installation of groundwater wells in an area immediately surrounding the company's former manufacturing plant.
Jones said the ban was necessary due to contamination that had occurred from the use of trichloroethylene (TCE) in equipment degreasing operations. Whirlpool had used TCE from about 1967 until 1981, according to information provided to the Board by ENVIRON International Corp.
According to Dr. Tamara House-Knight of ENVIRON, TCE can be harmful to individuals if ingested.
"In this circumstance because it's outside, there's no risk except in oral ingestion," House-Knight said after the meeting. "This is just through ingestion through drinking water."
Jones told the Board that TCE could be a carcinogen, or cancer-causing, if ingested, according to some studies.
A Centers of Disease Control study suggested that more research is necessary to determine linkage between TCE and cancer.
“In studies with people, there are many factors that are not fully understood. More studies need to be done to establish the relationship between exposure to trichloroethylene and cancer,” noted the CDC public health statement on TCE.
By banning drilling for groundwater wells in the area, which would include a residential neighborhood from Ingersoll Avenue to Brazil Avenue, Jones said the risk for ingestion and health problems would be eliminated.
However, this April 16, 2009 report from Environmental Health suggests ingestion is not the only method for TCE to enter the body.
“In the United States and in Canada, people have been exposed by ingestion, inhalation and or dermal contact,” the report noted.
Vice Mayor Kevin Settle questioned why Whirlpool was just now coming to the city to persuade them to pass a groundwater well ban in the area instead of in 2001 when the company was still in business and aware of the presence of TCE.
"We did not know the extent of the problem," Jones said. "That would have been premature to come to the board."
By its own admission in documents submitted to the board, Whirlpool discovered TCE in 1990 and submitted a notification to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in Aug. 2002 stating it would conduct corrective action to address the problem.
Jones now says Whirlpool is unable to clean up the contamination and a ban on drilling for groundwater wells is the only solution.
Director Pam Weber asked if there was a chance of the contamination spreading.
"Minimal, because it has not moved," said Greg Gillespie, principal consultant with ENVIRON.
Gillespie said his company samples the area twice a year to monitor the contamination field.
Director Keith Lau also questioned how this would impact home prices in the area and whether homeowners could request compensation or damages from Whirlpool. Jones said the ordinance would not take away homeowner's potential to file claims with the company.
Asked after the meeting how a homeowner would file such a claim, Jones said no procedure had been established.
"They need to show us some proof (of damages)," Jones said. "Maybe some expert witnesses or practical considerations."
He said thus far, no claims had been made.
"As litigious as our society is, that says something," Jones said.
Asked whether Whirlpool had dealt with such a problem at its other manufacturing facilities, Jones said he was unsure.
The Board will vote on the ordinance at its March 5 regular meeting.
• The Board reviewed recommendations of the Animal Services Advisory Board and will vote on ten recommendations at its meeting on Feb. 19. The board tabled a vote on a ban on offering animals as prizes and allowing dogs to be unleashed within city limits.
• The Board discussed the vote on the county-wide sales tax that will take place later this year. Directors agreed to vote on two resolutions pertaining to the tax. The first would state how Fort Smith intends to use its share of the tax revenue. The second would be a resolution encouraging Fort Smith voters to approve the continuation of the 1% tax. City Administrator Ray Gosack said the second resolution was necessary for staff to advocate for passage of the tax.