Whirlpool’s spin cycle

TCW Editorial

The Fort Smith Board of Directors should put the brakes on this request by Whirlpool Corp. to ban the installation of groundwater wells in an area near the company's former manufacturing plant in Fort Smith.

Robert Jones III, an attorney out of Fayetteville representing Whirlpool, was in Fort Smith on Tuesday (Feb. 12) to explain to members of the Fort Smith Board and city staff why a ban on such wells is in the best interest of those living in the polluted area.

Contamination was caused from the use of trichloroethylene (TCE) at Whirlpool from about 1967 until 1981. From this contamination, a broad “plume” of TCE-polluted water lies under several homes north of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant. Dr. Tamara House-Knight, an environmental expert on hand to help Jones explain his case, said TCE is harmful if ingested. The stuff can cause cancer. It’s tougher on children than adults.

Jones and Whirlpool want us all to believe they have our best interests at heart, and that in no way is the company trying to shirk its responsibilities with respect to any environmental damage it may have caused. They just want a blanket ban on wells so those good people in that area aren’t harmed.

Like the water under those homes, the story from Whirlpool is not something we should immediately swallow.

There are three good reasons the Board should review more carefully this request and the matter of pollution from the plant.

The first reason is that Whirlpool hasn’t especially proven itself trustworthy. Ask hundreds of former Whirlpool workers about the difference between treatment they were promised and treatment they received.

Further, the comments by Jones and the consultants are suspect. They suggested that the science is comfortably certain on TCE and they are working close with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to monitor the polluted plume. It was also noted that building swimming pools – which could reach the depths at which the tainted water is found – would not be a problem because TCE is harmful only if ingested orally.

Not so fast. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and other reports indicate that there is much to be learned about the dangers of TCE. Several groups of scientists who for years have been focused on TCE are uncertain of its impact. We also should be uncertain.

Also, Environmental Health Intelligence reported that TCE exposure is possible through “dermal contact” – which is to say it could be absorbed through the skin.

The second reason is that Jones and Whirlpool seek to assure us that the ADEQ is aggressive in requiring Whirlpool to monitor the pollution and stay on top of the situation. However, the ADEQ is not necessarily the cop we want on this beat. Their environmental stewardship track record is spotty, at best. Therefore, we may want to do all we can to legally and strategically ensure that we’re not years down the road beholden to pollution-mitigation decisions agreed to by the good suits in Little Rock and Benton Harbor, Mich.

A third reason is that we don’t know what we don’t know about other environmental issues at the plant, the process by which those are mitigated, and the reasons for this sudden push for a groundwater well ban.

Maybe our Board and city staff should request a full report – and share it with the public – from those able monitors at ADEQ before we grant blanket protection requests on behalf of Whirlpool.

This TCE problem has been known for more than 11 years, but now it’s an emergency and we should hurry and issue this groundwater well ban. Why now the sense of urgency?

And why the blanket ban? When asked by a Board member about Whirlpool’s obligation to help homeowners with any lost property value as a result of residing atop this pollution plume, Mr. Jones said the company would deal with each homeowner individually.

The way this works is that Whirlpool wants to protect its interests with a blanket approach, but is not interested in the same approach for homeowner interests – homeowners, by the way, without the capacity to afford teams of consultants and lawyers.

This ban requested by Whirlpool isn’t the only way to protect those living under this polluted plume. The city could, for example, establish a process by which any activity that could disturb the soil and/or water table in this area be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Maybe city officials ask Whirlpool to pay the cost of the city hiring and managing an independent environmental team. It’s called getting a second opinion.

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It’s possible that at the end of further review, the groundwater ban is the best approach.

But addressing the extent of pollution caused by a multi-national corporation that recently pulled out of town should require more questions, more consideration.

We could never get a straight answer out of Whirlpool officials about the plant’s future, so it’s reasonable to be skeptical of their answers about the plant’s pollution.

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Comments

Known future liability? Get the cleanup liability removed.

If the city does nothing, , Whirlpool must carry a large contingent liability amount on its biiks to clean up a future possible supersite..... Hey, let's get the yokels to waive that and ban anyone from drilling a well , , or maybe a pool, , or maybe a garden......

BoD kicked away a safety measure

The proposed ordinance was to prohibit drilling of drinking water wells in the affected area. No more, no less. Regardless of how evil Whirlpool is perceived to be – and especially since our inner conspiracy self thinks it’s much worse than they admit – this verbiage is a good thing: “The drilling, installation, or other construction of new groundwater well within the Identified Area is expressly prohibited for any purpose other than those exceptions listed in Section 2B.” The only liability this would relieve for Whirlpool is if someone were to drill for drinking water in their backyard. Whirlpool wants it, there it is bad, therefore we reject it. We just lost.
The proposed ordinance was to prohibit drilling of drinking water wells in the affected area. No more, no less. Regardless of how evil Whirlpool is perceived to be – and especially since our inner conspiracy self thinks it’s much worse than they admit – this verbiage is a good thing: “The drilling, installation, or other construction of new groundwater well within the Identified Area is expressly prohibited for any purpose other than those exceptions listed in Section 2B.” The only liability this would relieve for Whirlpool is if someone were to drill for drinking water in their backyard. Whirlpool wants it, there it is bad, therefore we reject it. We ...>> Read the entire comment.

RM you oversimplify

Can we be sure that the pollution will not percolate, settle, migrate, infuse, spread or effect other things and locations in the future. This is what happens when corporations or anyone else is allow to despoil our neighborhood, aka environment free of charge. I suppose it is a fair trade-off when we assume the job providing and tax paying business will not abandon the community. so much for assuming (Ass-u-me)Whirlpool is never coming back,don't let them get away scott free. BOD,times are different. If you cannot increase economic acitivity, then at least prevent more losses in the future. Whirlpool will continue to profit from third world exploitation, so they've got the money. Whirlpool needs to pay for reclamation and future damages from hazardous waste accumulated from the past. If the BOD is not willing to step-up, then step-down.

Read the ordinance and all 31 pages

No, we cannot be sure that the pollution will not percolate, settle, migrate, infuse, spread or effect [sic] other things and locations in the future. Fortunately, this ordinance does nothing to hinder anyone from addressing that. Read it again. Nothing in this ordinance prevents Whirlpool from being charged with responsibility. The only prohibition in the ordinance is the one I quoted above. Additionally, the ordinance includes a non-exclusive list of conditions under which Whirlpool DOES assume all financial responsibility for concerns arising from the chemicals. Bottom line: The ordinance protects the health of those who might want to drill a drinking water well in their backyard, puts financial responsibility on Whirlpool, and does nothing to prevent the city or anyone else from pursuing them for damages.
No, we cannot be sure that the pollution will not percolate, settle, migrate, infuse, spread or effect [sic] other things and locations in the future. Fortunately, this ordinance does nothing to hinder anyone from addressing that. Read it again. Nothing in this ordinance prevents Whirlpool from being charged with responsibility. The only prohibition in the ordinance is the one I quoted above. Additionally, the ordinance includes a non-exclusive list of conditions under which Whirlpool DOES assume all financial responsibility for concerns arising from the chemicals. Bottom line: The ordinance protects the health of those who might want to drill a drinking water ...>> Read the entire comment.

Safety measure?

While it is a safety measure it is also a bit of a subterfuge. It seems facially and after perusal of the ordinance as a means for a corporation to use the government to "cover up" a rather large sore they left us with. Preventing water drilling where there were no previous bans amounts to nothing short of a "taking", so basically Whirlpool is using the local government to take away property rights from citizens with no compensation. While the purpose may be safety the means are uncompensated restrictions on property rights. Which may in turn cause a great deal of problems for the city in the future. Is Whirlpool going to pay the cost of defense of the sure to be filed lawsuits coming about from the city gov exercising eminent domain without providing just compensation?
While it is a safety measure it is also a bit of a subterfuge. It seems facially and after perusal of the ordinance as a means for a corporation to use the government to "cover up" a rather large sore they left us with. Preventing water drilling where there were no previous bans amounts to nothing short of a "taking", so basically Whirlpool is using the local government to take away property rights from citizens with no compensation. While the purpose may be safety the means are uncompensated restrictions on property rights. Which may in turn cause a great deal of problems for the city in the future. Is Whirlpool going to pay the cost of defense of the sure to be ...>> Read the entire comment.

Whirlpool and Contamination

You should be very careful with Whirlpool. They had a plant they closed down many years ago and come to find out there are 6 restrictive covenants regarding groundwater use, but now they are cutting a marina into that same property but the public was never made aware of those covenants during the public hearing for the marina. Also, Whirlpool is currently backing a 500 million dollar development called Harbor Shores which is being built on highly contaminated land, including plumes of VC and TCE. Be aware that groundwater is not the only threat but Vapor intrusion is as well. I would definitely get a third party involved in testing. Whirlpool CAN NOT be trusted. They donated their contaminated land to a nonprofit to avoid their liabilty of cleaning it up. It is now us tax payers paying for it through Brownfields and tax increment financing.