On the same day the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality submitted final responses to Whirlpool's challenges to the agency's annual groundwater monitoring report, the city of Fort Smith has confirmed that officials with ADEQ and Whirlpool will attend a Board of Directors study session to be held Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Senior Center at 2700 Cavanaugh Road.
City Administrator Ray Gosack said this meeting will provide the Board with the improved communication it demanded in February.
"It's basically that the Board of Directors asked for improved communications and Whirlpool has asked to give an update to the Board and they asked for that to be on Oct. 8," Gosack said. "We've asked ADEQ (to be present) in case they (the Board) asked for any updates from the agency."
The main topic of the meeting will be the company's revised mitigation plan, he said, adding that both organizations will be able to provide an update and answer questions that may have not been previously addressed in letters and documents released to the media.
"This is an opportunity for Whirlpool to provide an update to the mayor and Board of Directors. Clearly, the mayor and Board will have an opportunity to ask questions."
With the event being a study session, Gosack said it will not be open to public comment. That will be reserved for later in October or November when ADEQ and Whirlpool hold public meetings regarding the revised mitigation plan.
Gosack said his last communication with Whirlpool was approximately four weeks ago, when the company requested the meeting with the city.
He said the company has assured him they want to move quickly to clean up the pollution of trichloroethylene (TCE), a potentially cancer-causing chemical the company used at its former Fort Smith manufacturing facility as a degreasing agent until the 1980s.
The company has told Gosack, and indicated in previous drafts of its revised mitigation plan, it would install soil gas vapor monitoring stations in the neighborhood north of its former facility to ensure that no TCE is entering the airways and possibly sickening residents in the area.
The continued monitoring of not only vapor, but also actual soil, is important to the city as they begin a multi-million, multi-year sewer project that includes property attached to the Whirlpool site and the TCE plume.
"We (the city of Fort Smith) have done soil sampling in that area and there is no indication that there is a TCE problem for the sewer line project," Gosack said, adding that the city is working with Whirlpool on a possible indemnification agreement that may cover not only the costs of testing but also any damages that the city may incur as a result of TCE contamination during the project, including medical costs for employees. Gosack said such concerns are being addressed to ensure that no city workers, or contractors, are harmed as a result of the project.
"We're identifying if there are going to be any problems because we don't want anyone harmed," he said. "Our goal is to identify up front if there are any problems or not. If there are concerns, the workers can take proper protective measures to avoid harm to themselves."
As for what those measures may be, Gosack was unsure, though he said often city employees working underground or in tight areas wear breathing apparatus to avoid ingestion of potentially harmful contaminants.
Gosack said Whirlpool's reaching out to the city for a public meeting, while at the same time ADEQ submitting its final response to Whirlpool's comments regarding the annual groundwater monitoring report, show that communication among the three is where it should be.
"I think it has gone in the right direction and its staying there. Not only communication from Whirlpool, but from ADEQ. It is evidenced in today's letter. The communication improved immensely since the February Board meeting and both have maintained that level of communication."
In today's (Sept. 20) letter from ADEQ, the agency did say there is consensus that the southern boundary of the TCE plume now does not extend beyond the southern Whirlpool property line, but it said three monitoring wells have shown an increase in TCE concentrations.
"While it is true that the samples taken since 2007 (seven samples from ITMW-5, six samples from ITMW-9 and three samples from ITMW-10) do not appear to fluctuate, the same can be said for almost any of three (3) to seven (7) consecutive samples from any of the three (3) wells for any given time period. That's why EPA recommends a minimum of eight (8) data points for statistically valid trend analysis," wrote ADEQ engineer Mostafa Mehran.
The letter also addressed possible data error in some figures provided by ENVIRON, Whirlpool's environmental consultant.
"Either the TCE data for the monitoring well MW-25 in the 2013 report is in error or all previous reports are in error," Mehran wrote, adding that he suspects a conversion error may have occurred.
Whirlpool is required to submit a response to the deficiencies noted in the letter within 30 days of receipt.
Link here for the ADEQ letter.