Representatives from Whirlpool appeared before a special study session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Oct. 8) to present an update on efforts to clean up trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination at its former Fort Smith manufacturing site and a neighborhood north of the facility that sits over a TCE plume.
Speaking for the company was Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Jeff Noel, who told the Board and more than 75 audience members that the TCE plume was not spreading. He said Whirlpool was doing everything possible to attack and remove TCE from the groundwater below the Whirlpool site and in the surrounding neighborhood north of Ingersoll Avenue and that Whirlpool would be around until the clean up was finished, even if the company sells its empty factory that sits on about 152 acres in southern Fort Smith.
The presentation was held at the Fort Smith Senior Citizens Center on Cavanaugh Road.
Addressing numerous lawsuits that have been filed against the company on behalf of affected property owners who in some cases have seen their property values drop more than 40%, Noel said his company had tried doing the right thing.
"We also were willing to consider making an offer to purchase well-drilling rights and compensate the residents for that," Noel said. "Subsequent to those letters, lawsuits have been filed. And with the lawsuits that have been filed, both by attorneys representing individual residents and by an attorney filing a class action suit that represents all in the class, we have to represent the legal process. And our lawyers are talking to the lawyers representing the residents and we believe that there will be a process where residents will be treated fairly. And that we'll find a resolution for this situation. But unfortunately, as long as those lawsuits are out there, our lawyers have to work with the lawyers representing the residents."
‘NO OR LOW’ TCE LEVELS
Greg Gillespie, principal consultant with Whirlpool's consultant, ENVIRON Corp., said the footprint of the plume is smaller than it has been in previous years. Gillespie said he was able to make this statement due to a large network of monitoring wells on and surrounding the plume sites that report data to his company and also to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
Dr. Tamara House-Knight told the Board that the geology of the land prevented any vapors containing TCE from coming to the surface, possibly exposing residents to the potentially-cancer causing chemical. She said the company had detected "no or low" levels of TCE at seven feet below the surface, though she said the area's dense clay prevented the vapors from moving any higher.
In order to reduce the levels of TCE, Gillespie said the company would inject chemicals to oxidize the TCE in three different areas, most either on the Whirlpool site or immediately adjacent to the site, while other areas would be left to naturally attenuate, or dissipate on its own.
Following Whirlpool's presentation, Vice Mayor Kevin Settle was adamant that the plan presented to the Board would not work and asked why removal of soil was not a part of the plan.
"We have a plan, based on good science, based on examples of other sites to go out here and aggressively attack TCE in the groundwater and we have a plan that we have great confidence in that will be successful and will make a material impact in three years on the site," Noel said.
Asked by Director George Catsavis what Whirlpool planned to do should the plan they proposed not work, Noel would not present any other plans, only saying Whirlpool had researched other options.
"I think it's a great question and I think it's a question the regulatory agencies are asking, it's a question that we're asking. There are other options we have identified, but they don't, in our judgment using science, appear to be nearly as effective or in terms of beingeaffective, doing it as quickly as this particular treatment can be. So I don't even want to speculate on what could even be a plan B. I would rather come back and say this is our commitment to attack the TCE in the groundwater and our commitment to do quarterly reviews and our commitment as it relates to the progress that we're making."
As for what will happen to the site, Noel told the Board that a potential buyer was in the process of completing due diligence on the site and added that the Fort Smith workforce was a real selling point to potential buyers.
"I might also point out that in our time here making products in Fort Smith, Arkansas, we know that you have a great workforce. We know it's a wonderful workforce and we believe that's the best single asset to help market to and sell this property to others."
Settle questioned Noel’s statement on how great the company thought the Fort Smith community, specifically its workforce, was.
"Lastly, if the site was so good, Mr. Noel, why did you leave us?"
Settle also questioned the cleanup of the site and whether the company would actually have success or continue to leave a toxic plume under nearly 50 homes.
"What happened between (1981) and 2002, we don't even know. And I think that's something a lot of citizens are concerned with," he said. "The original plan you put forth was 134 pages with a bunch of concepts and ideas to remove the TCE. Whirlpool has decided, in my mind, to take a low-cost approach to fixing this problem."
He recalled that the company tried similar methods previously, but with no success. Settle said assuming a better result this time around was just "a shot in the dark."
City Directors Keith Lau and Pam Weber also expressed dissatisfaction with Whirlpool’s remediation plan. The two directors suggested the company should do more, including buying the polluted private property near the Whirlpool plant.
The meeting came a day after ADEQ released a draft of its Remedial Action Decision Document (RADD) for Corrective Action” for the Whirlpool site.
"ADEQ has determined containment of the soils and In-Situ Chemical Oxidation/Reduction coupled with Monitored Natural Attenuation (MNA) for the groundwater are the most effective remedial approaches at the Whirlpool facility," the document states.
One of the many proposals in the draft document involved asphalting a large portion of the Whirlpool site at a cost of $600,000 in addition to vapor gas monitoring discussed tonight by ENVIRON and Whirlpool.
MORE MONITORING SUGGESTED
Geologist Jeff Carnahan, vice president and director of technical services at Enviro Forensics in Indianapolis, was contacted by The City Wire to provide an independent analysis of the RADD and Whirlpool's actions regarding cleanup of the site.
He said ADEQ should require additional vapor monitoring beyond the monitoring taking place at seven feet below the surface and 15 feet below the surface.
"A more appropriate course of action (would be pairing) sampling of sub-slab vapors and indoor air in the occupied structures," he said. "Arkansas is one of those states that does not have state vapor intrusion guidance."
He also said asphalting parts of the Whirlpool property would not necessarily address the pollution problem, which Noel said tonight his company was solely responsible for.
"In the remediation work plan, that was one thing that was discussed for on-site impacts," he said. "(The success) depends on future land use. If it remains industrial, it's not necessarily inappropriate, but it doesn't address the groundwater impacts."
Ryan Benefield, deputy director of ADEQ, said after the meeting that the plan is just a draft at this point and following a public meeting on Nov. 12 and a public comment period, citizen's input would be considered, meaning the document could see minor or substantial changes.
Whirlpool officials have committed to quarterly reporting to the Board and ADEQ and through WhirlpoolFortSmith.com.
The ADEQ public meeting regarding a cleanup plan for Whirlpool will take place Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Fort Smith Senior Citizen Center located on Cavanaugh Road.