Whirlpool may add additional pollution monitors near Fort Smith TCE area

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Whirlpool has proposed additionally monitoring and testing of water and soil samples at sites near its now-shuttered manufacturing facility in south Fort Smith following detection of trichloroethylene (TCE) in the area.

According to a supplemental work plan submitted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality on Monday (Aug. 4), the company's environmental consultants told ADEQ that the additional test and samples were necessary near the northeast corner of its closed factory after "three of the five new groundwater monitoring wells installed at the northeast corner in late June" detected the TCE.

The new sites were installed on July 8 and Principal Michael Ellis of ENVIRON, Whirlpool's consultants, told ADEQ that no TCE was detected in soil samples at the time of installation.

"Significantly lower” levels of TCE were measured in groundwater at the northeast corner than at other locations, including the facility's northwest corner and Whirlpool's property boundaries, Ellis said.

"In order to determine if remediation activities are warranted, further investigation is required to verify whether TCE detected in the groundwater has migrated under Jenny Lind Road and if so, whether this groundwater has also migrated under the undeveloped property owned by the Boys & Girls Club that will soon be separated from the club by the upcoming Ingersoll Avenue Road expansion," he wrote.

Ellis proposed soil probes to collect soil and groundwater samples in the areas beyond Whirlpool's property lines.

"Based on the results of this first phase of testing, permanent groundwater monitoring wells would be installed, if appropriate," he added. "If remediation activities are warranted, plans will be prepared for ADEQ review and approval to aggressively and swiftly address this contamination as appropriate based on the data from this investigation. … Based on existing data and the easterly groundwater flow direction in this area, there is currently no indication of impacts to other properties adjacent to the northeast corner of the Whirlpool property - other than those where we are proposing to conduct this additional investigation."

Additionally testing will also be conducted at the Whirlpool site, Ellis said, "out (of) an abundance of caution" in order to determine whether there could be any additional TCE migrating from the company's property.

"Once these plans are finalized, we will submit additional work plans to ADEQ for any necessary approvals before commencing these activities," he wrote.

The additional testing will start this week "following the completion of access agreements with the two property owners (City of Ft. Smith and Boys & Girls Club) where the proposed sampling will take place," Ellis said, with initial probes taking one week to complete.

In a statement, Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel said the company was committed to being a "responsible corporate citizen of Fort Smith and to managing this issue in an open and responsible matter."

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"Sampling data from the new wells near the northeast corner of the Whirlpool manufacturing facility detected no soil contamination, and there remains no health risk to residents. Because of the interest in the ongoing remediation work from Fort Smith residents and City Directors, we are accelerating the supplemental investigation to define the impact of the TCE detected in the groundwater in some of the new wells in the northeast corner of our property, and we plan to complete the sampling, validation and analysis by early September.

"If additional remediation activities are necessary, plans will be prepared for ADEQ’s review and approval to aggressively and swiftly address this contamination as appropriate based on the data from this investigation. While we are still in the process of gathering the facts, Whirlpool is sharing this information now because of our commitment to transparency."

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