Board delays Whirlpool water well ban request (Updated)

Editor's note: Story updated with information from the company hired by Whirlpool Corp. to measure pollution near the company's Fort Smith facility.

Fort Smith Director Keith Lau wasn’t just talking when he said the Board should remove from its agenda an ordinance request from Whirlpool Corp. that would ban groundwater drilling in certain areas of the city.

The ban was requested by Whirlpool as a response to trichloroethylene (TCE) in the soil in the residential neighborhood in the area of Ingersoll Avenue to Brazil Avenue near Whirlpool’s shuttered manufacturing plant. TCE had previously been used by the company at its Fort Smith manufacturing plant in equipment degreasing operations from 1967 to 1981, according to information provided by ENVIRON International Corp.

At a Feb. 12 meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors, a lawyer and consultants representing Whirlpool said possible cancer-causing chemicals in the ground around its former Fort Smith manufacturing facility had not spread. But the Whirlpool representatives were notified by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) 20 days prior to that presentation that trichloroethylene (TCE) was not necessarily contained.

Lau suggested Thursday (Feb. 28) the ban request be removed from the agenda after he learned about the ADEQ letter.

"They left us with an abandoned manufacturing facility, took production out of the country and left us with a problem," he said. "I can't see the Board of Directors voting for this. If it were me, I would pull it off the agenda. It would not even be an option."

Fort Smith City Clerk Sherri Gard issued a statement Friday (Mar. 1) morning saying the groundwater ban ordinance on the March 5 Board agenda has been removed. Gard’s statement noted:
“Director Keith Lau requested the below noted item be removed from the March 5, 2013 regular meeting agenda and rescheduled for consideration at the March 27, 2013 regular meeting:
“Ordinance to prohibit the installation of groundwater wells beneath certain identified lands within the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas; declaring an emergency; and for other purposes   ~ Good/Lorenz placed on March 5, 2013 regular meeting agenda at the February 12, 2013 study session ~  
“All remaining directors (Directors Andre’ Good, Mike Lorenz, George Catsavis, Pam Weber, Kevin Settle and Philip Merry) were contacted and unanimously consented to the removal, as well as the addition of same to the March 27, 2013 regular meeting agenda.”

Updated info: One reason for the delay is because of new information received by the Board from Whirlpool.

Tamara House-Knight, a senior associate and toxicologist for ENVIRON International Corp., disputes the ADEQ claim that the TCE pollution is moving. ENVIRON is the environmental firm hired by Whirlpool to collect data on the TCE pollution.

“Based upon 7 years of data, TCE concentrations appear to be stable to decreasing at the northern flow regime boundary and stable at off-site boundary wells. These data indicate that the TCE plume has a defined delineation and there is no continued migration of TCE further off-site,” House-Knight noted in her letter dated Feb. 12.

ENVIRON also disputes the ADEQ suggestion that Whirlpool do more to clean up the pollution.

“Also, the January letter requested a review of a vertical barrier for an on-site soil remedy. The impacted soil discussed in the RRMP is located within the southern flow regime and therefore does not pose risk to off-site properties,” House-Knight explained.  “Our planned use of institutional controls for the on-site impacts will address the current risks on-site. Whirlpool plans to record deed restrictions prohibiting subsurface work within the impact area. This will be done in addition to the City of Ft Smith Groundwater Well Ban that will cover on-site Whirlpool property.”

House-Knight suggested “a meeting with ADEQ to address the issues raised above and
together develop a path forward. ENVIRON submitted a work plan to begin implementing elements of the final remedy identified in the RRMP and would like to keep the project moving forward.”

Link here for the House-Knight letter.