Whirlpool submits revised TCE mitigation plan

story by Ryan Saylor

A revised risk management plan submitted by Whirlpool Corporation to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Tuesday (May 21) has left residents and city directors dissatisfied with the company's plan for cleanup.

Whirlpool operated its Fort Smith plant 45 years before ceasing production on June 29, 2012. The Whirlpool plant employed more than 4,600 workers in 2006, and resulted in about 1,000 jobs lost when it closed in 2012.

A groundwater ban was requested earlier this year by Whirlpool as a response to trichloroethylene (TCE) in the soil in a residential neighborhood near the shuttered plant. TCE had previously been used by the company in Fort Smith from 1967 to 1981, according to information provided by ENVIRON International Corp., the firm paid by Whirlpool to assess environmental impact.

The plan has several components that affect everything from oxidation of water to soil monitoring, some of which have been excerpted as follows:

"On-site and off-site groundwater will be treated in-situ with a chemical oxidant to reduce source area concentrations. This action will also affect the off-site groundwater concentrations by reducing the toxicity and volume of COCs moving off-site. …After completion of chemical oxidation monitored natural attenuation will address any remaining dissolved COC mass and fringe areas.

"Use of in-site groundwater will also be restricted via the use of institutional controls for the entire site. In addition, institutional controls in the form of deed restrictions will be put into place to prohibit groundwater use on-site, require appropriate health and safety precautions be enforced during construction or maintenance activities that involve excavation into impacted groundwater, and require the future building use comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and include chlorinated volatile organic compounds (CVOCs) in impacted groundwater as part of the hazard communication program."

"On-site soil will be addressed through institutional controls (restrictive covenants) to eliminate access to affected on-site soil. Whirlpool will record restrictive covenants when the property changes ownership."

"The selected final remedy also includes proposed off-site institutional controls. Off-site institutional controls can take the form of either deed restrictions, restrictive covenants, or a city ordinance."

"In order to meet obligations associated with restrictive covenants, Whirlpool will record restrictive covenants on the site that will require future owners of the property to adhere to the recorded restrictions. …In order to meet obligations associated with the off-site restrictions, Whirlpool will pursue off-site institutional controls after the acceptance of the final remedy by ADEQ in cooperation with residents and the City of Ft. Smith."

"Whirlpool will implement a program of soil gas monitoring for a five year period on an annual basis to monitor the soil gas concentrations to confirm that groundwater-derived vapors are not migrating and that vapor intrusion continues to be an incomplete pathway. The program will use the existing soil gas sampling points augmented with additional soil gas sampling points to be incorporated into the performance monitoring program."

"Whirlpool will implement a program of quarterly groundwater monitoring for a five-year period to verify effectiveness of natural attenuation."

"Consistent with the 2005 Arkansas Groundwater Remediation Level Interim Policy, five years after initiating the final corrective measure, Whirlpool will submit a five-year technical review of the status of the Whirlpool site final corrective measure and assess the need for any necessary further actions."

"The public involvement plan will consist of:
• "establishing a local repository for project documents…
• "compiling a copy of the Administrative Record for public access at the repository…
• "conduct a public meeting for all residents and city leaders to review and comment on the final corrective measure.

"Whirlpool has provided a copy of relevant site documents to the repository that will provide the public the basis to understand the selection of the final corrective measure and will update as more documents are published."

A preliminary schedule included in the plan proposes implementation of the proposed plan by Oct. 30, though it would depend on approval of the plan from ADEQ.

Reacting in a telephone call to the plan, resident Debbie Keith did not mince words.

"I think it's a bunch of BS," she said. "It's the same thing they've done before. It didn't work, so why are we wasting lawyers and putting our health at risk for them to spend as little as possible?"

Fort Smith Director Keith Lau said the plan may not be the final plan presented to the public at a later time.

"It looks, to me, like it's an ongoing negotiation," he said. "They agree with some of the ADEQ's recommendations and disagree with some of it, so it's just more of the same. It's a lot of back and forth."

The issue of institutional controls, including the possible passage of a city ordinance or deed restrictions, caught Lau by surprise.

"I can't imagine me as a city director ever voting for deed restrictions or institutional controls until the affected property owners are compensated or the soil is remediated."

Keith wants Whirlpool to step up and address the problems faced by her and other residents in the neighborhood north of the former manufacturing facility.

"I just want them to buy my property and let me leave," she said. "My great-grandfather built this place, so I never intended to leave my home, but I'm also disabled at 47-years-old. I don't know that they didn't cause it, they don't know that they didn't cause it, but if my health could get better living somewhere else, but all means, let's go."

City Administrator Ray Gosack was asked about the plan and whether it properly addressed concerns from the city or if the city would like to see anything added to the plan.

“The revised plan was submitted in response to questions and concerns from ADEQ,” Gosack responded. “I don’t have the scientific background to evaluate the responses and information provided by Whirlpool/Environ. I think that ADEQ is in the best position to answer the questions you've posed."

A call to Whirlpool was not returned.

Link here for a PDF (large file) of the new plan.