Whirlpool contamination worse in some areas than previously stated

story by Ryan Saylor

An area of highly contaminated soil at the former Whirlpool manufacturing facility has the company's environmental consultants proposing not just chemical oxidation treatments, as previously approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, but removal of soil contaminated by potentially cancer-causing trichloroethylene (TCE).

And while the information is just coming to light, ADEQ said Whirlpool and its consultants knew about the contamination at Whirlpool’s former Fort Smith manufacturing operation even as it was presenting a remediation plan to the agency late last year and early this year.

In an April 24 memo, officials with ADEQ detail a telephone call with Project Manager Mike Ellis of ENVIRON, the firm Whirlpool hired to handle remediation efforts at its site following disclosure of TCE contamination, in which Ellis said his company had identified "an area of highly impacted soils to as deep as 25' – 30' have been located at the northwest corner of the Whirlpool building … "

According to Ellis, ENVIRON believed the location was likely the source of groundwater contamination that has spread to the neighborhood north of the shuttered factory “and as such requires source removal,” he said. The process for removing the contaminated soil will require boring into the ground, Ellis told ADEQ, with the focus shifting from the chemical oxidation treatments approved in the company's remediation plan to "source removal."

"They want to focus on source removal and have bioremediation of groundwater become secondary until the source is removed," the memo read. "They are still planning to inject into the one injection point in Area 1."

Ellis also notified ADEQ that "a large quantity of contaminant mass (is) moving to the South." The memo also said drilling to remove the contamination "will generate high volumes of highly contaminated soil and groundwater that will require management."

In addition to the northwest corner of the Whirlpool building, the memo said contaminated soils were also found to the west and south corner of the closed factory, as well as areas under the manufacturing building.

It is unknown what impact the change will have on the remediation plan approved earlier this year, though the memo said, "In either case, the schedule for groundwater remediation in Area 1 will be impacted."

In discussing the revelations from Ellis, ADEQ said it would have to sign off on future actions taken at the site before such actions are taken.

"Although Whirlpool collected this MIP data 4-5 months ago, no discussion of the results or ramifications of this data was supplied to ADEQ," the memo continued. "MIP data is presented in real time. Whirlpool certainly knew that this area was impacted prior to submitting the final Remedial Plan at the end of February."

At a quarterly meeting between ADEQ and ENVIRON held via conference call Monday (May 12), ADEQ requested Whirlpool provide the following to speed up removal of impacted soils:
• Within 15 days, Whirlpool should submit a soil investigation work plan for the newly-discovered area of contamination;
• The work plan "should include proposed boring locations, depths, sampling protocol and a proposed analytical suite. A schedule should also be presented."
• Whirlpool should provide ADEQ with any information is receives "from the analytical laboratory."

In a letter to Whirlpool from Technical Branch Manager Jay Rich of the ADEQ Hazardous Waste Division, Rich said the company should propose an amended remedy for the contaminated area should lab analysis confirm the disclosed data discussed in April.

"Since a remedy for AOC 1 is already in the Remedial Action Decision Document (RADD), the RADD may need to be amended based on the findings of the investigation," he wrote.