Whirlpool closure appears clean from environmental view

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 91 views 

The closure of the Whirlpool plant on June 29 may leave a crater in the Fort Smith economy, but the company appears to be ready to leave the facilities now occupied at 6400 Jenny Lind Road in keen environmental shape.

According to Ryan Benefield, deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), the refrigerator manufacturing operation has no outstanding items from ADEQ regarding hazardous waste cleanup.

Repeated daily e-mail and phone call attempts by The City Wire to reach Whirlpool's media relations department from Monday (June 4) through Thursday (June 7) yielded no results.

In other words, the building should be safe and ready to go for the next prospective tenant, though Benefield said he “would advise whoever moves in to the building to get an environmental site assessment completed.”

Benefield noted that “it would be the next tenant’s responsibility to get that done.”

Benefield told The City Wire on Thursday (June 7) that such assessments are conducted by independent environmental consultants and not the ADEQ. As far as his department is concerned, Whirlpool’s only remaining obligations to the site are active air and water permits, including a “commitment to groundwater cleanup.”

“There are no restrictions on, or anything that would affect the property itself. It is safe for industrial use,” Benefield said.

The remaining active permits will terminate at the company’s request once ADEQ has determined Whirlpool has met its obligations. No official expiration dates were listed on the most recent permit copies.

A look at the ADEQ facility and permit summary reveals 12 voided entries — 11 air-related and one water-related. Aside from that, there are the active permits as well as an underground storage tank, which is company property, though Benefield notes, “It would be unusual to take that with them.”

The Whirlpool plant employed more than 4,500 workers in 2006, and will result in about 1,000 jobs lost when it closes. Its closure will mark the end of more than 45 years of operations in Fort Smith.