ADEQ Sets Deadline For Whirlpool’s 2016 Progress Report On Fort Smith Pollution

Jan 9, 2017

The Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith has been the subject of environmental concerns.
Credit Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Whirlpool’s 2016 Annual Progress Report to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will be released on Feb. 15, according to ADEQ spokeswoman Kelly Robinson.

The report will detail Whirlpool’s progress on cleanup of trichloroethylene (TCE), a cancer-causing chemical that leaked into the groundwater under and adjacent to the former Whirlpool manufacturing facility in Fort Smith. The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based appliance manufacturer submitted its first report on Jan. 15, 2014 for the 2013 cleanup year, and provides updates on cleanup efforts through the WhirlpoolFortSmith.com website with the latest being the second quarter progress report for 2016.

In the document, the company provided analytical data from samples of 104 wells; soil vapor monitoring; and calculations for the estimation of TCE mass for the second quarter, noting “the combined estimated quantity of TCE currently adsorbed in unsaturated and saturated soil and the TCE dissolved in the three groundwater plumes is estimated to range from approximately 20 to 70 gallons based upon investigation and monitoring events at the Site,” with the groundwater portion being between 11 and 34 gallons.

The report continued: “The combined estimated quantity of TCE ranging from approximately 20 to 70 gallons consists of … six to 26 gallons of TCE in unsaturated soil; one to 8 gallons of TCE in saturated soil; nine to 31 gallons of TCE in groundwater in the south plume; less than one to two gallons of TCE in groundwater in the north plume; and less than one gallon of TCE in groundwater in the northeast plume.”

According to Ramboll Environ — Whirlpool’s consulting firm and preparer of the report — risk estimates for vapor intrusion from groundwater in the neighborhood remain below ADEQ’s risk management limits of 10^4 and 1 for cumulative cancer risk and non-cancer hazards, respectively, with no identified TCE impacts to offsite surface water or sediment.

Missing from the WhirlpoolFortSmith website are third and fourth quarter results for 2016. Talk Business & Politics sent an email regarding the status of those reports to Jeff Noel, Whirlpool’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, on Jan. 5, but did not receive a response.

Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the city had not received either of the missing reports, noting that he had “sent inquiry to Whirlpool as to the status.”

“The Sept. 20, 2016 revision to the Groundwater Monitoring Plan submitted to ADEQ referenced that the Remedial Action Decision Documents (RADDs) dated Dec. 2014 and the Nov. 2015 revised RADDS indicate that the site would be evaluated two years after background conditions are established, and ten quarterly monitoring events have been completed since that time,” Dingman said, adding, “The groundwater monitoring plan, which I understand has been approved by ADEQ, indicates that certain monitoring points will be analyzed either every six or 12 months.”

Dingman said he would seek clarification on that last point, noting the company “has generally worked through the city administrator’s office” when communicating with the city and that he would ask about plans to provide an update to the Board of Directors.

In a two-year technical review report from early 2016, Noel wrote that in 2015 Whirlpool “reached agreements with 100% of residents in the well drilling ban area” and that as a result of those agreements, “the environmental class action lawsuit and most individual lawsuits against Whirlpool were dismissed.”

In May 2015, Noel told Talk Business & Politics that 48 of the 50 property owners in the original plume area had settled with the company. The remaining two were area non-profits. Homeowners in the settlement received 100% of their property devaluation plus 33% of the devaluated amount. For example, one homeowner had a $90,000 property value prior to the TCE pollution, with that value lowered to $43,000 after the pollution was known. Whirlpool paid that person $64,000 to cover the $47,000 loss plus 33% of the loss. Fort Smith Director Tracy Pennartz told Talk Business & Politics that she was not sure about the fairness of the settlements, but said “if they (homeowners) are satisfied, I’m satisfied.”

One other focus for Whirlpool that Noel noted in the technical review was redevelopment of the property, a priority that received a boost when Spartan Logistics purchased the site in 2014.

“Additionally, further redevelopment options are in progress that are expected to benefit the entire Fort Smith community,” Noel said, adding, “There are current plans to conduct indoor air monitoring and sub-slab soil vapor testing in late January 2016 to facilitate planned interior building activities, including equipment removal and selective demolition of the mezzanine level, in order to optimize potential future use of the building.” Noel suggested “strategic demolition” and dividing the property into 12 or more parcels to “create a 95-acre industrial park” as a means of returning jobs to the area.

Under Spartan’s ownership, the site is now home to four companies, who employ up to 300 people, providing “one-stop shopping” to Fortune 500 companies with package handling, light manufacturing, packaging assembly, inventory controls, shipping and other needs. In contrast, Whirlpool, at its peak use of the site, employed 4,500.