The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is laying out steps Whirlpool must take to address contamination on its closed Fort Smith plant site and an adjoining residential neighborhood.
Two lawsuits from residents filed in the spring allege the chemical in question, trichloroethylene, or TCE, has been used at the plant since the 1960s. Whirlpool has known about portions of the leak of TCE, a known carcinogen, since the 1980s but residents say they did not learn of it until 2013 – when Whirlpool proposed a city ordinance to ban the drinking of well water in the effected neighborhood.
The Department of Environmental Quality's plan of action calls for Whirlpool to contain the area of contaminated soils. The document also requires the company to use a chemical oxidant to neutralize TCE that seeped into the soil and groundwater under part of the plant. But no special efforts are being asked in the plan to address the contamination under the neighborhood. ADEQ's Remedial Action Decision Document says to let the TCE in residential areas decompose naturally.
While the presence of the chemical in the soil and groundwater is a concern ADEQ says levels both on-site and off-site don't exceed cancer risk ranges and the industrial nature of the site limits ecological impacts.