FORT SMITH — Whirlpool Corp. is negotiating with the state to test property owned by the Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club for contamination.
A portion of Whirlpool’s now-closed plant on Jenny Lind Road has been contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE, since at least 1989 when it was discovered at the site, according to environmental consulting firm Environ. The chemical, now known to be toxic, was later discovered underneath a neighborhood north of the plant.
Earlier this month, Whirlpool representative Jeff Noel said the testing request was prompted by samples taken from monitoring wells installed this year at the property’s northeast corner and across the street from Boys & Girls Club ballfields. Of those five monitoring wells, he said, three showed levels of TCE in groundwater, but not in soil.
The youth club has agreed to accommodate the testing. In a letter to Whirlpool, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality says it will grant permission for the additional tests under several conditions, one of which is to collect water and sediment samples from Mill Creek east of the youth club.
“We respectfully disagree with the request to ‘step out’ and collect surface and sediment samples from three locations in Mill Creek,” Environ states in a response sent to ADEQ last week. “Our reluctance to immediately initiate sampling of sediment and surface water in Mill Creek is based upon the magnitude of other sources for contamination to be present in Mill Creek, and little or no basis to distinguish this contamination, if present, from the Whirlpool property.”
Instead, Environ proposes to continue its “current sequential investigative approach and assess TCE impact confirmed to be associated with the site.”
Whirlpool also contends it already assessed soil and groundwater conditions at the northeast corner, finding “no TCE” in the soil samples.
“The concentration of TCE in groundwater at the northeast corner decreased significantly near the Whirlpool property boundaries,” the company says in a letter to the state.
Boys & Girls Club executive director Jerry Glidewell said the club’s Evans location is used for baseball and soccer. In a news release, the club says that based on public statements by state regulators, “we are confident that all young people, visitors and staff can continue to use the Evans club in a safe manner.”
Whirlpool is in the midst of a state-approved cleanup plan that began in March with the treatment of contaminated groundwater with a chemical oxidant. A second round of chemical injections took place in late May.
During a public hearing in November, ADEQ Deputy Director Ryan Benefield said that although “this chemical is toxic,” TCE is not making its way to the surface or expanding in size. He added that Whirlpool’s plan to use a chemical oxidant to treat the contaminated groundwater “will work based on the best information we have.”