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Youth club: Firm can test land

Whirlpool wells near Fort Smith plant also need city OK

By Dave Hughes

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 4:28 a.m.

A map showing existing and proposed Whirlpool monitoring wells.

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club has given the Whirlpool Corp. access to its property next to the company's closed refrigerator manufacturing plant to sink wells to test for trichloroethylene.

Documents submitted Monday by Whirlpool's consultant, Environ International Corp., to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality stated that samples from three of five test wells opened in late June at the northeast corner of the plant property detected levels of trichloroethylene in the groundwater.

A team of Whirlpool and Environ officials met with the Boys and Girls Club's board of directors Monday to ask for permission to test whether any of the hazardous chemical has migrated to undeveloped property owned by the club.

The undeveloped property is just across Jenny Lind Road from the plant. The Boys and Girls Club building is farther to the northeast.

"Based on public statements by state regulators, we are confident that all young people, visitors and staff can continue to use the Evans [Boys and Girls] Club in a safe manner," a statement from club Executive Director Jerry Glidewell said.

Glidewell reiterated Tuesday that the Environmental Quality Department has consistently stated that the trichloroethylene in the groundwater does not pose a human health hazard.

"Sampling data from the new wells near the northeast corner of the Whirlpool manufacturing facility detected no soil contamination, and there remains no health risk to residents," Whirlpool Corporate Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Jeff Noel said in statement Monday.

Whirlpool wants to put in eight monitoring wells on the east side of Jenny Lind Road, which runs along Whirlpool's east property line to test for the presence of trichloroethylene. The company also has to get permission from the city of Fort Smith to put in the wells, City Administrator Ray Gosack said Tuesday.

Noel's statement said Whirlpool was accelerating the investigation to determine the impact of the recent trichloroethylene detection and plans to have sampling and analysis completed by early September.

"We have made it clear to Whirlpool that test information must be reported to the club as it is shared with ADEQ [the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality]," according to the club's news release.

Whirlpool, through Environ, is working to chemically neutralize the pool of trichloroethylene under the northwest corner of the plant that was discovered there in 1989. It plans to treat the plume of the chemical that seeped over the years into groundwater under the neighborhood to the north of the plant by allowing it to decompose naturally while restricting access to the contaminated groundwater.

The bulk of the remediation work is focused on the northwest corner of the plant hundreds of yards from the Boys and Girls Club property because that is the area where Whirlpool used the trichloroethylene from 1967-81 to clean metal refrigerator parts before assembly. Over the years, the chemical leaked into the soil, where workers detected it while removing an underground fuel tank.

The chemical was discovered to have seeped into the neighborhood north of the plant around 2000. Residents first learned of the contamination in January 2013.

Metro on 08/06/2014

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