A well- known environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, will be in Fort Smith Tuesday (March 26, 2013). But her team of researchers is already in the River Valley testing for trichloroethylene, or T.C.E. contamination near the former Whirlpool plant.
Bob Bowcock got to town Monday afternoon (March 25, 2013) and began looking through binders full of research and testing the ground water near the old Whirlpool plant for T.C.E. contamination.
"The chemical industry promised it wouldn't end up on the ball fields down the street, or in these people's front yards but it has," Bowcock said. "And now that it has, we need to talk about how we're going to get this problem cleaned up instead of just trying to sweep it under the carpet."
The problem first started back in the 1980s, when Whirlpool learned that a T.C.E. spill occurred at its factory on Jenny Lind Road. That spill eventually migrated north, affecting residential homes near the facility. However, it wasn't until Jan. 10, 2013 that neighbors said Whirlpool informed them that their homes could be affected by the spill. That's after the manufacturing company closed it's doors in July 2012.
Debbie Keith, who said her home is affected by the plume of T.C.E., reached out to Brockovich and her team for help. Now, she says she is so glad she did.
"It's kind of like a dream because its all actually coming together," Keith said. Keith met with Bowcock Monday afternoon (March 25, 2013) to talk about the contamination.
Bowcock plans to test the water in front of Keith's house to see just how high the levels of contamination really are. But, if he finds even a trace of T.C.E., he says it is dangerous to anyone living in the area.
T.C.E. exposure can cause liver, kidney and digestive track type cancers according to Bowcock. He says anyone who breathes the toxin can also be subject to neurological disorders and brain cancers.
"These are things that like I've said have never been studied because the chemical industry promised they'd never make it out of the factory," Bowcock said. "So all the science for TCE exposure is done on the 40-year-old white, working male. They don't know what it does."
The town hall meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 26 at the Senior Activity Center at 2700 Cavanaugh Road in Fort Smith.
5NEWS did reach out to Whirlpool for a comment about Brockovich's investigation. They said they would be willing to talk with us, but not until Tuesday, March 26, 2013.