Environmental activist Erin Brockovich spoke to nearly 300 people at the Fort Smith Senior Center on Cavanaugh Road Tuesday evening (March 26) about contaminated groundwater following a chemical spill at the Whirlpool plant.
Brockovich and her team of researchers were critical of Whirlpool throughout the town hall meeting as they discussed the concerns of former Whirlpool employees and residents living in the contaminated area.
“Most perplexing about the record here in this particular pollution case, is the lack of a record,” said Bob Bowcock, lead researcher for Brockovich’s team.
Whirlpool began using the chemical trichloroethylene in 1967 as a degreaser. Whirlpool has said they discontinued using TCE in 1981, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the company became aware the contamination had spread beyond its property.
The crowd shared concerns about their health and the health of their families. One audience member said he lived in the contaminated area 20 years ago and asked if it was possible his health could be at risk today.
Without hesitation, Brockovich said, “Yes.”
“These chemicals have a latency period,” said Brockovich. “TCE can have a latency period of 20 years. So the contamination could have been out there in 1979, ’89, ’99. It’s discovered and disclosed in 2002, and then some of the community starts noticing that they’re having health problems.”
City Administrator Ray Gosack said he was pleased with the turnout at the event.
“I was encouraged by the public’s interest in tonight’s meeting, and also to learn that there’s so many former whirlpool employees who feel like they may have been affected by the chemicals used at the plant,” said Gosack.
He said the issue will be discussed further at Wednesday’s Board of Directors meeting.
“Whirlpool has asked that that ordinance be deferred until they can put together a remediation plan, review that plan with the community, the public, and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.”
The Board of Directors meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday (March 27) at the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center on Jenny Lind Road.