Whirlpool Corp. has asked the city of Fort Smith to withdraw an ordinance that would ban the drilling of water wells near the old Whirlpool plant where ground water was contaminated by a chemical leak.
However, city directors will still have to discuss the issue Wednesday night (March 27) during their regularly scheduled meeting because it is on the agenda, according to Tracy Winchell, the city’s communications manager.
Jeff Noel, Whirlpool’s vice president of communications and public affairs, says the company has reached out to residents north of the now vacant plant.
“We are concerned. We are committed. We`re going to be here for the long haul,” he said.
The company is distributing a fact sheet about trichloroethylene or TCE.
'It was real clear there was a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation so our feeling was, we need to reach out directly to the residents, which is why we`ve now hand delivered letters to each of the residents in the area,” Noel said.
TCE is a volatile chemical used to remove grease from metal parts. Noel says the degreaser was used at Whirlpool from 1967-1981.
"Degreasers are actually something that everyone used,” he said. “Farmer`s used it, manufacturing used it. In fact, today households still have a lot of cleaning materials that have TC`s in them.”
The maximum contaminant level of TCE for drinking water is five parts per billion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But Noel says this isn't a concern since Fort Smith residents get their water from Lake Fort Smith.
“All the homes have been connected to city water since they were built, and all the information we have is that there are no wells in that area today,” he said. >
Whirlpool became aware of the leak in 2001 and immediately reported it to the EPA, Noel said.
“We have been working with the agency,” Noel said. “There have been articles about the situation. There have been meetings with the residents, and we`ve been doing an awful lot of things to clean up or attempt to clean up the site.”
According to Noel, the boundaries of the site have not moved in the past eight years and the concentration levels in the affected areas have also gone down.