City Declares Whirlpool Cleanup an Emergency

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Fort Smith City Directors have now passed an emergency resolution to clean up a 30-year-old chemical spill at the old Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith. The board met Tuesday (April 2), and unanimously passed a resolution urging Whirlpool and the state to quickly cleanup the site of a trichloroethylene (TCE) spill.

Director Mike Lorenz told 5NEWS he's glad the city is finally holding Whirlpool responsible.

"The emergency was there 20 years ago," explained Lorenz. "Unfortunately it's kind of been brushed under the rug by Whirlpool, whether it's intentional or unintentional."

Whirlpool says they began using the chemical TCE in 1967 as a degreaser. The company said they discontinued using TCE in 1981, but it wasn’t until 2001 that the company says they became aware that the contamination had spread beyond its property.

Director Kevin Settle agreed, saying Whirlpool should've started the clean up process years ago.

"It just felt like the process had taken so long and I mean, years," Settle said. "This thing should've been handled 8 to 10 years ago."

City directors amended the resolution to include quarterly status updates from both Whirlpool and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) throughout the cleanup process.

"I wanted to make sure that we got something in there for when they would be communicating with us so that they make sure what we're requesting," Lorenz said. "Whirlpool thought they were doing a good job communicating with the neighborhood about the spill. Neighbors thought otherwise. I didn't want the city to run into the same problem."

Settle also asked the board to consider sending a letter to Arkansas legislators, asking them to get involved with the situation at the state level. The board says they'll discuss this proposition at their next meeting.

ADEQ Deputy Director Ryan Benefield told 5NEWS Whirlpool is scheduled to present a cleanup plan for the site by Monday (April 8).