Whirlpool To Develop Chemical Clean Up Plan

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The Fort Smith Board of Directors have insisted Whirlpool and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality create a plan to clean up a chemical that leaked from the plant and contaminated the groundwater of neighboring homes.

"Whirlpool owes us a report back by April 8 that will describe what they recommend as a possible remedy," said Ryan Benefield, Deputy Director of ADEQ.

Whirlpool contacted ADEQ in 2001 once the company determined trichloroethylene leaked beyond its property, according to Benefield. He says the two groups developed a plan to deal with the spill and Whirlpool wells have been tested every six months since.

Benefield says they hope to have a plan finalized this year, but the actual clean up will take much longer.

"Any remedy that goes into place to clean up the ground water, we anticipate to take many years," said Benefield.

Some residents living in the contaminated area say the biggest concern they have is how the spill will affect their property value.

"Man I still owe on this house," said Junior Winters who has lived in his home for almost 19 years. "I've got three more years, you know, on it, and I'm like there ain't no way I'm just going to let it go for nothing."

Hal Smith has lived in his home for almost 30 years. His family had hoped to move to Van Buren, but he doesn't see that happening now.

"We're not going to be able to sell our property without disclosing that there's a cancer-causing chemical in the ground," said Smith.

Neighbors also worry about how the chemical has affected their health.

"You can't keep from being a little bit concerned. I mean, I had cancer two and a half years ago," said Mary Winters who has lived in a home across the street from Whirlpool for 54 years.

Benefield said ADEQ does not believe there is a risk to area residents as long as they don't consumer the groundwater beneath the site.

The board plans to discuss the remediation again at a regularly scheduled meeting on April 2 at 6 p.m at the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center.