City Directors, Protestors Disagree With Whirlpool On Contamination

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Whirlpool officials met with Fort Smith city directors in a special session Tuesday to go over the company's plans for its contaminated Fort Smith site, and some officials were not impressed.

Kevin Settle, a Fort Smith city director, does not approve of the plan.

"They chose the low-cost option, that really doesn't take care of the problem quickly," said Settle.

Whirlpool executives said the plume of  contaminant trichloroethylene (TCE) is stable and under control, and they have a plan to attack the TCE in the area.

"There is no health concern whatsoever,” said Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel. “You can't ingest it, you can't touch it, you can't eat it and you can't inhale it. It is perfectly safe."

Protesters were demonstrating just before Tuesday's meeting, but Whirlpool officials said the publicity has not hurt their prospects for the sale of the old plant location.

Whirlpool said the plant is up for sale, and the company has interested buyers.

"It's 152 acres, 2 million square feet, accessible to the interstate, and we happen to know after 60 years of doing business, there's a great workforce here in Fort Smith."

Although Whirlpool and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said the TCE is harmless, a whirlpool neighbor and former employee says otherwise.

"My spine is just worthless, my muscles they're not strong any longer,” said Debbie Keith. “I get dizzy, lightheadedness. My feet swell my hands swell."

Keith said she's convinced that the TCE is to blame for her heath conditions and her life has changed for the worse due to the plume of TCE near her home.

In addition to her health problems, Keith said her property value has tanked.

"Lawsuits have been filed and that's OK because Whirlpool is committed to doing the right thing," said Noel. "We are working with lawyers for the residents to try and find the means in which we can resolve this and do it in a fair way."

As Whirlpool officials say they are taking responsibility, plans for chem-ox treatments being put into the ground is at the top of their list.

"We will be attacking the site by directly injecting these pipes over the highest concentrated areas, as well as injecting these pipes into areas off of our property so that we can make sure that we are doing the right thing to attack the plume."

"They hope it will work and in my mind it's really not about hope, it's about doing what's right," said Settle.

Whirlpool executives said they have two lawsuits filed against the company by multiple property owners near the plume and are taking all claims seriously.

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