Ark. agency reviews plan for closed Whirlpool site

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing a plan to deal with a degreasing solvent that was detected in groundwater at a recently shuttered Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith.

An environmental consulting firm submitted a final remedy work plan to the state environmental agency this week on behalf of Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp.

The plan, which calls for chemical oxidant injections and continued monitoring, comes decades after Whirlpool ceased using trichloroethylene, or TCE, at the Fort Smith site.

The Environmental Protection Agency says inhalation exposure to trichloroethylene can affect the human central nervous system. However, Whirlpool says no one is drinking or touching the contaminated groundwater or breathing its vapors.

Whirlpool manufactured refrigerators and trash compactors at the site until the plant closed last year. The company still owns the former plant, though it's working to market the 157-acre site to prospective developers, Whirlpool spokeswoman Kris Vernier said.

For now, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing the remedial plan and says it hopes to have a proposal in place by the end of the year.

"Once a proposed remedy is determined, there will be a 30-day public comment period on the plan and we will have public hearings on the proposed remedy as well," ADEQ spokeswoman Katherine Benenati said in an email.

The latest plan comes after Whirlpool submitted a revised risk management plan to ADEQ in May.

"They've been doing quite a bit of groundwater monitoring. They've been collecting data throughout the years," said Tammie Hynum, chief of ADEQ's hazardous waste division. "So you're at the point in the project that they need to look at two or three types of remedial options and kind of evaluate them against each other, and they've done that."

It's not clear exactly when or how trichloroethylene got into the groundwater at and near the plant. Whirlpool has said it used some solvents containing the chemical until the 1980s.

"No historical records that document any TCE spills or release incidents from the degreaser building have been located," the final remedy work plan says. "It is possible that historical leaks from the tank or surface spills in the vicinity of the degreaser building may have occurred, resulting in releases to the soil and groundwater."

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