FORT SMITH, Arkansas — Whirlpool has agreed to pay the owners of 49 properties that lost value after it was discovered that a former plant of the appliance-maker had leaked a hazardous chemical into the groundwater for decades.
Fort Smith city directors learned Tuesday from a Whirlpool Corp. official that the owners of 49 affected properties will be paid what their properties lost when they were reassessed at a lower value, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1KJNdXT ).
Whirlpool also will pay an additional 33 percent of that reduced value to the property owners to pay their legal expenses as part of the settlement of the lawsuit they filed against the company last year.
After it was found that the plant had leaked trichloroethylene, which can cause cancer, into the groundwater, Sebastian County Assessor Becky Yandell chopped some property values by as much as 75 percent.
A property that had been valued at around $90,000 was reduced to about $43,000, according to Jeff Noel, Whirlpool corporate vice president for communications and public affairs. That owner received a check for about $64,000 — $47,000 for the amount the property value was reduced, plus $17,000 as the additional 33 percent intended for legal costs.
In return, Noel said, homeowners agreed to drop all claims against Whirlpool on the issue of property values. They still have the right to bring legal action against the company for health concerns.
Of the 49 property owners who took the deal, 23 were parties in the lawsuit. That leaves three property owners as plaintiffs in the case that scheduled to go to trial in December.
Trichloroethylene was used to clean metal refrigerator parts at the plant.
The company's plan for dealing with the contamination under the neighborhood, which was approved by state officials, is to restrict human exposure to the chemical and allow it to decompose naturally.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com
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