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CLYDE, Ohio — With an agreement that gives the Whirlpool Corp. access to a 27-acre park it used to own, the company said it plans to do a comprehensive environmental study of the site that could begin this month.
Thomas Bowlus, attorney for property owners Grist Mill Creek LLC, said he was finalizing a written agreement with Whirlpool on Wednesday after reaching a verbal agreement with company representatives last week to study contamination at the site that some suspect might be responsible for a childhood cancer cluster in southeastern Sandusky County.
“We’ve reached an agreement to fully characterize the entire parcel so they’re not going to just focus on one or two hot spots,” Mr. Bowlus said.
Soil borings conducted for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed the presence of “toxic sludge” at the former Whirlpool Park near Green Springs. The park, which was purchased by Whirlpool for its employees and their families in the 1950s, was a popular spot for swimming and other outdoor gatherings for decades. At least 37 childhood cancer cases within a 12-mile radius of Clyde have been documented; four children have died.
Whirlpool spokesman Kristine Vernier said Wednesday that work at the site would “move quickly” as soon as a written agreement with the property owners is signed. She said testing and evaluation could be completed in 10 to 12 weeks.
“Working under the Ohio EPA Voluntary Action Program, with oversight from the U.S. EPA, Whirlpool plans to expedite all steps necessary to quickly understand the facts and implement appropriate actions,” she said in an email.
Mr. Bowlus said Whirlpool will hire a certified environmental professional to conduct the assessment and “we will have our own certified environmental professional as kind of a second opinion. They’re going to split samples with us. Every sample taken will be run by two different labs so we’re going to have a high degree of confidence in the numbers and we’ll know this was done properly.”
Whirlpool will pay all costs, Ms. Vernier said.
Grist Mill Creek LLC of Fremont purchased the land from Whirlpool in 2008 for $212,000. Mr. Bowlus said one of the principals, Jonathan Abdoo, planned to build a home there but those plans were halted after the contamination was discovered.
While Whirlpool maintains it used the property only as a park and not a dumping ground, Mr. Bowlus said Whirlpool has committed to paying for clean-up of the site unless it is determined the contamination occurred after the property was sold in 2008.
“Whirlpool made the commitment that they’re going to address what was put there regardless of who put it there,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit.”
The agreement comes just three weeks after attorneys representing the families of Clyde-area children diagnosed with cancer held a news conference in Clyde to draw attention to the EPA’s findings at the park and to demand action.
Alan Mortensen, a Gibsonburg native who now practices law in Salt Lake City, said the attention his clients brought to the conditions at Whirlpool Park apparently “brought some urgency” to the company's and the property owners' decision to cooperate.
“While disappointed that Whirlpool’s movement on this dump site appears to be motivated by public opinion instead of public health, any actions that make the area safer to live are always well received by the families,” he said by email. “We hope that the U.S. EPA will be diligently involved in the monitoring, testing, and clean-up.”