Kansas didn’t inform residents of contaminated water
WICHITA — Kansas officials didn’t notify hundreds of Wichita-area residents about contaminated drinking water in two neighborhoods for years.
The state discovered dry cleaning chemicals had contaminated groundwater at a Haysville laundromat in 2011 while investigating a possible Kwik Shop expansion. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment didn’t act on the contamination for more than six years, the Wichita Eagle reported.
The state didn’t test nearby private wells or notify residents so that they could test for contamination at their drinking wells. The department said it assumed the contaminated water was traveling away from private wells, but it realized last year that groundwater was actually flowing toward them.
“You think they would have notified everybody, taken some precautions until something was done,” said Haysville resident Joe Hufman, whose private well was contaminated. “Instead, they all kept quiet. They didn’t let anybody know about the contamination, so we all continued to drink the water.”
Haysville completed hooking up about 200 homes to city water in July.
The state also waited more than four years to notify more than 200 homes that officials discovered contamination near a Wichita dry cleaning site. Those households are now connected to the city’s public water supply.
Some residents fear the issue could happen again at other contaminated sites that the state hasn’t checked near neighborhoods that still rely on well water.
Dry cleaning chemicals like perchloroethylene, or PCE, can build up over time when consumed and potentially harm an individual’s nervous system, liver, kidneys and reproductive system.
“We thought we were safe and then the more we thought about it, we looked up at who had died and who had been sick in our neighbors,” said Randi Williams, whose Wichita neighbors’ wells tested positive for PCE. “Everyone up and down the street has had something or (the) other.”
The state’s notification delays stem from a 1995 law that directs the Kansas Department of Health to not look for contamination from dry cleaners. The Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act passed at the request of the industry to protect small businesses from the potentially crippling cost of involving the federal government in water pollution cleanup.
Republican Sen. Dan Kerschen said he wants the Health Department to receive more funding designated for cleaning up contaminated sites, instead of just implementing emergency actions such as providing bottled water and hooking residents up to city water.