Kansas officials didn’t disclose contaminated water to residents; Detroit schools shut off supply

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is under fire for revelations it did not act on a report of contaminated drinking water for six years.

According to a report appearing in The Wichita Eagle Sunday, officials with the state’s health department discovered the dry chemical perchloroethylene (PCE) during a routine test to determine whether a Wichita, Kan., dry cleaning business could expand.

A colorless liquid commonly used in the dry cleaning industry to remove stains from fabric, perchloroethylene is strong enough to remove grease.  Side effects from exposure include dizziness, nausea, drowsiness and headaches.

Long-term effects are also known to include Irritation of the skin, memory loss and difficulty with vision.

Despite stumbling upon PCE in the water, health officials at the time determined the groundwater was flowing away from private wells, only to realize in 2017 it was running along and into wells.

In the intervening time, state officials ordered no testing of private wells and did not instruct hundreds of residents relying on well water to test the water supply for possible contamination.

“You think they would have notified everybody, taken some precautions until something was done.  Instead, they all kept quiet. They didn’t let anybody know about the contamination, so we all continued to drink the water,” said Haysville resident, Joe Hufman, whose private well was contaminated.

The state has now focused its attention on 10 known contaminated sites; another five sites are suspected.

According to a Kansas City Star editorial published Tuesday, a 1995 state law is at least partially to blame for the PCE contamination, as the Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act caps any liability costs leveled against a dry cleaner at $5,000 in order to skirt federal EPA regulations.

The news out of Kansas comes before Detroit city public schools began to shut of its water supply Wednesday due to the detection of increased levels of lead or copper at 16 tested sites.


[The Wichita-Eagle] [AP via Tribune-Review] [Detroit Free Press] [Photo courtesy NRDC]