How state of Kansas ignored water contamination from dry cleaners

Oklahomans know a thing or two about water contamination. Just take a look at the Tar Creek Superfund site in the northeast part of the state.  It’s not a secret how the state and the EPA have worked to stop the pollution.

But in Wichita, Kansas, residents of two neighborhoods are angry after the Kansas Department of Health and Environmental failed to act for more than six years. The problem?  Pollution caused by dry cleaning chemicals that had contaminated groundwater.

As the Wichita Eagle has reported, the state allowed hundreds of residents to drink the contaminated water for years without telling them, even though there were warning signs.

One site in the suburb of Haysville was discovered in 2011 while the state investigated the possible expansion of a Kwik Shop. As the newspaper learned, the state did not test private wells nor did it notify residents their drinking wells could be contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals known as perchloroethylene.

“We didn’t find out for 7 years,” said Joe Hufman, whose well was contaminated by a Haysville dry cleaner. “Haysville knew it. KDHE knew it. Kwik Shop knew it.”

The same lack of action by the state also happened at a dry cleaning site in Wichita where the state waited more than four years before finding contamination and notifying residents of more than 200 homes.

The delays stem from a 1995 state law that places more emphasis on protecting the dry cleaning industry than protecting public health.

The Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act was passed at the request of the dry cleaning industry to protect the small businesses from the potentially crippling cost of federal involvement. The Environmental Protection Agency, through its Superfund program, can pay to clean up water pollution and then bill any and all companies ever associated with the property to recover its money. Cleaning up pollution can easily cost millions of dollars; state law limits the liability of a dry cleaning shop to $5,000.

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