Houses with contaminated wells will connect to city water lines

WICHITA, Kansas – Dozens of homes in west Wichita will have to connect to the city’s water lines if they want water in the homes that is not contaminated, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said in a meeting Thursday night.

Hundreds of residents attended a public meeting at Wilbur Middle School to learn about the contamination that has leaked into their groundwater, making it potentially unsafe to drink. The affected area is roughly along Tyler Road between Kellogg and Central.

Many of them like David Stanislaw are wondering if drinking the groundwater caused their health problems.

“I’ve had a series of health problems,” he said, demonstrating an external electronic device that controls his heart. “One of them caused me to have an electric heart.”

Back in 2009, a test found elevated levels of PCE, a solvent used in dry cleaning facilities, in the water supply near Wilbur Middle School. But the levels were low enough that other sites across the state were investigated first. A lack of adequate funding also pushed testing back until earlier this year, according to Bob Jurgens of the KDHE.

When testing of 87 wells was completed, they found 39 of them had high levels of PCE and other chemicals that can cause cancer and other illnesses. As a result, the state had to take immediate action to fix the problem.

“Right now, we’re working on providing alternative water supply,” Jurgens said. “Beyond that, we’re looking at remedial action of cleaning up the soil and groundwater.”

The state will also investigate the source of the contamination, at the site of the old Four Seasons dry cleaners on Central. The wells could be used for lawn and gardening purposes, but affected houses will need to connect to the city’s water lines, which the state will pay for. That was a concern for some residents.

” I just want to find out how far, if it’s going to spread, how deep some of the wells are,” Susan Keeton Malzahn said.

The state’ has a specialized dry cleaners program to handle clean-up scenarios like this one, but it will likely take years to resolve, Jurgens said. The program only has an annual $900,000 budget, and rough estimates are the studies and clean-up cost cost a minimum of around $2 million.

Residents like Stanislaw are being patient, but want answers.

“I won’t know for months or maybe even years what other long-term effects the pollution of the well may have caused,” Stanislaw said.

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