Residents look for answers following water contamination

WICHITA, Kan. — There are more questions that have circulated about the dozens of cases of contaminated water in west Wichita. It’s a situation that has an entire neighborhood in west Wichita worried about what is really in their water.

The chemical is called PCE and has been used for decades in the dry cleaning industry. The EPA has classified it as a group two carcinogen.

Area Affected by Water Contamination

That means that coming in contact with it increases the risk of certain cancers and in the case of those west Wichita residents the contamination may go back for decades.

For some of the homes, their water is so contaminated that they have to use bottled water for everything. The main concern of those residents moving forward is their health.

“I’ve already had two cancers and I don’t need a third,” said Keith Little, a resident affected by the contamination.

Little has lived in his home on N. Evergreen for 35 years using well water for most everything with no intention of getting on city water.

“If I can keep my well water for my yard I don’t have a problem but if I can’t use my well water for my yard I got a problem ’cause I can’t take care of this yard on sprinklers,” said Little.

Water Contamination

With summer on the horizon for some residents in the affected zone, the added expense has terrible timing.

“The dry cleaner remedial program will be paying for the water mains and then the connection to the water mains in those affected areas,” said Bob Jurgens, a representative for the Bureau of Environmental Remediation under the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The affected area includes contaminated water wells, as well as a buffer zone, that could potentially be contaminated.

“The citizens or residents will have to pay for their own monthly water rate, but KDHE will pay for the initial hookup,” said Jurgens.

How long residents will have to pay these unexpected bills remains unknown. For streets like Evergreen with no water main, fall is the target.

“We have certain areas where there’s water mains already in place, some of the southern areas and those, we’ll be working with the city and some plumbers to get those hooked up as soon as we can,” said Jurgens.

For now, the city is at a bit of a stand still.

“We’re waiting for KDHE to finish doing the testing they need to do to determine just how big the site is and characterize where the lines need to go,” said Don Henry, Assistant Director of Public Works.

Little says KDHE’s timing issue gets worse.

“If that’s been in the water for you know, 6 – 7 years, I think they should have notified us before that,” said Little.

Patience will be crucial for the long-haul.

“We’re just in the first phase of this work and our focus right now is on the drinking water supply,” said Jurgens.

The area, as seen in the map in the video posted above, includes Tyler Road, between Kellogg and Central.

As many as 30 residents in the affected area are using bottled water for everything, as outlined by the EPA, because of the strength of the chemicals found in their well water. 13 residents will soon be fitted with carbon filtration systems, if not completed by Friday.

For anyone that has health questions related to the contamination, KDHE advises seeing their doctors. KDHE also wants everyone to understand what the potential exposure was in the area. If anyone is hesitant about their own water they should be cautious and use bottled water to be safe.

PCE, the chemical at the center of this particular incident, is infamous in other communities across the country. There are sites like the one in west Wichita in every state and literally thousands of cases of PCE contamination in drinking and groundwater supplies.

To put the contamination into perspective, it takes only a tablespoon of PCE to spoil 400,000 gallons of water or the equivalent of two Olympic swimming pools.

In many cases the levels of PCE are so high that they have to be classified as “Superfund Sites” by the EPA.

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