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Kansas Didn't Tell Residents Their Water Was Contaminated For Years

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The Kansas government allowed hundreds of residents in two Wichita-area neighborhoods to drink water contaminated by a cleaning chemical called perchloroethylene, also known as PCE or tetrachloroethylene, The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.

The state discovered the tainted groundwater at a Haysville dry cleaner in 2011 but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) did not act for more than six years. KDHE did not test nearby private wells or alert residents about the contamination.


Similar contamination was discovered at another dry cleaning site near Central and Tyler in Wichita, but the state did not notify residents for four years.

KDHE said they initially assumed the contaminated groundwater in Haysville was traveling southwest away from the private wells. They did not realize until 2017 that the groundwater was actually flowing southwest and directly along the wells.

The delay in notification can be blamed on a 1995 state law requested by the dry cleaning industry called the Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act that actually instructs health authorities not to look for contamination from shops.

One family's private well that was tested had water containing 49 parts per billion of PCE, about 10 times what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows.

"You think they would have notified everybody, taken some precautions until something was done," the resident told The Wichita Eagle. "Instead, they all kept quiet. They didn't let anybody know about the contamination, so we all continued to drink the water."

When consumed, dry cleaning chemicals can build up over time and can possibly affect a person's nervous system, liver, kidneys and reproductive system, according to The Wichita Eagle. Prolonged exposure can cause changes in mood, memory, attention, reaction time and vision. Some studies even found a link between PCE and a higher risk of bladder cancer.

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