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Corroded pipe leads to chemical spilling into Arkansas River

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at 1:09 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at 4:20 p.m.

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A chemical used to treat the city of Wichita’s water leaked Wednesday morning through a corroded drain pipe that hadn’t been used in decades and into the Arkansas River, city officials said.

State health officials have determined the leak isn’t a health risk for the public, but the spill did result in killing an undetermined number of small and young fish.

Workers at the treatment plant near Cowtown first noticed there was a leak shortly after midnight when they saw the chemical level in a tank was dropping, said Joe Pajor, deputy director public works and utilities.

About 1,700 to 2,000 gallons of ferric sulfate – a chemical used to settle out particles in untreated water as it flows into the plant – spilled into the river before the leak was stopped about 2 a.m., Pajor said.

Problems started when the discharge side of a pump broke. So instead of the chemical flowing into a smaller, second tank, it went on the floor, Pajor said.

The spill then managed to find a sump inside the building that was no longer being used.

The sump had been sealed. But there was a hole in the side of the corroded drain pipe below the seal, allowing the chemicals to flow through the pipe and into the river, Pajor said.

“When the stars align just right …,” he said of the combination of circumstances leading to the spill.

A temporary seal has been put in place, but Pajor said the city is looking at options for a permanent solution to replace the temporary one – including removing the abandoned pipes.

“It’s not a health risk,” Ashton Rucker, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said of the spill. “We’re monitoring the acidic level of the river, but we don’t anticipate it having a long-term effect.”

Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism took samples of fish killed in the river, but they aren’t expected to have an estimate of how many fish died until next week.

“It’s not a large fish kill,” Pajor said. He added that he was told by state officials that dead fish were all small or juvenile fish.

“That’s good because it means it wasn’t bad enough to kill adult fish,” he said. “Juvenile fish are more sensitive than adult fish.”

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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