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State finishes linking west Wichita homes to city water after contamination

Bob Jurgens of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment leads a public meeting about groundwater contamination at Wilbur Middle School last April. Connections to city water have been completed for 197 west Wichita residences, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday.
Bob Jurgens of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment leads a public meeting about groundwater contamination at Wilbur Middle School last April. Connections to city water have been completed for 197 west Wichita residences, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday. File photo

Nearly 200 residences in west Wichita have been connected to city water as the result of groundwater contamination caused decades ago by dry-cleaning solvents.

Connections were completed for 197 residences, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday.

KDHE said it spent more than $2.5 million to pay for water mains, meters and connections to the homes that were within the area of the contamination plume.

The cost is paid out of a dry cleaning trust fund established in 1995 to connect affected homes to city water. Money for the fund comes from a 2.5 percent environmental surcharge on dry cleaning bills and from payments dry cleaners make when they buy tetrachloroethylene (PCE), an organic chemical commonly used in dry cleaning.

In early 2014, KDHE began investigating groundwater contamination south and southeast at 8947 W. Central, the former site of Four Seasons Dry Cleaners near Central and Tyler. State officials told residents at public meetings last spring that PCE was used at that location as early as the 1950s or 1960s.

KDHE first discovered the solvent in a monitoring well at 7920 W. Kellogg in late 2009. The state delayed its response because more investigation was needed and money from the trust fund to test private wells wasn’t available until earlier this year, a KDHE official said at the meetings.

About 50 private wells in the affected area were found to contain PCE concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contamination level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water, KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker said Monday.

“But everyone (in the affected area) was offered the opportunity to be hooked up to city water, even if the tests that came didn’t show their well water wasn’t above the maximum contamination level,” he added.

Nearly 150 additional residents took the state up on the offer.

Residents with contaminated water were provided bottled drinking water and a carbon filtering system, if necessary, until they could be connected to city water.

The city was paid by KDHE to put in meters and just under two miles of pipe. The state picked it up from there and connected the homes to the meters.

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

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