- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Concerned Wichita residents have gotten few answers about the extent of groundwater contamination caused by dry cleaning solvents decades ago, with regulators saying last week that until well testing is complete, it’s unclear how many people will have to stop using their well water.

Bob Jurgens, chief of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Dry Cleaning Remediation Program, told residents that tetrachloroethylene contamination was first discovered in a monitoring well in their area in late 2009, but that funding for testing private wells wasn’t made available until this year, the Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1iDXqY1 ).

Tetrachloroethylene is a colorless organic liquid with a mild, chloroform-like odor that is likely carcinogenic to humans. Jurgens told residents the chemical was likely used as early as the 1950s or 1960s when a business with coin-operated dry cleaning machines opened in the area.

KDHE’s area of concern stretches south and slightly southeast of the former home of Four Seasons Dry Cleaners, where about 186 private wells are located in the known affected area and a buffer zone, Jurgens said.

Testing began recently, and investigators have already found dozens of wells that contain concentrations of tetrachloroethylene above the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water.

The area of concern may grow as more testing is completed. KDHE does not know whether the contamination plume extends south of the Kellogg monitoring well because private wells in that area have not been tested. Until cleanup is complete - a goal that hinges on available funding - the solvent may continue drifting south and southeast with the flow of groundwater.

Jurgens told residents it is going to be very hard to remove all of the solvent, saying the agency has been trying to do that for years.

“But we can get rid of most of it and get the groundwater back to acceptable risk - not for drinking, but at least for lawn and garden” and other outdoor uses, he said.

Households affected by the pollution will eventually be offered a chance to hook up to the city’s water supply. In the meantime, KDHE has ordered bottled water be delivered to some residents while others have had carbon filtration systems installed. Some households also are being advised not to shower, cook or wash hands with their well water.

Among the potential health risks from long-term exposure to tetrachloroethylene are disorders of the nervous system, kidney, liver and metabolic systems; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; bladder cancer; and reproductive hazards.

“Stay on top of annual physicals and cancer screenings,” KDHE’s public health officer Farah Ahmed told the crowd. “And let your physician know that exposure is a potential.”


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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