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Water Today Title October 25, 2020

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Update 2018/10/8


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By Michelle Moore

Last month WaterToday reported on how the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) failed to inform residents of a groundwater contamination at the site of a former drycleaners.

The former location of American Cleaners dry cleaners in Haysville tested positive for the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (PCE) in 2011, surpassing the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) maximum contaminant level in three groundwater samples.

But it wasn't until 2017 that KDHE realized that the groundwater previously thought to be flowing away from private drinking wells had in fact been flowing toward them. Out of the 194 homes tested, 4 homes exceeded EPA standards.

According to KDHE Environmental Health Officer Dr. Farah Ahmed, when consumed dry cleaning chemicals may damage the nervous system, liver, kidneys and reproductive system.

PCE may also increase the risk of miscarriages, bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

By the end of August 2018 roughly 200 homes on private wells were connected to the municipal system. Similar situations have occurred in the past, for instance in 2009 KDHE discovered PCE at the site of Four Seasons Drycleaners in Wichita and by 2014 PCE was also detected in six private wells.

In this case as well, some 200 residents in the buffer zone were connected to the municipal line. According to KDHE Bureau of Environmental Remediation, remedial action started May 1 2018, almost ten years after the contamination was discovered.

In Kansas, the remediation of dry cleaning facilities are handled separately under the KDHE's Kansas Dry Cleaning Program, lobbied for by the dry cleaning industry and passed in 1995 to relieve small business owners from high remediation costs.

Bob Jurgens, Director of the KDHE Bureau of Environmental Remediation explained "we are able to spend up to 5 million dollars on an individual site and so there has to be a cap on that."

Under the program, when contaminants are found owners can apply to The Dry Cleaning Facility Release Trust Fund and are only liable to pay $5000 out of pocket for any remediation efforts.

Jurgens said "the amount of money coming into the program is probably not adequate to be able to go out and address all the sites right away but over time you know, we are going to be able to continue to work on those."

A tax on solvents that are used in the dry cleaning process helps to pay for the fund, which pays to ensure compliance, prevent future releases, environmental assessments and remediation of ground water and soil.

The average amount for the fund is $800 000 to $900 000 annually, which is not enough to pay for the remediation of the 170 contaminated sites currently under the program. Accordingly, KDHE must apply a numerical system to each site that provides a hazard number indicating its priority ranking.

Jurgens said "it's a very complex system but overall it looks at the amount of contamination that we know is at the site, which can be fairly limited because it may just be a few samples where a little soil or ground water has been collected at the site."

He continued, "we look at the population in the area, we try to identify if there's any drinking water wells whether they be private or public wells that are in the area or in the area expected to be impacted based on groundwater soil to a certain degree."

Jurgens said there may be more contaminated sites out there. He explained that the fund is completely voluntary program and drycleaning owners are not required to have groundwater tested regularly, nor are they required to submit results to KDHE.

Jurgens added, "our law does not allow us just to look at everybody just to see if there may be contamination there, we only get involved when evidence of contamination is provided to us."

In addition to the fund, in 2015 legislators passed a bill, The Environmental Stewardship Fund, which provides funds for orphan sites. Many contaminated sites were operating in the 60's, 70's and 80's and have since been abandoned.

When asked what kind of sites would fall under this category, Jurgens explained that "there might be a bankruptcy, could be that the business just closed. The dry cleaning industry is not a real robust industry anymore and the business wasn't able to continue going so it might be bankruptcy, it might be the owner's passed away."

Since those funds have been made available, KDHE says they have made great strides in site assessment, reducing the number of unassessed sites from 70 to 22. The remaining sites are located in areas where groundwater is not used for drinking water purposes.

Despite that however, KDHE still lacks adequate funds to remediate many sites in their backlog, but Jurgens said that areas where homeowners have been connected to municipal systems are still being monitored.

When asked what could be done, Jurgens responded that "individual legislative action would be the only way we would get additional funding beyond what we already have. With the money we have we do have a plan in place within the next three years we will have all the sites assessed, not just in dry cleaning but some of our other programs as well."

He said KDHE have been in talks with the dry cleaning industry about revising individual caps on liability but so far there is nothing concrete in the works.



Kansas Officials fail to inform residents of well water contamination

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