There’s something that happens in red states where Republicans take over state government and run it like a business. What happens is that instead of respecting its citizens, the state government tries to screw over people like any for-profit enterprise does to its customers — if it can get away with it. (See Flint, Michigan for an example of this phenomenon.)
And in GOP-dominated Kansas, the state government found out about contaminated water that people were drinking in the Wichita area in 2011, but didn’t tell them until recently.
Where is Erin Brockovich when you need her?
According to The Wichita Eagle newspaper, several hundred area residents drank the contaminated water without knowing about it. The water was tainted by a dry cleaning chemical known as perchloroethylene that had leaked into the area’s groundwater water supply.
The government discovered the problem with the water in 2011 while looking into the expansion of a Kwik Shop convenience store. But it took over six years for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to let the residents know about the problem with their water. In addition, KDHE did not bother to test wells owned by private citizens that were located less than a mile away from the tainted site.
One community resident, Joe Hufman, said it was seven years before he learned his well was contaminated by a local dry cleaner, located in Haysville.
“Haysville knew it. KDHE knew it. Kwik Shop knew it,” Hufman told The Eagle, “but they didn’t tell me about it.”
There were more contaminated dry cleaning sites also. Two other sites near Wichita were contaminated but the state didn’t notify residents of more than 200 homes for years that their drinking water contained harmful chemicals.
In total, KDHE has found 22 contaminated sites across the state, and in none of them have the private wells in the area been checked for contamination, even now. What has been discovered so far may be only the beginning.
The KDHE said that they had ignored the contamination in Haysville because they assumed groundwater was traveling southwest, away from private wells. But in fact it was traveling toward the private wells instead of away from them.
Hufman said he and his family have been drinking their well water for 25 years, but they have no idea when the poisonous chemicals from the dry cleaning site reached them. When their water was tested they found it had 49 parts per billion of PCE, which is nearly ten times the allotted level. (PCE is the abbreviation for the dry cleaning chemical perchloroethylene.)
Consuming the PCE leads to serious harm to the nervous system, liver, kidneys and reproductive systems. Exposure over long periods of time leads to mood, memory, attention and reaction time changes as well as vision problems. Studies have shown that higher levels of exposure can lead to a risk of bladder cancer, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hufman said he doesn’t know why those in his neighborhood weren’t told about the chemicals years ago, even if it was thought to be moving away from their wells. Now they know that their street was among the worst hit with at least three wells over the limit.
“You think they would have notified everybody, taken some precautions until something was done,” Hufman said. “Instead, they all kept quiet. They didn’t let anybody know about the contamination, so we all continued to drink the water.”
The chemical contamination was allowed to happen when the dry cleaning industry lobbied for and got passed “The Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act of 1995.” This protected the dry cleaning industry from the high cost of environmental cleanup.
Once again, a government has been corrupted by money from special interests, and the citizens are the one who pay the price.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.