Kansas turns blind eye to contaminated drinking water


August 30, 2018 - 11:07 AM

Move over, Flint, Michigan?
The Gospel of deregulation preaches that doing away with all kinds of environmental rules and limits on industry is an economically invigorating victory for individual freedom. And think of the savings.
But the Kansans who drank contaminated water for years, while the Kansas Department of Health and Environment did nothing and told no one, don’t see it that way.
For them, freedom tasted a lot like the chemicals used in dry cleaning.
The Wichita Eagle found that the “state allowed hundreds of residents in two Wichita-area neighborhoods to drink contaminated water for years without telling them, despite warning signs of contamination close to water wells used for drinking, washing and bathing.
“In 2011, while investigating the possible expansion of a Kwik Shop, the state discovered dry cleaning chemicals had contaminated groundwater” in Haysville.
So, what did they do about it?
State officials sat on that information. They ordered no further testing and never let on that residents should test their private wells.
“We didn’t find out for seven years,” Joe Hufman, whose well was contaminated by a Haysville dry cleaner, told the paper. “Haysville knew it. KDHE knew it. Kwik Shop knew it.”
This wasn’t the first time the agency had failed Kansans in this way, and it may not be the last, either.
Why? A pro-industry 1995 Kansas law, the Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act, was passed at the specific request of that industry “to protect the small businesses from the potentially crippling cost of federal involvement.”
The Environmental Protection Agency that this administration is busy gutting, especially now that it’s headed by someone who isn’t distracted by planning his work travel around his bucket list, funds Superfund cleanups of water pollution by charging the polluters.
But Kansas lawmakers have managed to get around that by capping the liability of any dry cleaner at a paltry $5,000. At that price, dump away, dry cleaners.
A state tax on dry cleaning chemicals was supposed to fund investigations and cleanup, but it wasn’t enough money to do any such thing.
And not only that, but the law actually made that impossible by ordering the state to “make every reasonable effort” to keep contamination from dry cleaners off the federal Superfund list.
Kansas lawmakers should fund a real cleanup and real investigations, along with emergency measures such as bottled water. At a minimum, they should amend the part of the legislation that says the state can’t look for new sites of contamination from dry cleaning chemicals. What sense did that ever make?
Clean water should not be a partisan issue, but it is, of course. And it’s up to Kansas voters to insist that elected officials stop protecting industry at the risk of human health.
— The Kansas City Star


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