The GOP Gov. Sam Brownback era in Kansas, which could very well be followed up by the even worse Kris Kobach era, will be something Kansans will be paying for over generations.
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 at 412 W. Grand in Haysville.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment didn’t act for more than six years.
It didn’t test private wells less than a mile away. Nor did it notify residents that their drinking wells could be contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals, known as perchloroethylene, so they could test the water themselves.
“We didn’t find out for 7 years,” said Joe Hufman, whose well was contaminated by a Haysville dry cleaner. “Haysville knew it. KDHE knew it. Kwik Shop knew it.”
They knew it and they didn't care, because this is what happens when Republicans run your government. They make sure it doesn't work.
It had happened at least once before, at a dry cleaning site near Central and Tyler in Wichita, where the state waited more than four years between discovering contamination nearby and notifying residents of more than 200 homes.
Some fear it could happen again at 22 contaminated sites where the state has not checked for people on well water — or that it could happen at a yet unknown site of contamination.
Kansans aren’t required to use city water if they already have a well, and some Wichita neighborhoods still rely on private well water.
The delays stem from a 1995 state law that places more emphasis on protecting the dry cleaning industry than protecting public health.
The Kansas Drycleaner Environmental Response Act was passed at the request of the dry cleaning industry to protect the small businesses from the potentially crippling cost of federal involvement. The Environmental Protection Agency, through its Superfund program, can pay to clean up water pollution and then bill any and all companies ever associated with the property to recover its money. Cleaning up pollution can easily cost millions of dollars; state law limits the liability of a dry cleaning shop to $5,000.
To raise money to investigate and clean up pollution, the state passed a tax on dry cleaning chemicals. While the KDHE supported the bill, one KDHE official warned the Legislature that a tax on cleaning solvent “would not be sufficient funding.”
The Legislature passed the law, including a line that directed the KDHE not to look for contamination from dry cleaners. The Legislature also directed the KDHE to “make every reasonable effort” to keep sites off the federal Superfund list.
So instead, Kansas Republicans made sure dry cleaners had priority over people who drink water.