In 2009, groundwater contamination was discovered in a west Wichita neighborhood; the contamination was later attributed to the disposal of tetrachloroethylene (also called PERC or PCE) from dry cleaning facilities. Although the dry cleaning businesses were in operation for approximately 50 years, the extent of resident exposure to the contamination is unknown. Many residents in the affected area relied on nonpublic water wells for drinking, cooking, bathing, and irrigation. The residents were not aware that their wells had become contaminated by PERC at levels exceeding the Safe Drinking Water Act standard of 5 ppb.
In 2014, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment connected these homes to the City of Wichita’s public water system. In 2015, our team conducted focus groups with area residents to address any lingering needs and concerns. Participants reported general satisfaction with their homes’ connectivity to city water. Participants reported poor communication, however, regarding the initial notification about the groundwater contamination in their neighborhood; most were notified through the media. This communication failure continued after their homes were connected to Wichita’s public water supply. Participants shared many potential health concerns and requested that a health study be conducted of their neighborhood. Needs and concerns are ongoing among focus group participants, most of which could be addressed through regular communication with affected residents.