Historic Chemical Plant Causing Current Pollution Problems

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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October 21, 2010

It's a time capsule no one wants, causing problems for homeowners in Hutchinson. Health experts say a chemical plant that's been closed for 90 years is to blame for water pollution.

Hutchinson resident Beverly Kaufman loves gardening, but at some point her green plants could turn brown.

"I've got quite an investment you know, all these tress and shrubs and stuff," said Kaufman.

Kaufman says she's driven by nearby piles of ash waste for years. The piles are left over from a plant open in the early 1900's. The plant produced soda ash, a substance commonly used as a water softener.

"Never really thought about it," said Kaufman. "Never really researched it to see exactly what it was or what it could cause."

But the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has been researching it. It says it's causing chloride contamination near the site at 11th and Chemical, and has been moving southeast over the past century.

"Chloride in the groundwater is a problem, but it's not an overwhelming health concern," said KDHE Bureau of Environmental Remediation Director Gary Blackburn.

But chloride can make drinking water taste salty, and will kill plants and vegetation. That's why the department is working with the current owner of the property, Honeywell International, to find the contamination.

"It's moved for 90 years so it's spread a couple miles down gradient. So it's going to be a long-term project to get cleaned up," said Blackburn.

The KDHE is overseeing Honeywell's continuing effort to find the contamination. The company has been installing new monitoring wells as part of its voluntary cleanup effort. The effort to monitor and remove the contamination has been continuing since the 1980's.

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