Wichita native calls attention back to railyard chemical spill

A Wichita native is bringing attention back to a railyard spill that’s impacted a northeast Wichita neighborhood for decades.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 6:54 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A Wichita native is bringing attention back to a railyard spill that’s impacted a northeast Wichita neighborhood for decades. While a corrective action plan was announced last month, Wichita native Kiah Duggins said one factor not fully understood is the health impacts. This led her to write to some federal agencies.

The contamination seeped from the Union Pacific railyard near 29th Street North and Grove into the groundwater underneath a large portion of the historically Black neighborhood in northeast Wichita, stretching down to Murdock. Duggins said it’s important to understand how this has impacted people’s health and to make sure measures are taken to address it.

In 1994, the City of Wichita identified Trichloroethylene or TCE, as contaminating groundwater.

“Which is the year I was born, and that chemical, TCE, is known to cause cancer,” Duggins said. “it’s also known to cause reproductive health issues, birth defects.”

TCE is a chemical commonly used in degreasing metal parts. Last fall, when Duggins was attending a public meeting about the contamination, it surprised her that no study was being done on the health impacts of the contamination.

“We know the zip code where 29th and Grove is located. (The) 67215 (and 67219 zip codes have high infant mortality rates,” Duggins said.

That’s what prompted her to last November to send a letter to the EPA and White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“I think it’s unacceptable that it’s taken so long to inform the community of the health risk of the contaminated groundwater and also to conduct health studies,” Duggins said.

A response she received this month said based on community, concern, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working on a health study to look at cancer and birth outcomes. Another part of the letter has Duggins raising awareness.

The EPA is offering $100 million in (an) environmental justice grant initiative and people need to apply for that by April 10,” she said.

This includes grants open to nonprofit groups that focus on public health and environmental issues.

“(It is) important that the community gets both the healthcare resources they need, along with other forms of reparations to ensure that they can continue to be healthy in the future,” Duggins said.

KDHE released the final corrective plan to address the contamination that will complete ongoing mitigation efforts, treatment of contaminated water and ground and surface water monitoring. This is estimated to cost about $14 million.