By Rick Plumlee

Tribune News Service

WICHITA -- Nearly 200 residences in west Wichita have been connected to city water as the result of groundwater contamination caused decades ago by dry-cleaning solvents.

Connections were completed for 197 residences, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Monday.

KDHE said it spent more than $2.5 million to pay for water mains, meters and connections to the homes that were within the area of the contamination plume.

The cost is paid out of a dry cleaning trust fund established in 1995 to connect affected homes to city water. Money for the fund comes from a 2.5 percent environmental surcharge on dry cleaning bills and from payments dry cleaners make when they buy tetrachloroethylene (PCE), an organic chemical commonly used in dry cleaning.

In early 2014, KDHE began investigating groundwater contamination near the former site of Four Seasons Dry Cleaners. State officials told residents at public meetings last spring that PCE was used at that location as early as the 1950s or 1960s.

KDHE first discovered the solvent in a monitoring well in late 2009. The state delayed its response because more investigation was needed and money from the trust fund to test private wells wasn't available until earlier this year, a KDHE official said at the meetings.

About 50 private wells in the affected area were found to contain PCE concentrations above the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum contamination level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water, KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker said Monday.