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Archive for Wednesday, August 26, 1998

OILY PATCH ON KAW PUZZLES OFFICIALS

August 26, 1998

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State health and environment officials still do not know the source and substance of an oily film discovered recently on the Kansas River near a Johnson County water treatment plant.

Investigators boated the river as far as Lawrence seeking answers to the mystery.

Meanwhile, Roger Coffey, Lawrence's utilities director, said KDHE had informed the city of the substance. Some petroleum-based substance had been detected on the surface of the river in Lawrence, he said, but it wasn't affecting Lawrence's water.

``It hasn't been a problem with us,'' Coffey said ``We take our water from below the surface. ... It wasn't taken into the water plant.''

The substance, first noticed Aug. 14 near the Johnson County facility, caused concerns about the safety of the 25 million gallons of drinking water the facility supplies each day to homes, schools and businesses in Kansas City's western suburbs.

``We know we had the problem. We know we had something in there that wasn't normal,'' said Ron Goold, chief engineer and director of operations for Water District No. 1 in Johnson County.

``We take situations like this very seriously,'' said Don Brown of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).

KDHE, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Johnson County Water District checked the river and tested water in the area of the plant and up and down the river.

``At this point, nothing has got into anyone's drinking water,'' Brown said. We have a fairly good comfort level that once they bring in water from the Kansas River again, it will be clean.''

The water district had boats go up the river as far as Lawrence on Saturday, checking for a source.

A water district technician first spotted the oily film. After making sure the substance wasn't coming from the district's heavy equipment, water officials decided to shut down the treatment plant to keep the substance from contaminating drinking-water supplies.

The district relied on its pipeline to the Missouri River and made backup arrangements with Kansas City and Wyandotte County in case of emergency while workers cleaned the Kansas River intake sources with fire hoses and searched for the source of the problem.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Environmental Protection Agency officials immediately began tests for contamination. Officials contacted dredging operations up and down the river, but no business indicated a spill had occurred.

Mike Heideman of KDHE said there were reports of the substance being visible as far west as Topeka, though it wasn't tested.

``Nothing has been found to be cause for concern,'' he said.

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