The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Kansas City Water Found Suffering from Systemic Pollution

by Catherine Komp

Sept. 21, 2006 – High levels of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, cleaning detergents and other chemicals have been detected by federal researchers in the Blue River Basin, located in Missouri and Kansas.

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The pollution affects about half of the metropolitan area of Kansas City, and researchers say urban development is largely to blame.

The US Geological Survey, an arm of the Interior Department, has released a report in cooperation with Kansas City that found contamination "may be increasing" and that more investigations are needed. The 166-page report documents a study of the Blue River Basin carried out between 2000 and 2004.

Development within the upper basin continues at a rapid pace, increasing the potential for toxic water quality, according to researchers. The report states that some of the chemicals examined "likely produce adverse effects" both for humans and the environment, including "direct harm to bacterial or aquatic health."

E. coli bacteria, which the EPA states are "a very good predictor" of contamination in fresh waters, was also found from human, dog, bird and unknown sources in high concentrations in several parts of the basin. Samples from two streams running through Kansas City, the Blue River and Brush Creek, yielded concentrations of 380 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters and 355 colonies per 100 milliliters respectively.

The report states that some of the chemicals examined "likely produce adverse effects" both for humans and the environment, including "direct harm to bacterial or aquatic health."

While the EPA does not set E. coli thresholds for rivers, creeks and streams, agency spokesperson Dale Kemery told The NewStandard that "if [these levels] were in beach water, it would probably call for a beach closure."

The EPA’s E. coli threshold for the Great Lakes and coastal beaches is 126 colonies per 100 milliliters.

However, neither the report nor the federal officials presenting it at a press conference in Kansas City elaborated on the implications of the findings.

"That’s not my job as a scientist to determine whether or not… [residents] should go near the water or not go near the water," Don Wilkison, lead author of the study, told the Kansas City Star. "I’m confident that people can make their own informed decisions when confronted with the science."

Kansas City is particularly susceptible to water quality problems because of its combined sewage system, also called CSO, which carries both storm water and sanitary waste in the same drainage network. During particularly wet weather, the systems overflow, sending the discharge into streams and rivers.

Some 770 cities across the country use combined systems. Federal and state law requires communities with combined systems to develop plans to control their overflow.

According to the Kansas City water services website, the city has invested millions of dollars since the 1980s to study and repair the combined sewer system, which is more than 100 years old. More recently, in 2003, the city manager was authorized to begin a long-term control plan for the CSO and has conducted public hearings on the issue since then. Last May, Kansas City officials approved $7.5 million dollars for an engineering company to develop a long-term control plan for the CSO.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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