Area residents continued to express concern over the weekend about planned chemical and biological testing by the federal government at the old Chilocco Indian School property.
A small demonstration against the testing took place Sunday along U.S. Highway 77 near the Oklahoma-Kansas border, and public meetings in Newkirk and Ark City were set up for later this week, according to a new Facebook site called Stop Chemical Testing at Chilocco.
An online petition at www.change.org against the testing — scheduled for January and February and June and July of next year — had almost 5,000 supports as of Monday afternoon.
The petition, started by Jill Wineigner of Arkansas City, states that there is a school about one mile away, and people grow crops in the area and play “right next door.” Residents are concerned about groundwater, air quality and long-term pollutions.
“We are simply opposed to any plan of any testing of chemicals in this area,” the petition states. “There is no way that you could possible know the long term effects that this may have on our community.”
Newkirk City Manager Jane Thomas, in a letter to the city commission, said she opposes the testing “because it could contaminate the air and water in the area. Most community members are upset about this possibility — city and rural.”
Late last week, U.S. Rep. Ron Estes (R-Wichita) weighed in on the testing, which is being conducted to study how a biological attack could affect housing structures. He said he is monitoring the situation.
“As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I have numerous questions regarding this proposed test,” Estes said. “While it’s important for our federal agencies to test their abilities in response to threats, we need to be one hundred percent certain this test is safe for the residents of South Central Kansas.”
Homeland security ran a legal notice of the plans Thursday in the Newkirk Herald Journal, and stories about the testing in that publication and the CourierTraveler last week sparked public concern.
The government’s draft environmental assessment that details the project can be read online at www.dhs.gov/national-environmental-policy-act. It contains assurances about the safety of the testing.
The inert chemicals being considered for use would be released in concentrations “considered nontoxic and nonhazardous,” according to the DHS report.
As for the biological material, those handling it would wear protective equipment such as gloves, masks and laboratory coats.
“… the human health and safety effects outside of the immediate test area are anticipated to be negligible based on low volume releases of materials and modeled concentrations,” the report states.
The Chilocco property, which is just across the border in Oklahoma, is owned by the Council of Confederate Chilocco Tribes under the Chilocco Treaty with the Kaw Nation, the Otoe-Missouria Tribe, the Pawnee Nation, the Ponca Nation and the Tonkawa Tribe.
The council has an agreement with the Oklahoma State University-University Multispectral Laboratories LLC, which is a nonprofit research lab that supports various federal agencies for testing and training, according to the report.
The council land, which is closed to the public, is 165 acres surrounded by 5,000 acres of tribal-owned land.
The nearest residential home is more than .6 of a mile from the closest release, the report states, and the nearest public buildings are a casino and a gas station 1.4 miles southeast.
According to the Stop Testing FB page, a public meeting is being organized for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Newkirk Senior Center, 729 W. 15th St.; and at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ark City Senior Center, 320 S. A St.
Comments on the project can be emailed to The Department of Homeland Security at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kansas Rep. Anita Judd-Jenkins (R-Arkansas City), on Monday said she had received calls from concerned citizens and is concerned herself.
She said she had contacted the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to request testing of a creek that runs into Kansas and air quality.
“What I wish is to have our citizens fully informed,” Judd-Jenkins said. “I also have every intention of continuing my pursuit of having our Kansas air, water, and land tested to assure out safety and … our environment.”