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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

  

 

Columbus Public Health workers will survey residents who live near Saunders Park beginning Friday to determine whether they have been affected by toxins found in the park.

Meanwhile, a consultant will take samples near a pool that has yet to open at the Near East Side park to make sure the soil around it isn't contaminated with arsenic, lead and other toxins found in the park.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman talked about those initiatives yesterday, the latest in response to a series of Dispatch stories that revealed that city recreation and parks officials knew of the toxins as early as 2011, yet allowed youth soccer teams to play there for two more years.

Coleman ordered the soccer fields closed after The Dispatch first reported the problems in September. The city fenced off a total of about 9 acres.

The mayor said yesterday that nurses and environmental specialists will visit residents who live next to the park.

"Each survey is narrowly tailored to risks associated with exposure to certain chemicals at the site," Coleman said.

The interviews should take about 30 days to complete and additional time to analyze the results, he said.

The pool was scheduled to open on Sunday, but construction delays, including a problem with a gas line, forced officials to postpone.

Coleman said the pool won't open until additional tests confirm that the site is safe.

Earlier tests showed no high levels of toxin near the pool.

"I just want to make sure before we make that area available to the public," he said.

The community is hosting a meeting today to discuss the situation. The 6 p.m. meeting is at the Model Neighborhood Facility, 1393 E. Broad St.

"I really want to understand what the contamination is, how it affects individuals," said Evelyn Cleveland, a Graham Street resident who lives across the street from the park and put the meeting together.

Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight, who will make a presentation at the meeting, said some solutions officials are discussing include placing a cap of clean soil over the contaminated fields.

He said the city wants to make a decision by fall and work at the park over the winter. However, the fields likely won't be available to use until 2016.

Columbus Public Health officials and representatives from Burgess & Niple, the city's project consultant, also will attend the meeting.

Preliminary surface tests of soil and groundwater in 2011 showed high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants. In 2012, additional tests showed levels of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene that exceeded recreational standards.

Arsenic is a poison. Benzo(a)pyrene is suspected of causing cancer. Lead can impair neurological development in children.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has been testing soil samples north of the park, where a former fertilizer plant was located until it closed in 1970. The first plant at that location began making fertilizer in 1895.

The Ohio Department of Transportation now owns the property; I-670 runs through it.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said those samples showed arsenic at levels above drinking-water standards in one of six wells, but not from a drinking-water source.

Also, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene levels were below commercial and industrial land-use standards, Griesmer said.

The EPA is trying to figure out whether nearby residential properties were once part of or connected to the industrial property, and whether soil tests should be conducted on them.

Asked if the city could test the residential properties, Coleman said, "I suppose it could." But the Ohio EPA stepped up to determine whether they should be tested, he said.

mferenchik@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

 

 

 

 

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