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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
The city plans to clean up Saunders Park on the Near East Side after more tests found elevated levels of arsenic and another toxin, including two locations with levels of arsenic about 15 times higher than what state program standards say is safe for parks.
Columbus Recreation and Parks officials will meet with their consultant that did the testing, Burgess & Niple, and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials to figure out a remediation plan, said Alan McKnight, recreation and parks director. There's currently no estimate of the cost.
In September, the city closed about 9 acres of the park after TheDispatch reported contaminants had been found there during an initial round of testing.
The most-recent samples were taken at 15 locations at the park, which is just south of I-670.
According to a map from Burgess & Niple, two of the locations showed arsenic levels at 307 and 303 parts per million. The safe recreational standard noted by Burgess & Niple is 21 parts per million.
Tom Mignery, Burgess & Niple's brownfield coordinator, called the levels detected not that bad, as other readings ranged from 23.2 to 144 parts per million. But he added, "It's an exceedance that needs to be addressed."
Those same samples also found elevated levels of benzo(a)pyrene, a suspected carcinogen, at four locations.
The park is just south of where a fertilizer-manufacturing plant closed in 1970. Parks officials think material from the plant was dumped in the northern part of the site before it became parkland.
The park, originally called Maryland Park, opened in 1921. The city acquired additional land for it in 1948, '58 and '91, said Terri Leist, city recreation and parks spokeswoman.
Leist didn't know when the city acquired the land where the material was dumped, nor did officials know what was dumped there. She said old photos showed mounds of material and a road going to it.
Borden Chemical closed the plant, which it had acquired from the Smith Agriculture Co. in 1964. The Ohio EPA has been taking soil samples near the plant site to determine whether it was the source of the contamination.
Meanwhile, work continues on a new swimming pool south of the fields. The pool is expected to open in July, McKnight said.
Al Edmondson, president of the Mount Vernon Avenue District Improvement Association, said the city has to ensure that the park is safe.
"We don't need any more stuff that's going to affect the overall health of the community," he said.
The Dispatch reported in September that Recreation and Parks officials allowed a youth soccer league to play in the park in spring 2013 despite a 2012 report warning that levels in the soil of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene exceeded recreational standards.
The standards the consultant used are based on the state's Voluntary Action Program, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said. The program allows developers and property owners to clean polluted properties in return for a guarantee from the state that they won't be forced to do future cleanups.
After The Dispatch story, the city placed "park closed" signs around the fields and put up an orange fence.
The most-recent testing results have not been reported to the Ohio EPA, spokeswoman Heather Lauer said.
McKnight said parks officials will meet with area residents to tell them about remediation plans once they are determined. He said he'd like to see the park reopened by mid-2015.
Houses surround the park. Some residents want soil testing in nearby yards, including longtime community leader Melvin Steward.
"This has been the best-kept secret," he said of the park's contaminants.
McKnight said the residents are being told to contact the Ohio EPA.
Tom Dodge / Dispatch In a 2013 photo, old tanks sit next to excavation for a new pool in Saunders Park. High levels of arsenic were found in the soccer fields in the background.