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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Mayor Michael B. Coleman has directed Columbus Public Health to survey residents living near Saunders Park to determine whether industrial contaminants found at the city park have affected their health.
"I view the city's role as being protective of the neighborhood," Coleman told The Dispatch yesterday during an interview in his City Hall office. "It's got my full attention right now."
Coleman said he is disappointed with Recreation and Parks officials after reading a story in Sunday's Dispatch that said they knew as early as 2011 that high levels of arsenic, lead and other toxic pollutants were discovered in soil samples from the Near East Side park, yet officials continued to let youth soccer teams play there.
This is the second time that Coleman has ordered city departments to act after reading in The Dispatch about pollution at Saunders Park. In September, Coleman ordered youth soccer games moved after the newspaper reported that Recreation and Parks officials allowed a soccer league to play there despite a 2012 report warning that levels of lead, arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene exceeded recreational standards.
The city then fenced off 9 acres of the park.
Arsenic is a poison, benzo(a)pyrene is suspected of causing cancer, and lead can impair neurological development in children.
Yesterday, Coleman said he had met with city health officials, including Commissioner Dr. Teresa Long, on Monday.
"I asked Health, 'Have you recognized any unique health issues around the site?' They said no," Coleman said.
But that's not enough, he said. "We need to dig deeper. This is a situation that has been there for generations."
The park and neighborhood are just south of the former Smith Agricultural Chemical plant, which Borden acquired in 1964 and closed in 1970. The fertilizer plant began operations more than a century ago.
According to a 1951 Dispatch story, the original plant opened at Leonard and Champion avenues in 1894.
"We're hoping to learn more about potential exposure," Long said.
Debra Cousar, who lives on Graham Street across from the park, said she's glad the city will survey residents.
"They should have done that a while ago," said Cousar, who lives in the house her parents bought in 1948. "I don't know what they'll find. It's better to know than not to know."
Coleman also said that lawyers in the city attorney's office are looking to see whether houses around the park were built on land the chemical company once owned.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said last week that it will assess whether the residential lots adjacent to the park could have been owned in the past by the former Smith Agricultural Chemical Co.
"We will not sample unless there is a direct connection to the Smith Agricultural site," an EPA spokeswoman wrote in an email.
The state has been testing along I-670, where the plant was, to determine whether that site was the source of the contaminants.
A city consultant, Resource International Inc., wrote to the state in October 2011 asking for technical assistance. The state opened a file on the case.
Recreation and Parks officials allowed youth soccer games to be played at the park in 2012 while trying to determine whether the pollutants posed a problem.
After collecting more samples at the park and finding elevated levels of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene, consultant Burgess & Niple recommended in October 2012 that the park should not be used for scheduled sports and should not be used more than 26 days a year.
Again, Recreation and Parks officials allowed youth soccer games to be played there the following spring.
The city is scheduled to open a pool at the park's southern edge on July 13. No contaminants were found in that section of the park.