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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has started to investigate an old fertilizer-plant site north of a Near East Side park where elevated levels of toxins were found last year.

Investigators are taking soil samples to determine whether the former Borden plant, which closed in 1970, is the source of the contaminants. The site, now bisected by I-670, is just north of Saunders Park, where the toxins were found.

The Dispatch reported in September that the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department permitted a youth soccer league to play at the park last spring even though a 2012 report warned of elevated levels in the soil of arsenic, a poison, and benzo(a)pyrene, which is suspected of causing cancer. The city has since placed signs around the soccer fields saying the park is closed.

Ohio EPA inspectors will test ground water and soil at the site of the former plant, spokeswoman Erin Strouse said in an email. The Ohio Department of Transportation granted permission for the sampling on its property.

The state does not plan to take soil samples from homes near the park, Strouse said.

"In general, it's typical for Ohio EPA to look first at a potential source site to see if a problem even exists and whether further sampling may be warranted," he said.

Some community leaders think the EPA should also test soil in nearby yards.

"Many of us have been wondering about the people living in the houses near the park," said Lela Boykin, a resident and chief operating officer of the nearby Neighborhood House, a settlement house that provides social services.

"There are concerns whether the plant contributed to illnesses in the area," she said.

Burgess & Niple, a consulting firm hired by the city, reported in October 2012 that a soil analysis at Saunders Park found levels of arsenic and benzo(a)pyrene exceeding recreational standards. The consultants recommended that the park be used only 26 days a year and that the fields not be used for scheduled sports.

Al Edmondson, who leads the Mount Vernon Avenue District Improvement Association, said any soil problems should be taken care of.

"We don't need (any) more health issues in our neighborhood," he said.

The city council has approved paying Burgess & Niple $142,000 to perform additional tests and assess risks at Saunders Park. Burgess & Niple is working with the EPA and should have a final report by early spring, said Terri Leist, a spokeswoman for Columbus Recreation and Parks.

Borden closed its Smith-Douglass Division plant at the end of 1970, citing high production costs. Borden Chemical had acquired the plant, formerly the Smith Agriculture Co., in 1964.

mferenchik@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

January 2, 2014 
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