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City Fails to Report Contamination at Youth Ball Field

Andy Berg

A city in Illinois may have known about contamination at a local baseball field and still gave a youth baseball league the green light to play there.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Hegewisch city officials detected high levels of the brain-damaging metal manganese in the dirt of a Southeast Side youth baseball field a year ago but didn’t tell league organizers or families of players.

The city apparently did share its finding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which this summer confirmed the city’s earlier soil testing results. The city then asked the EPA to do more testing and notify youth league officials.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Babe Ruth baseball season was delayed at Hegewisch and no games were played in the spring. However, a few games were played at the field in July and a few adult players also used the field.

Despite all the evidence of contamination, state health officials told the league board in a July letter that the field was safe for play despite the presence of manganese.

Brian Koch, of the Division of Environmental Health, said in the letter that teens and adults could play at Babe Ruth as long as grass is covering the contaminated area. Koch said players and spectators could minimize exposure by “cleaning clothing and equipment of dust or loose dirt prior to leaving the field” and washing hands after playing.

The letter maintained the younger kids should not use the field.

“Children younger than 6 years of age who play daily in this soil may be at risk of experiencing manganese-related health effects,” the letter stated, “including learning and behavioral changes and other nervous system effects such as slowed hand movements and incoordination.”

The EPA says it’s still trying to determine the source of the manganese and is working with the city on next steps. City health officials say they hope the field can be remediated by spring.

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