Swann Park plan submitted

Clean layer would cover arsenic soil

October 06, 2007|By John Fritze and Tom Pelton | John Fritze and Tom Pelton,Sun reporters

A South Baltimore park that was closed in April after officials discovered high levels of arsenic in the soil would be covered with 2 feet of clean dirt under a plan submitted to the state for review yesterday.

The 477-page remediation proposal for Swann Park, drafted by the city and Honeywell International, calls for removing soil in a few highly contaminated "hot spots," adding a cap of clean soil and reopening the park by the middle of next year.

"The plan would allow children of any age, athletes, park workers and others to use the park without worry," said the city health commissioner, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein. "This is a very common solution to problems like this. ... It would eliminate exposure to arsenic and is a very good outcome."

Some neighbors said they are glad that plans are being made to reopen the park but expressed concern that more is not being done.

Pat Beckman, 64, a retired nurse's aide who lives near the park, questioned whether the new soil would become contaminated by whatever arsenic is left at the site.

"I hope they come down and test it to make sure that the park stays safe, that it's not recontaminated in the future" from the buried arsenic, she said.

Testing of the park's soil was prompted by 31-year-old reports released by Honeywell in April showing that the company's predecessor, Allied Chemical Corp., had tested the park in 1976 and found arsenic levels up to 6,600 parts per million behind home plate of a baseball diamond.

Swann Park, popular among school sport leagues, sits next to a former Allied factory that until 1976 used arsenic to manufacture pesticides. Arsenic can cause cancer and lower IQs in children with prolonged exposure, but federal health experts have said the arsenic levels in the park would not cause health problems unless the dirt was ingested.

According to the report, officials considered a more extensive excavation of the site - removing any contaminated dirt to the groundwater table level. The proposal to perform limited excavation and put down a 2-foot layer of clean dirt would be "more effective," have less impact on the community during construction and cost less, the report said.

The study also weighed the option of using a 12-inch layer of soil - as opposed to the 24-inch layer that is being proposed.

If the plan is implemented, 3,200 cubic yards of contaminated dirt would be removed from the park - an amount that Honeywell says is equal to 120 truckloads.

Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration released a statement late yesterday afternoon from City Solicitor George Nilson saying that the city supported the proposal because it would "protect all visitors by adding at least two feet of new soil on top of the entire park."

Though officials said they were comfortable with the plan, the report included a paragraph stating that "the city will always prefer to have contaminated sites cleaned to the highest level of safety," and that its decision to back the proposed approach "should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the particular exposure levels" used in the report's risk evaluation.

Ultimately, Baltimore will be charged with maintaining the 2-foot layer of clean soil and ensuring that it remains in place.

Honeywell released a statement yesterday saying that the company is committed to working on an expedited schedule to clean the site.

The plan will be reviewed by the Maryland Department of the Environment and will receive a public hearing, city officials said.

The department will determine whether to proceed with the proposal or to order a different approach.

Harvey Leichling, 47, who lives with his sons about a block from the park, said he doesn't know if replacing the top layer of dirt will be enough.

He said a more pressing issue is the homes of neighbors, which also might be contaminated with arsenic dust from the old pesticide plant.

"I am glad they are doing the park, but what about our houses?" said Leichling, who said he is considering a lawsuit against Honeywell. "If the houses are contaminated, they should either decontaminate them or tear them down completely."

john.fritze@baltsun.com tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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