Restoring Swann Park

October 22, 2007

Baltimore officials and Honeywell International have submitted a proposal to restore use of Swann Park in the next several months. They admit that the proposal, while more than adequate, could certainly be better. That's why it's incumbent on the Maryland Department of the Environment to review the proposal thoroughly and to give its approval only if it is convinced that putting good soil over bad will bring the park back to life without posing a health risk.

Honeywell is seeking, in part, to atone for the misleading statements of the former Allied Chemical Co., which for years operated a pesticide-producing plant next to the park in South Baltimore. At least one of the pesticides, Kepone, raised enough concerns to justify the creation of a task force and a short-term closing of the park in 1976.

The park was closed again this year as a previously undisclosed memo pointed to higher levels of arsenic than Allied had publicly admitted. A special task force appointed by Mayor Sheila Dixon concluded that Allied deliberately misled city officials about its own test results regarding arsenic levels in the soil as well as the fact that the arsenic came from the company factory.

Clearly, removing any continuing safety and health risks at the park is critical. Honeywell and the city have agreed to a remediation plan that would cost nearly $3.5 million. It would include removing about 120 truckloads of park soil in a few highly contaminated "hot spots" and adding 2 feet of clean soil to cover the entire park.

Baltimore health officials signed off on the proposal along with Honeywell because they felt a more extensive excavation plan would be slower and more disruptive to the neighborhood. They want to see the park restored by mid-2008 as a vital recreation area in a section of the city that needs usable open space.

But it will be up to scientific experts - including toxicologists - at MDE to determine that the remaining arsenic will not "migrate" either within the park or through groundwater to other areas. State environmental regulators will also review the plan carefully to make sure that the proposed "hot spots" include all seriously contaminated areas, and that the standard of finding the most cost-effective solution doesn't jeopardize health and safety.

Officials at MDE have pushed Honeywell to clean up the backyard areas of several residences adjacent to Swann Park that showed elevated arsenic levels. The company has agreed to do the work, but has met with some resistance from skeptical homeowners.

That's understandable. As all parties prepare for a community meeting to be held soon, it should be remembered that confidence in the park cleanup depends on cleaning up the nearby neighborhood as well.

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