After Swann Park arsenic scare, other sites found safe

June 21, 2008|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,Sun reporter

After an arsenic scare last year at a South Baltimore park, the city Health Department has reviewed 11 other city parks and found no public health risks associated with arsenic, officials said yesterday.

"We feel very confident there is no problem" in these other parks, said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city health commissioner. "We don't feel there is a public health risk."

In the spring of 2007, Baltimore health officials closed Swann Park, near the Patapsco River's Middle Branch, after discovering arsenic levels that were higher than 100 times what is considered safe.

Swann Park is next to an industrial site where Allied Chemical Corp. used arsenic to manufacture pesticides until 1976. The contamination came to light last spring because Honeywell, the company that merged with Allied, turned over its records to the city as it was negotiating a cleanup for the nearby factory site.

The park had been closed once before, in 1976, when the pesticide kepone, a nerve-damaging agent once manufactured by Allied, was found in the soil of the ball fields. But federal, state and local health officials allowed the park to reopen that year despite tests showing high levels of arsenic.

Sharfstein said he considered Swann Park unusual because it is next to an industrial site but wanted to test other parks to make sure there was no other evidence of contamination.

Many schoolchildren and residents used Swann Park. Public health experts said the arsenic is not thought to be harmful to children unless they ingest the soil.

A study is continuing in South Baltimore to see whether the Allied plant's arsenic dust caused higher cancer rates in the area, Sharfstein said.

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