Soil test show elevated levels of arsenic in three DuPont parks

Health 5 40

Soil samples around the playground at DuPont's Clock Tower Park showed elevated levels of arsenic. The soil samples were taken by the Washington Department of Ecology.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is in the process of crafting soil safety actions for three DuPont parks after recent soil samples revealed arsenic levels higher than the state’s clean-up levels of 20ppm. The City of DuPont is working with Ecology on the matter and will post educational signage at the three locations over the next few days to alert the public.

Soil samples taken under Ecology’s Soil Safety Program in September and December, 2011, at 11 DuPont parks  specifically looked at arsenic and lead levels in the soil. Out of the 11, three parks – Sellers, Clock Tower and PowderWorks – all had elevated levels of arsenic found in soil samples that were above the state standard of 20ppm.  None of the samples revealed problems with lead levels.  Ecology created the Soil Safety Program using some of the settlement funds from the Asarco smelter account to provide a safer and healthier setting for children. Part of the program identifies play areas where children are exposed to polluted soil.

Six soil samples taken from Clock Tower Park’s playground area had arsenic levels between 21 and 42ppm. The soil samples met both the average and maximum action level amounts for Ecology’s Soil Safety Program. While the source of the arsenic is not known at this time, Amy Hargrove with Ecology’s Soil Safety Program said that even if the contamination isn’t directly related to the Asarco plumb, Ecology usually recommends soil safety actions regardless of the source.

“Ecology will make up plans for each of the parks. The plans may include construction based soil safety actions such as soil amendment or ground cover or educational tools like signage,” said Hargrove.  She also confirmed that Ecology has funding to pay for soil safety actions through the Asarco Settlement Account.

“The city has two options for cleanup… either Ecology comes in with a contractor or the city hires a contractor and Ecology reimburses the city through an interagency agreement,” said Hargrove.

This is the grassy area in PowderWorks Park where elevated levels of arsenic were found in soil samples.

Other hot spots were at PowderWorks Park in a grassy area with a fallen tree just SW of the park’s shelter and main playground area. Four soil samples were taken, with two of the four samples showing arsenic levels above 20ppm. All other play areas at the park were below the action levels for arsenic and lead.

“This location is not in a designated play area, but when I visited the park I noticed evidence of human activity there, plus my kids were playing there. So we tested it,” said Hargrove.

Sellers Park, located in DuPont’s historic village, also had soil samples with arsenic levels that exceeded the 20 ppm threshold. Ecology will create a soil safety action plan for this park also.

Ecology sent the results to South Puget Sound News as a follow up to a story we ran in November 2011 on how residents could obtain free soil testing kits through Ecology’s Soil Safety Program.

South Puget Sound News asked Ecology if parents should allow their children to play at Clock Tower Park or at any of the areas where elevated arsenic has been found. Hargrove, a parent herself, responded by saying that allowing kids to play at the park is up to parents and that the average arsenic in the soil around the Clock Tower Park play area is 28 ppm which is just above the 20 ppm state cleanup level for arsenic.

“Both the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department and Ecology have reviewed the soil test results and found the amount of arsenic is low enough that it is not a health emergency but is a long term health concern. Whether someone is affected depends on the amount of arsenic taken into the body over time. Young children are more vulnerable because they tend to put dirty fingers and toys into their mouths,” she said.

Clock Tower Park has a well established ground cover of grass that helps limit direct contact with the soil.  Hargrove has other suggestions to further decrease contact with contaminated dirt.

“Healthy actions are simple things that you and your family can do to decrease contact with dirt that may have arsenic, lead, or other harmful chemicals. A few of the healthy actions are washing hands well before eating or after working or playing in the dirt, leaving shoes at the door or using a “wipe-off” mat to reduce dirt and dust that gets into your home. Damp dust and vacuum your home and wash your children’s toys.”

According to the Washington State Department of Health, everyone has daily exposure to arsenic because it is a naturally occurring chemical element that is normally found in small amounts in water, soil, indoor house dust, air, and food. Scientists have linked long-term exposure to arsenic to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer of the bladder, lung, skin, kidney, liver, and prostate. Whether someone is affected depends on the amount of arsenic and lead taken into their body over time.

The Tacoma Pierce County Health Department offers a Home Soil Testing Program that is free to residences located within the Soil Safety Program Area.  This program is to educate property owners about the Tacoma Smelter Plume and indicate if arsenic and lead are an issue on their property.  There is no cleanup associated with this program, but the health department will provide educational materials about cover material, raised bed gardening, and healthy actions.

Here is the list of other DuPont parks that had soil samples taken: Bell Hill Park, Bell Hill Neighborhood Park, Chief Leshi Park, Edmond Village Park, Gary Oaks Park, Hoffman Hill Division 5 neighborhood park, Ethal Lumsdon Park, and Village II Division 5 park.

More educational links are as follows:

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  1. Anonymous February 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm - 

    Pressure treated lumber (like the kind the city uses for sign posts) contains concentrations of arsenic are much much higher.  Don’t freak out about 28 ppm.  

    Our land pretty clean and well monitored as a result of Washington State monitoring the cleanup of the dupont works site.

  2. RealDuPont February 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm - 

    Mmm. Pass the dip. These paint chips are delicious.

  3. Anonymous February 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm - 

    The 28ppm was the average. Some of the samples taken around the playground area at ClockTower were at 42ppm. It would be nice if the city and residents can find out why this park had the results that it did. The rest of the samples at other parks around the city were fine…other than the 2 listed in the story.

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