Checking the Soil for Lead in Red Hook

Frisbee playing at the Red Hook ball fields (Photo by Robyn Lee, Creative Commons license)

Frisbee playing at the Red Hook ball fields (Photo by Robyn Lee, Creative Commons license)

Some time this month the Environmental Protection Agency is due to report its findings regarding lead contamination in soil samples taken from ball fields in Red Hook, Brooklyn, atop and adjoining the site of Columbia Smelting and Refining Works, a factory that operated in the area in the 1920s and 1930s, reports Emily Manley in New York Environment Report.

Ball fields, soccer fields, spectator and picnic areas may be affected, and a remediation plan may be developed to address contamination. Nonetheless, both the city and the EPA “stress that though elevated lead levels do exist in the Red Hook ball field soil, park users should not be concerned,” writes Manley.

The New York City Parks Department does plan to open the the recreation area in 2015 according to schedule, writing in an email: “The ball fields remain safe for all park users and pose no imminent threat to public health.”

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have previously tested the area for lead contamination, and last October the EPA followed up with testing that showed contamination at different depths, up to a depth of 2 feet. In all cases, lead levels exceeded the EPA’s hazard level for children’s play areas of 400 parts per million. (Some states set hazard levels even lower, and many European nations set hazard levels at 100 parts per million, New York Environment Report states.) These findings prompted the EPA to conduct follow-up testing.

Near the ball fields are the Red Hook Houses, where soil levels have also been tested.

In 2014, while EPA representatives were testing the ballfields for lead, they also collected 27 samples from five grassy areas within the Red Hook East Houses. Some buildings within the enormous development sit directly across the street from the former smelter. The complex was constructed in 1938 while the factory furnaces were still operational.

According to the EPA, results showed that in three of the five locations, including two adjacent to a playground, elevated lead levels were detected, “but only at depths more than a foot below the ground surface.”

In the remaining two locations, elevated lead levels were detected at varying depths, but lead levels within the upper six inches were “only slightly above the screening level.” EPA reports that these two locations are not play areas or main thoroughfares and appeared to have good vegetative cover.

Similarly, an EPA spokesperson told New York Environment Report that lead at the surface doesn’t present an immediate health concern, especially where there is grass cover and because the duration of contact with bare soil is limited. Read the original article to find out what sort of good hygiene is recommended that visitors to the ball parks practice.

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