Coconut Grove

New round of soil testing at Blanche Park

A second round of testing has confirmed elevated levels of a toxic metal in groundwater at a popular Coconut Grove park.

Antimony, a chemical used in paint, ceramics and batteries, was found at more than twice the county’s allowable level. The findings prompted county pollution control chief Wilbur Mayorga to order the city of Miami to dig additional wells at Blanche Park, 3045 Shipping Ave., to determine whether the contamination has spread beyond the park.

The city plans to dig two wells, about 18 feet deep, in the right-of-way on Shipping Avenue and test them over the next two months, said Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo.

“I think if we have two months of consecutive data, that should be very telling,” she said.

Contamination at the park, once a dingy hangout and now a haven for kids and dogs in the compact neighborhood, was discovered after residents began complaining that the city was taking too long to address contaminated soil found about a mile and a half away at an old municipal incinerator on Jefferson Street more than two years ago. The city repeatedly missed county deadlines to respond to the findings, prompting residents to contact the county, as well as state and federal environmental officials.

In response, the county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) ordered the city to perform a wider study testing soil throughout the neighborhood. The tests revealed that the park, which the city purchased in 1943 to use as a dump, had ash and levels of toxic metals, sometimes 40 to 50 times allowable levels. The land was converted to a park in 1962, but never cleaned up.

In addition to particles of metal found in soil, workers also discovered melted glass and other evidence of the ash.

The wider testing also uncovered similar toxic metals at Merrie Christmas Park, about two miles away, which has been fenced off while workers determine the boundaries of the contamination.

Because Blanche Park is covered with artificial turf, a cap county officials say provides a safe seal, the park has remained open.

The most recent water tests show levels of antimony, a metal that can cause lung and heart disease, at 14 and 11 parts per billion, about twice the allowable level of six parts per billion. Tests in September showed levels at 13.01 and 9.71 parts per billion.

By digging wells outside the park, where they know ash was dumped, officials should be able to determine whether the water contamination has spread or remains isolated to the areas closest to the soil contamination, Mayorga explained.

If the additional tests show antimony at or below six parts per billion, the county will consider the contamination limited to the park, Mayorga said.

The Department of Health is still studying earlier samples to determine if any steps need to be taken to address health risks. Bravo said the city will schedule a community meeting to answer residents’ questions once recommendations from the health department, as well as additional testing at Merrie Christmas Park, are complete. The meeting should occur in the next month, she said.

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