Some Surfside residents aren’t happy with tons of new sand — enough to fill six Olympic-size pools — recently dumped on their beach.
Tests show that the sand dug up from a nearby construction site, is contaminated with arsenic. And some residents say the dark-colored sand isn’t sand at all — it’s dirt.
Experts from the town and Miami-Dade County say that the elevated arsenic levels aren’t high enough to be a safety concern and that the sand will bleach to a lighter color over time. But not everyone is convinced: About 150 people turned out for a meeting at town hall Monday night to discuss the sand issue, and most remained unhappy.
“Would you use this sand in your backyard for your children to play in? I certainly wouldn’t,” said Marianne Meischeid, a town resident.
Studies done by two independent toxicology firms hired by the town revealed that the levels of arsenic were between 7.0 and 8.9mg/kg. The state level for residential areas is 2.1mg/kg.
But in a statement, the Florida Department of Health said “there is an extremely low risk of health effects due to the arsenic found in the sand.”
Christopher Teaf, one of the toxicologists hired by Surfside, told residents at the meeting that he reached the same conclusion.
“There is no negative impact from people being exposed to the sand,” Teaf said, adding that comparing the exposure to the levels for recreational areas — 5.5 mg/kg — is more accurate. “I think there is a reason to question. It is different from a reason to be concerned.”
He added that arsenic is primarily harmful when ingested, and less so from breathing it or touching it. Even then, he said, children would have to consume a significant amount of the sand for an extended period of time — 129 mg per day, 200 days a year, for 14 years — before it became a problem.
Still, many residents questioned the validity of the reports and said any level of arsenic is harmful over time.
“Thirty years from now, we could have kids walking around with horns,” said Jeffrey Platt, an 8-year Surfside resident.
Town Commissioner Michael Karukin said he thinks his constituents’ biggest concern is the quality of the sand.
Karukin said the town first became aware of the arsenic after complaints from residents about the color and texture of the sand prompted the toxicology reports.
Residents said that some of their children had recently returned home from the beach with unusually red, puffy eyes. But Karukin said he didn’t think the illnesses were related to the arsenic.
“I don’t hold a lot of credibility to four children getting sick,” he said. “When emotions run high, people won’t hear no matter what you say. The arsenic issue is the straw on the camel’s back.”
Several residents urged town leaders to listen and take action over what they called “dirt, not sand.”
The sand they were referring to is roughly 20,000 cubic yards that were dug up from 9011 Collins Ave., where Fort Capital, a real estate investment management firm, is building two 12-story towers to house hotel and residential accommodations, and an underground garage.
Florida statutes state that the sand removed must be “placed in the immediate area of construction,” and was accordingly placed on the nearby coast. The state also requires that the sand be tested for compatibility, but not for toxins, before the move.
Tests revealed that the sand was similar to sand already on the beach. But neighbors disagree.
“It’s a fine dust that you can’t get rid off. It gets on everything. It’s dirt,” said Debbie Cimadevilla, a 15-year resident of Surfside. “This stuff is gross and doesn’t feel like sand.”
Commissioner Karukin said he took a walk along the section of the beach, and that “the color difference did not seem as dramatic as some have said.”
“In my opinion there is no major issue with the sand,” he said.
Town manager Michael Crotty agreed.
“This is a normal condition following a sand renourishment. [The experts] indicate that the sand will lighten, it will bleach,” Crotty said. “If someone doesn’t like the sand, I can’t change their point of view.”
Cimadevilla is among the residents who want the sand removed from the beach. She said she found a rusty nail in the sand, a foot-long piece of scrap metal, and a two-foot-long piece of wood, which she held up during Monday’s town hall.
Crotty said it’s not a simple task.
A lack of sand, he said, has been hurting the town’s beaches, which are not due for a replenishment until 2016.
Stephen Blair, who works with the county’s Environmental Resources Management department, told residents that while there are no sand sources in Miami-Dade, studies being conducted at the federal level point to St. Lucie County as a possible source. He added that the sand off that county’s coast is darker and similar to the sand now on the beach.
Residents pointed to the Bahamas as a source of “white” sand, but Crotty said federal funds can only be used to purchase domestic sand.
But Cimadevilla said residents won’t back down.
“This is the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen in Surfside,” she said. “Why would all these people be there demanding and reporting unanimous, utter discontent with the texture, the color, the construction debris in it? Why would they be there if it’s not so, and demanding removal of the material? It’s true and obvious.”
Crotty and Karukin said town officials would review the information and present possible solutions at the next Town Commission meeting.
“We all feel very passionate about our beach,” Karukin said. “Surfside likes its perfection.”
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