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Miami to take more soil samples at Coconut Grove’s Blanche Park

The city of Miami will begin testing the soil Thursday in at least 24 spots in a Coconut Grove park popular with kids and dogs after discovering dirt contaminated with dangerous dioxins, arsenic, and other toxic substances within the past week.

Based on what it finds, the city might also drill four monitoring wells, according to a plan it submitted Wednesday to the county.

Workers are expected to take the soil samples from the perimeter of Blanche Park, 3045 Shipping Ave., as well as a section between the children’s park and the dog park, said Wilbur Mayorga, chief of the county’s department of Environmental Monitoring and Restoration Division. Wednesday, Mayorga added two more soil samples within the park after meeting with city officials and consultants conducting the study.

The contamination is only the latest finding in a prolonged investigation that has angered neighbors by its many delays and by the city’s failure to clean up a nearby contaminated site that used to house an incinerator — despite knowing about the problem for more than two years.

In 2011, the city learned the land where its old municipal incinerator sat, at 3425 Jefferson St., had tainted soil with dangerous levels of heavy metals that can cause serious health issues, including cancer and cardiovascular, nervous-system, and reproductive-health problems. Its towering stack, nicknamed Old Smokey, was ordered shut down in 1970 after four decades, when neighboring Coral Gables sued. The site is now home to the city’s firefighters training center.

The discovery did not come to light, however, until a University of Miami graduate student came across a report in a city file while researching another project this year in the neighborhood, the nearby Coral Gables trolley depot. After residents began complaining about the contamination on the incinerator site, the county stepped in and ordered the city to expand its testing. It also began conducting its own tests. So far, at least 63 soil samples from the Coconut Grove and Coral Gables area have been taken by the city and the county.

In addition, City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he asked the city to test neighborhood schools and parks. The area around the old incinerator, built in the West Grove, has several schools, including Carver and Tucker elementary schools, Carver Middle School, and Coral Gables High School. Ransom Everglades School is also near the area.

While the schools and other parks tested so far appear to have levels of metals in keeping with what Mayorga described as Miami’s “urban” soil, the park yielded levels so high that Mayorga ordered a parking lot roped off. On Monday, the city paved over the gravel lot, creating a cap which he said makes it safe for the time being.

Unlike other samples that might have been contaminated with ash spewing from the incinerator, dirt from the park indicates the site had been used to dump ash, he said. The city purchased what had been an old limestone quarry in 1943 to dump trash. In 1962, it turned the site into a park.

With increased scrutiny from residents, both city and county officials are now hurrying to come up with more definitive answers about the contamination. Samples are being tested by the county’s health department, as well as state health officials, Mayorga said.

The city and county plan to present their findings — in particular, whether samples have yielded dioxins, which are considered more toxic — at a 6 p.m. meeting Monday at Elizabeth Virrick Park at 3255 Plaza St. in Coconut Grove.