olinda_park_web.jpg(Florida International University) – MIAMI — Sections of Olinda Park will remain closed for at least three months as environmental officials deal with lead contamination.

Decades-old ash buried beneath the soil of the park at Northwest 51st Street and 21st Avenue is likely responsible for the contamination that prompted the closure last spring.

 “You’re looking at many decades ago, a time of little knowledge on how to manage these kinds of areas,” said Luis Espinoza, spokesman for the county Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM). “There’s a lot more precaution taken nowadays.”

The park sits on the site of a 1930s-era rock pit which, over time, was filled with incinerator ash, according to Miami-Dade County officials, who initially said the clean up would take three to four weeks.

Officials said the contamination is contained within the park but they are offering free blood tests for high levels of lead — which can have mental and physical effects.

The park was closed after toxic levels of lead were found in the soil. High levels of arsenic, barium, copper, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxin were also found.

Currently, only the grassy area of the park, about 2.6 acres of the six-acre facility, is closed.

The basketball courts, the recreation center and parking remain open and staffed by park employees, said Doris Howe of the county Parks and Recreation Department.

Howe said it is unlikely any other county parks are contaminated but some parks will be checked as a precaution.

 “We will be assessing parks that were former landfills to further ensure their safety conditions,” Howe said in an e-mail.

The Olinda Park contamination was discovered earlier this year during a routine check by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the findings were provided to county environmental officials.

However, this is not the first time chemicals were found in the park.

The EPA conducted three studies since 1985, all of which found traces of chemicals in the park but the levels were not high enough to pose any health risks until this year.

Recent studies by DERM found that the contaminated soil is only within park boundaries, according to Espinoza, and homes and businesses, including the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, are at no risk.

The contamination has not affected drinking water, either.

“Park patrons and neighboring residents are not at risk of contaminated drinking water and they are all served by public water supply,” Espinoza said in an e-mail.

It will cost about $2 million to $2.5 million in county funds to clean up the park.

Clean up plans are under development; once they are approved, they will take three to four months to complete.

Two sites near Olinda Park have also tested positive for toxic chemicals but the cases appear unrelated.

Gasoline by-products were found earlier this year in the soil at the Annie M. Coleman Gardens Complex at Northwest 52nd Street and 21st Avenue.

That contamination came from cars parking on the grass. The top six inches of soil was replaced and residents were told to park in paved areas only.

The banned pesticide DDT was found in the soil near Ward Tower Senior Social Center at Northwest 53rd Street and 23rd Avenue. The pesticide was used to control weeds when the site was a junkyard. Cleanup there is nearly complete.

The Miami Dade County Health Department is offering free screenings for lead exposure at the Little Haiti Health Center, 300 NE 80th Ter., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Anyone who has visited Olinda Park is eligible for the test.

High levels of lead in the blood may cause a range of health problems, including behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and death, according to the EPA.

Children 6 years old and under are most at risk.

Olga Connor of the county Health Department said as of yet no one has tested positive for lead.

Contact Patricia M. Gonzalez at pgonz015@fiu.edu


PARK CONTAMINATION: The lush greenery of a section of Olinda Park belies the fact that below the surface the soil is contaminated with lead. The contaminated parts will remain closed for at least three more months.