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Environmental connections to public health >>

Arsenic and old lies in Baltimore

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Today's villain is brought to you by the letter C, for Coverup:

Back in early June we posted a story about a couple of Jersey City journalists who were arrested for crossing police barricades to collect samples of contaminated soil on school grounds. That story revolved around a Paramus, NJ middle school and piles of soil contaminated with high levels of pesticides. The Superintendent of the district knew about the contamination five months before the information was made public and made no effort to clean it up until public outrage forced her hand.

But five months is nothing, or at least that must be what residents of south Baltimore are thinking after a city task force released its report on Tuesday. It turns out that high levels of arsenic found this spring in a south Baltimore park were caused by faulty smokestacks on a nearby chemical company -- 30 years ago.

Torn filters on the smokestacks of Allied Chemical Company released arsenic, a carcinogen, into the air -- and onto the waterfront park. Arsenic testing performed on behalf of the company in 1976 showed contamination as high as 10,000 parts per million, but the chemical company withheld that information when advising on the reopening of the park.

So south Baltimore kids have grown up playing in arsenic-laced dirt. A report released in June by the federal agency responsible for toxic substances concluded that the tainted soil was not a threat to children's health unless they ate it, but levels of arsenic in the park far outweigh the 10 ppm EPA limits for drinking water -- and as this 2001 arsenic factsheet shows (pdf), children don't have to eat something to ingest it.

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Does anyone else feel like there should be someone keeping a closer eye on these things?

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