Miami's Toxic Parks

Digging deeper, Lipshultz, a graduate of Coconut Grove's Ransom Everglades School and later a standout soccer player at Oberlin College in Ohio, uncovered references to other contaminated city-owned properties, including Fern Isle Park. In each case, it appeared, residents were never informed.

Indeed, a recent visit to Fern Isle Park revealed no efforts to warn visitors of toxic soil — no signs, no fenced-off areas. Park manager Eduardo Quintana, a five-year veteran of the facility, said he's never been told of any contamination, past or present. "Can't say I've ever heard of any dump around here," he shrugged. "But look around if you want."

The affected site — identified through county records — sits at the southwest end of the park, away from the bustle of little-league games and toddlers on swing sets, but perhaps a draw to anyone looking for a quiet spot to picnic.

A barrel of toxic water is left unattended at Fern Isle Park.
Marta Xochilt Perez
A barrel of toxic water is left unattended at Fern Isle Park.
The soil is polluted at José Martí Park.
Marta Xochilt Perez
The soil is polluted at José Martí Park.

Location Info

Map

Jose Marti Park

362 SW 4th St.
Miami, FL 33130

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Little Havana

Blanche Park

3070 Virginia St.
Miami, FL 33133

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Coconut Grove

Sure enough, under the shade of a banyan tree on the shaggy mat of lawn lay remnants of a recent meal — paper napkins, plastic utensils, a chip bag, a gnawed chicken bone. A soccer ball hid in the sprawling roots of the tree. A few feet away, a 55-gallon steel drum rested on its side — the only major blemish on the sliver of lawn.

Meanwhile, across the park, two teams of 7-years-olds battled on the diamond in what appeared to be an endless game of hits and errors and furious coaches cajoling players to run faster or throw the ball harder. With his nephew planted in the outfield, 34-year-old Luis, who offered no last name, donned earphones and jogged slow laps of the park's perimeter, around the parking lots, ball fields, basketball courts, and finally the spit of land once used as a dump.

Had he any idea of the ground's toxicity? Panting and perplexed, he simply shrugged and continued his run, with the steel drum a pivot point to begin a new lap.

(County records indicate the drum has been at the site for years. It contains purged water from a monitoring well, is likely toxic, and should be disposed of with care.)

Fern Isle is not the only City of Miami park with a tainted history of contamination. On the west bank of the Miami River near the city's urban core is the hodge-podge of recreational buildings, outdoor pool, basketball courts, terraced courtyard, concrete paths, and landscaped picnic space known as José Martí Park. According to county records, soil tests in August 2002 turned up dangerous levels of arsenic and other toxic materials — likely the detritus of decades of boat building and repair on nearby properties.

Months later, the city hauled away 206 tons of tainted soil from the park — which stretches along SW Fourth Avenue between Second and Sixth streets — but further tests revealed arsenic levels still above the allowable threshold for human exposure. Pressed repeatedly by county regulators to clean up or cap the contamination, city officials believed a new community center constructed in 2007 on the south end of the site would effectively pave over suspect areas.

But the building's footprint was too small, and later tests found more arsenic, leaving county regulators, records show, concerned by the slow pace of remediation. In a letter dated March 2008, DERM reminded the city that its deadline for submitting an updated engineering control plan for the site was more than a year past due, but granted an additional 60 days to comply. The city ignored the request and finally responded — with nothing more than a renewed promise to provide a written plan — a full year later.

In the years since, records depict county officials as persistent yet eternally patient with the city over the pace of cleanup at José Martí Park.

This past spring, amid a renewed push by county regulators to force the city to comply with pollution-control directives in this and other cases, City of Miami Parks & Recreation director Juan Pascual penned a letter to DERM blaming "staff turnover" for the eight-year delay in responding to the lingering 2005 demand for a new written plan of action. After his apologies, Pascual's letter proposed, finally, a plan to essentially do nothing, because the park areas with positive arsenic readings, he asserted, are either off-limits to all but maintenance crews (who presumably know what to avoid) or, at the very least, are not easily accessible to park visitors.

DERM officials responded in a July 2 letter, agreeing to consider the plan, but only if it was presented in the form of a detailed proposal with monitoring guidelines, testing schedules, and other related control measures. The letter also demanded that six inches of mulch be spread over a contaminated area "where access is unimpeded by fencing." The city was given a September 2 deadline to submit the detailed plan. But it never arrived, nor has any other response.

In any event, the do-nothing plan might need some work. On a recent morning at the park, the contaminated areas were not marked, and maintenance workers expressed no awareness of possible exposure risks — to visitors or to themselves. "Never heard of that," snapped one worker when asked to point out the toxic hot spots. Nor could he recall the prescribed mulch layering. A park supervisor — four years on the job (she asked that her name not be used) — responded to similar queries with folded arms and raised eyebrows. "You kiddin' me?"

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12 comments
susanwilliams407
susanwilliams407

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illwilled19
illwilled19

I'm sure the Miami River is just toxic waste flowing out into the sea, just look at all the businesses that have existed along the river for years would know the illegal dumping that gone on there is Common , not to mention whatever lies beneath those waters ,,,,,,

halen156
halen156

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drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter


You control our world. You’ve poisoned the air we breathe, contaminated the water we drink, and copyrighted the food we eat. We fight in your wars, die for your causes, and sacrifice our freedoms to protect you. You’ve liquidated our savings, destroyed our middle class, and used our tax dollars to bailout your unending greed. We are slaves to your corporations, zombies to your airwaves, servants to your decadence. You’ve stolen our elections, assassinated our leaders, and abolished our basic rights as human beings. You own our property, shipped away our jobs, and shredded our unions. You’ve profited off of disaster, destabilized our currencies, and raised our cost of living. You’ve monopolized our freedom, stripped away our education, and have almost extinguished our flame. We are hit… we are bleeding… but we ain’t got time to bleed. We will bring the giants to their knees and you will witness our revolution!

drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

poor families reside. Poor parents are constrained in theirchoice of neighborhoods and schools. Lowincome may lead to residence in extremelypoor neighborhoods characterized by socialdisorganization (crime, many unemployedadults, neighbors not monitoring the behavor of adolescents)

 Do you live next to some of the nation’s worst toxic waste sites and not even know it?

http://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/srchsites.cfm

RafT
RafT

My neighbor in the Grove died of Pancreatic cancer.  She was a teacher at Carver Middle, one of the potential toxic sites.  RIP.

hall16243
hall16243

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