Toxic Ash at Miami Pool and Golf Course Ignored for Years

Coconut Grove's Blanche Park and Merrie Christmas Park were both recently closed after tests uncovered high levels of arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium, and other contaminants in the soil. But it seems they're not the only Miami parks sitting atop former dumping grounds for incinerator ash.

According to records uncovered by New Times, city and county officials have known for years that the popular Grapeland Water Park, the adjacent ball fields, and the 135-acre Melreese golf course were built to cover up a massive toxic dump.

The site dwarfs the two Grove parks. Some of the ash beneath the water park and the athletic complex on NW 37th Avenue near Miami International Airport was quietly excavated in 2006 and capped with clean fill. More than 86,000 tons of tainted soil was hauled away at what a county source says cost upward of $10 million. But some toxic materials remain, and subsequent tests of groundwater beneath the park showed arsenic concentrations far higher than allowable. Today, groundwater contamination levels are anybody's guess.

The City of Miami — the park's owner and operator — has spent years ignoring demands from county environmental regulators to monitor the groundwater. County records show no sampling reports have been filed since 2010.

Water park visitors should be especially concerned. The 13-acre pool is fed with groundwater. The county has asked the city to install monitoring controls to detect arsenic, but files show no record of the city following through. Arsenic is odorless and tasteless and has been linked to cancer.

Just to the northwest, the International Links/Miami Melreese Country Club remains an ash dump covered in fairways and putting greens. One county employee who asked not to be named says bits of melted metal and glass occasionally turn up in the sand traps. When a reporter recently visited the course, he had little trouble uncovering metal flecks and bits of glass, much of it melted into smooth clumps by the incinerator.

Through a spokesman, Miami-Dade's environmental chief, Wilbur Mayorga, acknowledged the history of the two parks but says he is too overwhelmed with media inquiries into other potentially toxic sites to comment.

However, records reveal that for nearly a decade, Mayorga's agency, the Department of Environmental Resources (DERM), has repeatedly pressed the city to either remove the massive deposits of toxic material under the golf course or contain it. DERM also wants the city to resume testing groundwater.

Yet, as in other pollution remediation cases, City of Miami officials have simply ignored the demand. Last July, fed up with years of inaction, county regulators requested enforcement action against the city. So far, nothing has come of it.

 
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