Toxic Ash Closes Douglas Park

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Miami-Dade's newest toxic playground is the City of Miami's Douglas Park. City officials say arsenic, lead, barium, and other hazardous substances have been found at levels far above the threshold considered safe for human exposure.

The park will be fenced off and closed to all visitors, says assistant city manager Alice Bravo. No clean-up plan has been announced.

See also: Miami's Toxic Parks

Douglas Park is a former quarry that was acquired by the city in the 1930s to be used as a dump site for incinerator ash and other hazardous materials. It is less than a mile from Coconut Grove's former Old Smokey municipal trash incinerator. The park was tested for toxic soil in August as part of a wider study to gauge the residual fallout from decades of pollution. The incinerator closed in 1970, but soil in the immediate vicinity is highly contaminated, county files reveal.

Initially, city and county officials overseeing the cleanup and monitoring efforts said the soil readings at Douglas Park remained in the normal range for arsenic and other contaminants -- consistent with other areas in a dense, urban setting. But a follow-up inspection, explains Bravo, revealed melted glass and other debris visually similar to the toxic soil found at other ash dump sites. Subsequent soil analysis confirmed the suspicions of county environmental regulators, prompting the park's closure.

Early Friday morning, city workers began turning away visitors from the multiuse facility at Douglas Road and SW 28th Street. A parks department employee, who declined to provide her name, said she and other workers had not been told the cause of the closure but added that work crews were arriving soon to fence off the ten-acre park.

Bravo said the soil test results coincided with the discovery of historical records that indentified the park as a former ash dump site. The city and Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management will work in tandem on the cleanup.

Coconut Grove's Blanche Park and Merrie Christmas Park were closed in September after officials discovered buried incinerator ash. The City of Miami's Melreese Golf Course and adjacent Grapeland Park are also former dump sites for ash, though they remain open. Earlier this year, a private, multimillion-dollar, waterfront estate in Coconut Grove was found to contain more than 100,000 tons of soil tainted with incinerator ash. Bravo says city officials are searching records for other former dump sites.

Incinerator ash -- a grainy mix of carcinogens such as arsenic, barium, lead, antimony, and PCBs -- is often detected by the telltale presence of melted glass and metal. The chemicals can easily leach into groundwater, contaminating the drinking supply.

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