Toxic Parks: Miami Officials Have Known For Years About Poison in Water Park, Golf Course

Coconut Grove's Blanche Park and Merrie Christmas Park - which were both closed recently after tests uncovered high levels of arsenic, copper, barium, cadmium and other contaminants in the soil - are not the only Miami parks sitting atop a former dumping ground of incinerator ash.

According to records uncovered by Riptide, 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 dump of long-buried toxic ash.

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-- Miami's Toxic Parks

The site dwarfs the other two parks. Some of the ash -- beneath the water park and the athletic complex at NW 37th Avenue near the 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 upwards of $10 million. But some toxic materials remain and subsequent tests of groundwater beneath the park showed arsenic concentrations far higher than allowable. And today, groundwater contamination levels are anybody's guess.

The City of Miami - the park's owner and operator - has for years ignored demands from county environmental regulators to monitor the groundwater for arsenic and other contaminants and report their findings. County records show no sampling reports have been filed since 2010.

Water park visitors should be especially concerned about the results of those toxicity tests. The 13-acre pool that can hold 1,300 people is fed with groundwater, which is also used as a geothermic heat source for regulating the pool's water. County regulators have asked the city to install monitoring controls to the water and the heating system to detect arsenic, but files show no record of city follow-through. Arsenic is odorless and tasteless and has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, prostate and pancreas.

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 helped oversee remediation efforts at the site but asked not to be named, says bits of melted metal and glass occasionally turn up in the sand traps, and are visible in the roots of trees that topple after a storm.

When a reporter recently visited the course, he had little trouble uncovering metal flecks and bits of glass, much of it melted by the incinerator into smooth clumps. Virtually in every spot where erosion has left soil bare - around the base of trees, by fences, and the edges of landscape medians and parking lots - the twinkle of incinerated debris catches the eye.

Other toxic materials found at similar sites - including PCBs, dioxins, arsenic, lead and other dangerous metals - are less visible to the untrained eye. And similar glass fragments were found around the landscaping at the water park, at the southern boundary with NW 14th St. and along the western fence line that separates the property from the golf course.

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 on other potentially toxic sites to comment for this post.

But records reveal that for close to a decade Mayorga's agency, DERM, has repeatedly pressed the city to either remove the massive deposits of toxic material under the golf course or contain it in a way that prevents exposure to humans, the environment and the groundwater. DERM also wants the city to resume testing groundwater, and to come up with a plan to remove or seal the remaining ash around the water park and ball fields.

Yet, as in other pollution remediation cases, officials from the City of Miami have simply ignored the demand. Last July, fed up with years of inaction, county regulators requested enforcement action against the city.

But so far, nothing has come of it.

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David Villano