October 2, 2013

Toxic Parks, Toxic Water. ~ Paige Vignola

What Are We Doing to Our Water Supply?

Where I live in Miami, there has been a muted stir in the past few weeks about two park closures.

More specifically, two children’s parks in Coconut Grove—one with an attached dog park—have been closed down due to the discovery of heavy metals in the soil. Blanche Park was reopened within a few hours because the authorities deemed that since the toxic substances were deep enough in the soil and that since the surface of the park was covered by artificial turf and asphalt, children and animals would not be harmed by the presence of such materials.

Merrie Christmas Park remains closed for cleanup. It seems that Blanche Park, the first park closed, was, in a previous incarnation, a limestone pit and then a dumping ground for incinerator ash. Authorities have not yet determined the previous history of Merrie Christmas.

I applaud the fact that the city of Miami has reclaimed these areas in the name of promoting green spaces. It brings me great joy to see the creation of outdoor spaces designed with the intention of increasing a community’s ability to commune with nature.

I frequented my local parks as a teenager and, as an adult, continue to do so with my children—therefore, this is an issue of great interest and importance to me.

Certainly the presence of heavy metals like the copper, barium, arsenic and cadmium discovered in the ground at Merrie Christmas Park raises concerns about health risks to people and pets. That, however, is not the only issue at hand.

What causes me more anxiety is the issue entirely glossed over by the authorities in their explanation as to why Blanche Park could be reopened so quickly. The toxins are too deep in the soil to cause any harm from surface exposure.

The question I am left wondering is: What about our water supply?

Groundwater is highly susceptible to contamination. Contamination takes place when water soluble pollutants are present in the ground and percolate through the soil and underlying rock into the water table. Heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium fall into this category and were both present in the samples taken from the park—the arsenic levels at Blanch Park were 30 times higher than what the state allows.

Both contaminants are linked to chronic illnesses like cancer, damage to the immune system, as well as liver and kidney disorders.

It is not my aim to suggest that Coconut Grove residents will suffer from serious new health conditions because of the recent discovery of these chemicals. Clearly, this is not a new story. These toxins did not appear overnight; it has been decades since “Old Smokey”, the incinerator responsible for the ash deposits, was operational and authorities have been aware of the presence of the heavy metals in these areas for at least two years.

But while Merrie Christmas Park has remained closed for testing and cleanup, Blanche Park remains open. Why not initiate a cleanup effort there as well? Because the contaminants are no immediate threat to the children and pets who play above them.

They could, however, pose a threat to the larger community.

Groundwater in Miami-Dade County all passes through the Biscayne Aquifer. The aquifer supplies water to nearly all the residential and business communities in the county.

Although an aquifer acts as a natural filtration system, in Miami-Dade the water table is so close to the surface and the water passes through so quickly that the natural process of water purification is both unreliable and vulnerable.

In a city that is actively promoting the consumption of tap water over bottled water—a concept that I can get whole-heartedly behind as a means to reduce plastic waste—why not take a deeper look at our soil contaminants?

While the discovery of toxic metals in the ground under our feet in the county’s green spaces is alarming and the surface cleanup project is commendable, the potential harm to the community’s water supply should be more of a concern.  Unfortunately, this issue seems to be flying under the local media’s radar.

Will I continue to drink and promote the consumption of tap water over bottled water?

I suppose I will, but I sure feel a pressing need to investigate various filtration systems available as I surely feel less secure about what comes out of my taps.

Like elephant journal on Facebook.


Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Paige Vignola