Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tacoma Smelter Plume: Why are some parks putting up “Dirt Alert” signs?

By Amy Hargrove, Soil Safety Program Coordinator

Earlier this month, Burien Parks & Recreation put up signs like this one at Dottie Harper Park. Signs will be posted at other parks in the coming months. We’ve heard some questions and concerns about the signs, so I’d like to provide a little bit more information…

Contamination has been in the soil for decades--why put signs up now?

In the summer of 2010, with new funding from a settlement with Asarco, we were able to include parks in the Soil Safety Program. Until then, we only had funding to work with schools and childcare play areas.

We spent the next year doing soil sampling for arsenic and lead at park play areas throughout the Soil Safety Program service area. Once we got the results, we began working with park districts to plan cleanup work. The results also helped us figure out where parks should post signs.

Point Defiance Park in Tacoma already has signs, and several other park districts are now getting ready to post their own.

What is the risk from playing in contaminated soils?

The main risk from contaminated soils comes from eating them, not from touching them. At the arsenic and lead levels we found, there is no immediate health risk, but there is a long-term concern. Over a long period of time, regular exposure to arsenic and lead can contribute to many different health problems.

Young children are most at risk because they play on the ground and put dirty hands and toys in their mouths. As a parent, you can take a few simple steps to greatly reduce your child’s exposure to any kind of contamination that might be in soils:
  • Watch young children to make sure they aren’t eating dirt.

  • Stick to the designated play areas at the park—Ecology is cleaning these areas up!

  • After playing and before eating, wash your child’s hands with soap and water.

  • Wash dirty toys.

  • Keep dirt out of your home by wiping or taking off shoes at the door.

Should I worry about walking my dog at the park?

Dogs and other animals are less sensitive to arsenic than humans are. Still, we recommend wiping off dirty paws and brushing off dirt so they don’t bring contamination into your home.

What’s next?

This year, we hope to finish many of our park play area cleanups and we will be working with different park districts to put up more signs.

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