Durham city workers fence off areas in two parks after high levels of lead found

Durham city workers fenced off areas at two parks which showed concerning lead levels on Friday. [11 ABC, 8.4.2023]

According to a memo sent Thursday by the City Manager’s Office, preliminary results of soil samples collected by Mid-Atlantic Associates identified seven spots at Walltown Park and eight spots at East Durham Park as areas that measured above the EPA threshold of 400 parts per million.

“It’s definitely a little alarming knowing that we’ve been out here for years and this problem has existed for a while,” said Marissa Peterson, who lives near East Durham Park.

The testing was conducted following a December 2022 study from Duke University researchers drew attention to the issue at the two parks, which previously served as locations for city waste incinerators. According to the published findings, collected samples showed lead levels three to four times the EPA threshold. The preliminary results included in the memo did not share specific levels, though acknowledged they were above the threshold.

“I would like to know why these parks instead of other parks, and I guess the ‘why’ will help prevent this from happening,” said Peterson.

Testing was also conducted at Lyon and Northgate Park, neither of which showed any issues. The memo notes that playgrounds at all five parks did not identify “any potential containment concerns.”

At East End Park, six areas identified as above the threshold are all behind a separate fenced-off area not accessible to the public. A city spokesperson claims the six positive soil samples listed under the heading of “East End Park” in the city manager’s memo are part of an adjacent city-owned property that is not within the park grounds. No positive samples were found in the publicly accessible portion of East End Park.

At East Durham Park, one of the areas is behind a covered shelter, while the remaining seven are near a parking lot, though in a section not as often used by park-goers. At Walltown, one area is close to the edge of a basketball court, and another is about fifty feet from the playground. The other five sections are dotted throughout the property. All three parks with impacted spots will remain open to the public.

The memo instructed staff to put up the fencing and detailed signs, as well as provide educational and health resources by the end of the day.

The final report is expected to be completed by August 15, and will include “short and long-term solutions in accordance with the EPA and NCDEQ”.

Last month, the Durham County Department of Public Health released a video online in response to concerns regarding lead levels at the park. Health Director Rodney Jenkins encouraged people to remove shoes prior to coming indoors, and wash hands after playing outdoors, adding that children younger than six years old are at heightened risk of lead exposure.

“The most common way children are exposed to lead is in the home. Homes built before 1978 likely contain lead-based paint. when the pain peels and cracks, it makes lead dust. when children are exposed to this, they can breathe in or swallow lead dust, and this is a common source of childhood lead exposure,” said Jenkins in the video.

City of Durham Statement:

The safety of our residents, employees, and guests is a priority we take seriously. As part of our commitment to assess the soil in five of our parks for potential lead and other contaminants, we are now sharing the preliminary results from an independent, scientific assessment by Mid-Atlantic Associates, our contractor certified by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) to conduct environmental assessments.

Mid-Atlantic has completed their comprehensive soil sampling collection, which began the week of July 17, and those samples are now undergoing laboratory analysis to provide precise conclusions. Their final report is expected to be completed by August 15.

While the collected samples are being analyzed, we received preliminary information on August 3, and a summary of those preliminary findings and screening maps are now available on Durham Parks and Recreation’s project webpage.

A summary of these preliminary results is as follows:

1. Playground areas in all five parks – No soil samples identified any potential contaminant concerns.

2. Lyon Park – No soil samples indicate a need for action or remediation since they measured below the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

3. Northgate Park – No soil samples indicate a need for action or remediation since they measured below the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

4. East End Park – No soil samples indicate a need for action or remediation since they measured below the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

-A separate, fenced-off portion of the adjacent City-owned property that is not part of the park and is not accessible to the public (old Sign & Signal shop) identified 6 soil samples measuring greater than the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

5. East Durham Park – 8 soil samples measuring greater than the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

6. Walltown Park – 7 soil samples measuring greater than the EPA 400 ppm threshold.

Based on this preliminary information, we have decided to prohibit access to any sampled area within East Durham and Walltown parks measuring above the EPA 400 ppm threshold. The other locations in these parks will continue to operate as usual. Fencing and detailed, bilingual signs are now being installed to mark the specific areas and provide educational and health resources for our park visitors.

We will continue to keep our community informed on this matter and upcoming public engagement meeting opportunities will be posted on our project website, through social media posts on @CityofDurhamNC and @dprplaymore channels, and shared with our community and neighborhood partners.