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Metro parks soil testing...when will it happen?

by fredo
on 7/7/2008 @ 1:47pm
Numerous properties belonging to Metro Parks are located within the Asarco Superfund cleanup area. Nevertheless, Metro Parks has frequently refused to participate in the soil testing program offered by the Health Department. Their reasoning? People might become alarmed if they thought the parks were contaminated. I guess its better to let people use the parks and injest lead, cadmium and arsenic then to cause alarm. Health note: the aforementioned poisons are associated with cancers, reproductive issues and developmental problems for youngsters.

by escaping slave on 7/7/2008 @ 1:55pm
Why not call them yourself and give them the address of city parks to go test? Or go get a sample yourself and take it into them to test. Do the work that the Metro Parks is scared of doing themselves.

We called the health department and the dirt alert van came out and tested our place. Anyone can call and do it, free of charge. Love those free programs thanks to government funding and tax dollars.

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 1:59pm

Hey Fredo, Now there would be an interesting INVESTIVATIVE JOURNALIST NEWSPAPER article! The north end of tacoma is completely saturated with lead and arsenic. So a savy reporter could pay an independant chem lab to test the soil in the parks OR you could sweet talk residents living in very close proximity to the parks to sign up for one of the FREE DIRT ALERT tests, then publish those results. Even get a googlemap going of exact sample locations.

I did a dirt alert test at our house and they found lots of lead, but luckily arsenic wasin't in the 'danger zone' I mean it was bad, just not horribly evil.

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 2:01pm
"Or go get a sample yourself and take it into them to test."

ES has the right idea :) That would make a great post.

by fredo on 7/7/2008 @ 2:05pm
I inquired a couple of years ago. They said they would only test if Metro Parks requested it. I asked Tim Reid (current Metro Parks board president) if he would request the testing. He said "no way, when I was a boy we used play on the slag pile and it never affected me."

There are private labs in the area but I think the cost for a sampling which would cover a small park is several hundred dollars.

by fredo on 7/7/2008 @ 2:12pm
I forgot to mention that Metro parks did put some innocuous warning signs that look kind of cartoony around the parks. They tell people how they can avoid tracking the dust into their homes and how to wash their hands. The signs fail to give recommendations about how to avoid breathing the dust or the possible health risks of long-term exposure. Maybe we could hand out respirators to the children at the parks. This would make a great video to go with the "duck and cover" films of the 1950s.

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 2:13pm
sounds like a job for the TRIB or one of those TV News things.

by escaping slave on 7/7/2008 @ 2:14pm
The Health Department is offering free soil sampling of residential yards if you live within the Pierce County Soil Safety Service Area (SSSA) boundary. (To see if you live within this area please click here to view the map of the Soil Safety Service Area.) A Health Department staff member will come to your home and take soil samples of children's play areas, gardens and any area having exposed soils. Contact Walt Burdsall at 253 798-6492 or email

I emailed Walt and redressed my government with the questions I had. If you have some, do the same. If you don't like the answer, don't settle. If you know what's right, let them know and don't back down. Get your own sample and get the truth out there if you think the parks are contaminated. You can't leave it to government or anyone else to do it.

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 2:16pm

Dirt Alert

by ixia on 7/7/2008 @ 3:16pm
Hey, playing in slag can make a Metro Parks Commissioner out of ya!
Eat a little lead and a bit of arsenic - and who knows - one day you too can be president.

by escaping slave on 7/7/2008 @ 3:41pm
Maybe the Metro Parks Commission needs to be reminded of their mission statement:

Our mission:
Creating healthy opportunities to play, learn, and grow.

Contact them also if you don't like what they're doing.

Not like they ever listen to the people, but maybe the people need to do more than talk also.

If you think the soil is bad, read up on the fluoride they put in our water.

by fredo on 7/7/2008 @ 7:02pm
Many helpful suggestions on this topic. Thanks for reading my post.

NIN@ This is exactly the sign I was referring to. Kind of makes pollutants a fun item, like silly string. You'll note the sign carries the health dept. logo. Actual data on pollution levels is curiously absent from the sign.

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 7:59pm
ya the goofy cartoon sign was the inspiration for this tacomic

by fredo on 7/7/2008 @ 8:30pm
Wow, your drawing conveys the spirit of fun that pollutants are known for much better than the previously posted sign. If you could have put Tim Reid in the background standing atop 2 slag piles like the colossus of rhodes it would be perfect. But I like it!

by NineInchNachos on 7/7/2008 @ 10:42pm
"Tim Reid in the background standing atop 2 slag piles like the colossus of rhodes"

now that's a cartoon in itself !

by fredo on 7/8/2008 @ 7:54am
Citizens who use the city parks have a right to know what the pollution levels are for each particular park, and the information should be prominently posted at each park. You cannot make an informed choice regarding where your family might play unless you understand the risks.

McDonalds Restaurant places information in a prominent place so that people will understand the consequences of consuming the food at the restaurant. I believe the same social responsibility exists here. I might be willing, for example, to let my children play in a park where the arsenic levels were 90PPM but unwilling to allow them to play where the levels were 300PPM.

The problem raised here is that Metro Parks can't give the information even if they wanted to. They haven't adequately studied it.

by escaping slave on 7/8/2008 @ 9:47am
Here was the response I received. I have a couple more follow-up questions though. The fact is Tacoma is contaminated, and we have to take steps ourselves, as well as the local government agencies, to protect our health. They're doing all they believe they can do. The rest is up to the individuals. Knowing is half the battle, so at least we have half the battle down.

Thank you for your recent inquiry, I hope I can provide you with some information that will help address your concerns. In 2003 we worked very closely with the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department to test parks within what the Health Department called the “Child Use Study Area”.

We provided permission to the Health Department to conduct this testing – the Health Department was under contract by the Department of Ecology to do this work. Not only were parks tested within the Child Use Study Area but also school grounds and day care facilities.

Testing was focused in our parks near playgrounds/fields and picnic areas where children had the greatest chance of exposure to arsenic and lead (another contaminant from the Asarco smelter) – particularly where there was any bare soil.

To address potential exposure from arsenic and lead in the soil, we use playground chips under our play equipment, and we try to place picnic tables on concrete pads. We also try to pave trails or use gravel or bark to keep from exposing too much bare soil. Some places we needed to remove soils and replace with clean soils – you’ll see more of this work occurring at Point Defiance later this year.

Not all parks were tested – and in fact, a wide variety of concentrations of arsenic and lead can be found in individual parks or even at different soil depths. The Health Department encourages everyone, whether in a park, school, or home to assume that there is some contamination and to follow what they term “Dirt Alert Healthy Action” which can be found at: These Action include basic steps such as washing hands before eating and damp mopping to minimize exposure to dust.

by fredo on 7/8/2008 @ 1:33pm
ES@ Thanks again for doing some research on this. As you discovered, not all parks were tested. If a particular park has a clean bill of health, let's hear about it. If it's dirty either in small or large concentrations let's hear about that as well. This is public information and must be posted in manner which would reasonably warn people of an unseen danger.

Incidentally, the exposures that Metro Parks likes to talk about are those which are most easily addressed. That is to wash your hands, don't eat the dirt, and sweep your floors regularly. The constant respiration of pollutants is a much more insidious pathway that cannot be addressed by the park user.

by escaping slave on 7/8/2008 @ 4:24pm
"This is public information and must be posted in manner which would reasonably warn people of an unseen danger."

But the public must take the steps themselves to find out the information. That's why people have a right to redress their government or anyone who makes accusations against them. Unfortunately it is our jobs as citizens to be aware, and when there's things like American Idol, socialized sports, reality TV, malls, and many other things to distract one's attention from their civic duty, it becomes much easier for the typical citizen to not care, and, thus, they don't care.

When I get responses to my follow-up questions I'll post them.

by fredo on 7/8/2008 @ 7:26pm
ES@ How would new residents or visitors to Tacoma even suspect that the whole north end is a superfund cleanup site? I'll bet a majority of Tacomans don't know what a superfund cleanup site is, let alone even know what arsenic and lead are. Certainly you don't expect children to find out this information, and they're the main group who can be injured by exposure.

by escaping slave on 7/8/2008 @ 8:00pm
Well, new residents who choose to move here should take it upon themselves to research where they're moving to. As well as visitors who choose to come here. Why is it no one seems able to research anything for themselves? If one is unwilling to do the work, why should anyone else do it for them? And why should they deserve any less than what comes to them, for they brought it on themselves by choosing to not research.

It'd be great if parents could talk to their children about matters like this instead of "protecting" their child from the truth. Why not take it as an opportunity to educate one's child on the city they live in, its history, and the effects it's had on us and how we must live with it? Or if children are smart enough to read themselves, they can figure it out, if they want to. I can't look out for everyone else's child, that's not my job; that's the parents' job.

Are kids really the main group that can be injured? Kids play in parks, yes, but I see more adults digging in the dirt (like maintenance workers and landscapers) than kids. Are kids eating the dirt? Well, if people can't raise their kids to not eat dirt, or keep an eye on them, why is it my problem?

Why are children so worth protecting? If your child is so important, why do you ship it off to school, for someone else to teach them morals and values and ethics; to be molded by someone else; to be watched by someone else, a stranger? Is that "protecting" your child, when it's out of your sight? Why is it so important for the public to protect someone's child when the parents obviously don't?

by fredo on 7/8/2008 @ 8:25pm
ES@ Before you cross a bridge do you go down to the Engineering Department to make sure the stress levels were properly calibrated, examine the material requirements to make sure the proper steel was used and perform your own physical inspection of the structure to make sure there are no cracks or impairments? Probably not, but this appears to be the method you would prefer the citizens to take when encountering safety issues.

I don't see how in a modern and complex society we can expect every person to be in possession of the skills required to size up every possible danger. Our government (I believe) has an over-arching obligation to notify the citizenry when it knows that risks exist which the average person could not possibly be aware of.

by escaping slave on 7/9/2008 @ 7:21am
Fredo, your dependence upon government truly amazes/disturbs me.

Good luck to anyone who can't think for themselves, doesn't research on their own, and depends on government.

A free society isn't mean to be a safe society. So if you don't want to live freely, by all means, let the government warn you of every step you ever take. I can live freely, watching out for my own safety and that of my family. Why can't others? And why do my tax dollars have to go to help the moron majority who can't figure things out for themselves? It's survival of the fittest, but yet we're surrounded by dolts who can't figure out how to do anything for themselves. Why are they alive? Oh, government programs, that's it.

by escaping slave on 7/9/2008 @ 10:57am
Here are the answers to my follow-up questions.

"At this point there are not any more studies planned by the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department or Department of Ecology that we are aware of. I don’t think they are concerned about new contamination since the smelter is no longer in use.

The big message I took away from the testing project was to treat every place as though there is potential for contamination. Always wash hands before eating, limit dust, remove shoes before you walk into your house etc – these all sound so basic but it is what the health department recommends.

In our parks we continue to work to minimize or eliminate bare ground which is where there is a potential for exposure – either by adding plants or new surfacing like sidewalks or gravel. We were very lucky that our playgrounds have what we call “fall surfacing” – either a bark-like chips or a rubber surface – rather than just bare ground.

We are working now to resolve our claims against Asarco. Asarco funds will be used to do the clean up at Point Defiance Park later this summer. Part of the sale of the Asarco property in Tacoma to Point Ruston requires that Point Ruston do remediation (clean up) on Metro Parks property in and around the Tacoma Yacht Club peninsula.

I’m glad you are out enjoying our parks – we very much appreciate all the support the public provides to help us maintain and expand our park and recreation system."

So we all have to do our part to help in the effort. If one chooses not to, that's one's choice, just as one can choose to be be informed or not. That's their choice and their right. I can't make people be informed, and neither can the government. They can't even make people read, or teach them to it seems.

If you're so concerned about everyone's health in Tacoma, feel free to send these email responses out to everyone you want. But you have to do it if it's important to you. Don't pawn it off on the government or anyone else to do your work for you.

by amyk on 7/14/2008 @ 11:33pm
I have just learned about this issue and must thank the bloggers for discussing it. I recently moved to the North End with 2 small children and have been gardening with them and not thinking at all that I could be exposing them to arsenic. Now I've emailed and called Dirt Alert and am waiting for them to return my calls. When I talk to other parents, I feel like I'm the only person who is thinking about this. It is not in the news, and most people believe that if it were truly a health threat, they would be notififed and informed by a credible source. We all grew up with arsenic, so it couldn't be that bad, right? It is truly the government's job to ensure that children can grow up in a safe environment, especially when we are talking about public spaces. The poster who stated that it is the parent's job to control everything the child does, even from eating dirt, obviously does not have children. We live in a society and look out for all of the children of Tacoma!
In Germany, it is considered healthy for children to eat a little bit of dirt, and all children do try this a bit! Before I moved here, I would have thought it to be over reacting to have to rush to wash hands every time a child touches the ground at the playground. Actually, now I'm also thinking about the pressure treated wood structures that are still standing and leaching arsenic. I want to see public information regarding the toxins present in Metro Parks.

by escaping slave on 7/15/2008 @ 1:52pm
"We live in a society and look out for all of the children of Tacoma!"

Just because you believe that doesn't mean we all do. Obviously in this society where we have sex offenders everybody seems to be looking out for kids, sure. You had the kid, not me. Don't put your responsibility off on me.

I'm glad the posting brought it to your attention, but I'm sorry you didn't research where you were moving to before you decided to live here. That would have helped. It's good you're informing other parents and now you're questioning more things. Hopefully you're questioning the government agency in charge of it all too.

It's the people who hold government accountable. If you don't think your government is doing a good job, get off your ass and go hold them accountable!

I hope to see signs posted everywhere on account of everyone's efforts to have the government inform us of everything around us that may possibly be hazardous to our health. Won't life be safer then? Yes, indeed.

by escaping slave on 7/19/2008 @ 7:15am
One more email update.

"All of the schools and licensed childcares in the Soil Safety Service Area (see the map on our website at have had their child play areas tested. The Department of Ecology is replacing or will be replacing soil in any that were contaminated. You may want to check with your school or childcare as to the status of the program.

Parks were tested and many had contamination. Most of the parks have updated the play equipment and have good layers of bark or another cover in the children's play equipment areas. You can assume that areas that have not been disturbed outside the child play equipment areas will have contaminations, i.e. in the wooded areas.

Hiking and running in the park would be considered a safe practice. You may not want to allow your children to play on the ground in wooded areas of local parks.

Hope this was helpful."