EPA: No immediate threat in LaSalle Park, safe to play

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Environmental Protection Agency made it official Tuesday night - La Salle Park is safe.

After extensive surface soil testing on the land, the results came back with arsenic in acceptable levels.

The EPA took 66 samples from exposed areas of soil all over the park, including the shore of Beck’s Lake.

Not surprisingly they found arsenic in the samples, but only in levels that fell inside the acceptable amounts based on what is normally found in St. Joseph County.

"It's the same type of stuff that's in your yards at home," Toxicologist for the EPA Keith Fusinski told community leaders and residents Tuesday night at the Charles Black Recreation Center at the park.

"The park is completely safe to come and play on. We did a lot of testing around the play areas, and we found nothing out of the ordinary. The kids can come and play on it," says Fusinski.

While that drew a sigh of relief from policy makers, residents were less than pleased the EPA didn’t have more answers for what lies deep under the park.

Their big concern is the park is built on a former dumping ground for industrial waste, and they want to know if that is leaking into the ground water or could be a cause for potential health risks in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Tuesday night the EPA didn’t have the answers the community members wanted, and they won’t for some time.

If all goes as planned the Beck’s Lake site won’t be added to the Federal Superfund site list until late this year.

According to Owen Thompson, the Remedial Project Manager in charge of the Beck’s Lake site for the EPA, there is a chance the appointment won’t be approved.

For that to happen, the company who would be financially on the hook for cleaning up the site would have to make a technical argument the EPA could accept to avoid taking a closer look at what’s deeper than the three inches of soil that were just tested.

Thompson says, while that scenario is possible, it’s not likely.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has had their eye on the Beck’s Lake site for decades, and has just recently been able to get test samples that convinced them to bring the situation to the attention of the EPA.

But some wonder if this is just a colossal waste of time and money. The only proof anyone has that there is anything dangerous below the surface of the park is the knowledge that the site used to be a dumping ground.

"Hypothetically, we could complete the entire remedial investigation and not do any clean up at all,” says Thompson.

There may not be anything to clean up because it may all fall within acceptable levels, just like it currently does at the surface.

Still, Thompson points out, “At least we would know that we'd have some actual data to base our decision on."

Meanwhile, the park is perfectly safe to use.

According to Fusinski, if 10,000 people lived in the exposed soil of the park, 24 hours a day, for 30 years, only one person might get cancer from the arsenic present. And even that isn’t guaranteed to happen.

That means families can play in the exposed dirt and not be at any more risk than if they were in their own backyard.

Playing on the grass, or any surface that isn’t exposed soil, is even safe, as is washing your hands when you do get dirt on them – which is just good advice in general.

Share this article: