On Wednesday, June 5th, community members gathered at Chew Park at 19th and Washington to discuss its recent closure. In attendance at this meeting were representatives from Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Risk Management as well as Philadelphia’s Rebuild Program, a City program focused on parks, recreation centers and libraries.
The focus of the meeting was to inform residents about the events leading to the closure of the park, current testing, and next steps. The soil from the Park was tested by a City contractor and found to have elevated lead levels on the field. Officials did not specify any numerical values from the testing, but EPA generally considers soil testing above 400 parts per million for lead is considered unsafe in bare soil in a children’s play area. As a precautionary measure, the field was closed, and additional soil testing is underway from different parts of the field to better characterize the risk to the public. In addition to the field, XRF testing was performed on the full site, including the basketball and playground areas. Both were found to be safe and will remain open. Officials explained that through the Mayor’s Rebuild Initiative, Chew Park will be remediated with funds from the Mayor’s program.
How common is elevated lead in soil? Philadelphia is an old City that through the years has had many industries, even in neighborhoods that are now residential. Some industries can add lead to the soil. In addition, lead was allowed in gasoline from 1922 until 1995 leading to lead in car and truck emissions settling in soil near roadways. Another contributor to lead in soil is our very old housing stock. According to the US Census, 87% of housing units in Philadelphia were built before lead was banned in paint. As lead paint peeled or was scraped from the exterior of homes, it added to the soil. Adding all these contributions together, it is not surprising that there are elevated soil lead levels in many areas of Philadelphia.
How significant is this type of exposure to Philadelphia children? The answer to this question may be different for different children. Some children may run around in a park and not have direct contact with soil and not put any soil in their mouth. For these children, the lead exposure may be minimal. Some children, dig in the dirt, stomp in puddles, and seem to be covered in dirt and mud and may also eat things that are not food, like dirt. For these children the lead exposure would be more significant. When children are exposed to lead one time or intermittently the lead effect is usually lower than having daily contact with lead paint chips and dust in their homes. The intermittent lead exposure would also not show up on a blood test unless the test was done within a week or so of the exposure.
What can Philadelphia residents do to keep their children safe?
- Assume all soil may have elevated lead levels (and possibly other contaminants from the City’s industrial past)
- Do not allow children to eat dirt or dig in the dirt
- Cover all bare soil in yards with grass, artificial turf , pavers or cement.
- All gardening in Philadelphia should be done in raised beds with clean soil
- Always remove shoes when entering your home
- Hose off sidewalks and front porches when they appear dusty
- Wash children’s hands often, especially after coming in from outside and before eating.
Our Center continues to measure soil lead levels throughout the City. Anyone interested in having their soil tested for lead should contact Thomas McKeon at 215-898-6221
Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt, CEC Stakeholder and Director of the Poison Control Center at CHOP, discusses this story in the media:
- Blog post by CEET Summer Researcher Eden Harris, UPenn Biomedical Engineering ’19