Senator pledges federal help for kids exposed to high levels of lead in shuttered park
July 15, 2011
MIAMI - U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ( D-FL ) today said he’s asked two federal agencies – health and environment - to assist either with checking kids exposed to lead in the recently closed Olinda Park or with cleaning up the lead-contaminated soil there.
Nelson is in Miami where, among other stops, he visited the Jessie Trice Community Health Center. There officials are conducting free blood tests on kids who may have been exposed to lead after playing in the local park.
“If the county or state needs any help in taking care of this situation, I’ve asked the federal environment and health agencies to monitor and stand ready to assist,” Nelson said. He also said he’s asked the county to re-assess whether to extend a deadline for free testing beyond the current end date of July 16.
Officials are faced with testing an untold number of kids who were exposed to toxic high levels of lead, while at the same time they must clean up about a third of the soil at the 6.4-acre park that’s heavily contaminated with lead. Officials have sent out 22,000 fliers in the community and so far have tested 135 kids. None have tested positive.
It was just last month that Miami-Dade County issued a flier advising residents of high lead levels at the park. Officials held a town hall meeting on June 30 to answer parents’ questions in person. The residents learned soil at Olinda Park - at 5100 NW 21st Ave. - had lead levels that are more than 200 percent higher than normal.
Lead is commonly used in such things as car batteries, X-ray shields and bullets. Lead poisoning can result from exposure to contaminated soil or dust. Exposure could damage the nervous system and cause brain disorders. At particularly high risk for lead poisoning are children ages 6 and under, because they are most apt to put their hands or other objects into their mouths.
The soil contamination was found during a routine test conducted on the former federal site by the EPA, according to Luis Espinoza, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management. Espinoza said that experts confirmed elevated levels and immediately made the recommendation to close part of the park.
"To the best of my recollection, this is the only time we have had to close a park under circumstances like this," Doris Howe, a spokeswoman for the county’s parks department, said at the time. The source of the problem could go back to the 1930s and ’40s when new construction took place in the area, she said.