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McCarren Park Shows Highest Levels of Lead in New Park Soil Study

The McCarren Park field where the samples were taken from. (Google Maps)

May 21, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan

McCarren Park has the highest lead levels out of three major parks tested in a recent study by WNYC.

The soil at McCarren Park has average lead levels far exceeding the safety threshold widely used by public health experts, the study revealed, with nearly 90 percent of the soil collected testing above the safety limit.

High levels of lead in children have been linked to a number of mental and physical side effects, including developmental delays and hyperactivity. In severe cases, it can result in death. 

McCarren Park has long been a popular destination for families with young children to play, with its grassy fields.

To analyze the park’s lead levels, WNYC took 30 samples from a particularly popular lawn on the northeast corner of McCarren and brought the samples to the Urban Soils lab at Brooklyn College to be screened for lead.

New York State currently uses a benchmark of 400 parts per million (ppm) to determine whether soil contains an excessive amount of lead. The benchmark was established in the 1990s and is significantly higher than many states across the country which have updated their standards in recent years. California, for example, uses a much lower benchmark of 80 ppm.

Every sample taken from McCarren Park exceeded the California standard, and 87 percent of samples exceeded 150 ppm—the safety threshold generally used by public health experts. The average lead level for the samples taken was 201 ppm.

“In my view it’s considered pretty high,” Dr. Zhongqi Cheng, head of the Urban Soils Lab, told WNYC. “Especially if your kids are playing there, getting the dirt into their hand and mouth. I think you do need to minimize the exposure and health risk.”

Despite lead levels in children having dropped nearly 90 percent citywide since 2005, the study claims that thousands of children throughout all five boroughs still test positive for excessively high blood lead levels. New York City officials have insisted for years, however, that soil is not significant source of lead exposure for children.

Greenpoint and Williamsburg were historically industrial neighborhoods in a borough that produced nearly half of the lead paint made in the U.S. A lead paint factory once stood beside McCarren Park.

The site where the samples were taken from was once a factory building that produced window sashes.

Queens City Council Member Costa Constantinides, who represents Astoria, recently introduced a bill that would require the city to test the soil in public parks for lead and remediate any highly contaminated areas.

“This is something we should take seriously,” Constantinides told WNYC. “In cases where there is a proximity to contamination, a proximity to large bridges or infrastructure or other sources of pollution, that there should be testing done and steps taken to mitigate this potential danger.”

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As a lifelong resident of the area, this is no shocking news. Williamsburg/Greenpoint was a heavily industrial area that supported the Brooklyn Navy yard. In the case of McCarren park, it’s really just landfill that made Bushwick inlet smaller.


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