State EPA admits ‘big mistake’ on lead levels at park

Testing of neighboring properties to begin this month.

The state made a “big mistake” overlooking “obviously elevated” lead levels three years ago at a Miami Twp. park that is now closed because of contamination from the metal, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official said Tuesday night.

The U.S. EPA is now involved in the case regarding Layer Park, and officials said they want to this month begin testing yards in homes neighboring the park, the site of a former skeet shooting range.

The Ohio EPA “screwed up,” said Michael Proffitt, acting chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of environmental response and revitalization.

“There should have been secondary follow up,” he said about OEPA tests at the park in 2013. “That didn’t happen.”

The state tests at the 7-acre park three years ago “were put aside” by OEPA officials in what Proffitt called “a very big mistake.”

Proffitt’s statements came during a panel discussion regarding the closed park. The panel included representatives from the federal EPA, local public health agencies, Montgomery County and the township.

Proffitt told residents who live near the park that he is “very thankful” the U.S. EPA has stepped in.

Proffitt said his goal is to have the soil of nearby homes tested soon, “if not next week, the following week.”

Park soil tests show lead levels on the east side, which is owned by Montgomery County, to be higher than the western portion, which is owned by the township, said Steve Wolfe of the U.S. EPA.

Proffitt said residential properties near the park will be given high emphasis.

“From my point of view, those take priority over the park,” he said.

The park land was the site of a shooting range in the 1930s through the 1950s. The county acquired it through a donation in 1972 and then reached an agreement with the township for a portion of it in 1992, said Amy Wiedeman, assistant county administrator.

The Ohio EPA returned to selected sites in the county – including Layer Park – earlier this year. Those results – which showed high lead levels — came back last month, and township records show local officials were told of them March 22.

Township officials said they did not take any action at that point because they were following the OEPA’s lead. The state EPA sent some owners of property abutting letters seeking permission to test their soil.

The park has been a public concern since April 4. That’s when health officials posted signs and cordoned off entrances after soil samples taken a few weeks earlier showed “hazardous” levels of lead.

The next day the state EPA requested federal help, saying the U.S. EPA has more resources and can provide guidance. Late last week township officials worked to send out hundreds of letters to residents near the park.

Before last week’s action, the township closed the park Dec. 24 for the season, and it had not reopened.

Lead levels are a concern because of the affects they can have on pregnant women and on a child’s development, health officials said. High levels of lead can reduce a child’s IQ, make it difficult for them to concentrate and hurt academic performance, according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control.

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