May 23, 2024 - News

5 Durham parks to remain closed for months as state investigates

Fencing around Northgate Park

Fencing around Northgate Park in Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Five parks in Durham that showed signs of lead soil contamination could be closed for "several more months" as state regulators continue to investigate the extent of the contamination.

Why it matters: Chronic lead exposure is dangerous, especially for children.

Driving the news: The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality told residents Wednesday night it will not finish its studies of the five parks until the end of the year.

  • Until the state fully understands the problem, it can't give recommendations for how to remediate the soil in Northgate, Walltown, East Durham, East End and Lyon parks.
  • That means portions of the parks will be closed indefinitely. Potential cleanup efforts and their costs remain unclear.

Last month, Durham Parks and Recreation began fencing off additional sections of the parks, making the playgrounds and other sections inaccessible for residents.

What they're saying: "The investigation has to be completed before we can even consider remedial action options," Ryan Channell, supervisor of DEQ's Pre-Regulatory Landfill Program told residents. "So it's going to be several more months, maybe six months, before the investigation is completed."

  • The state is currently putting together costs to install 12 inches of clean soil over areas of parks that do have contamination, Channell said.

Yes, but: Jeffrey Jenks, medical director of the Durham County Department of Public Health, told residents Wednesday the risk of lead exposure in soil is low if it's covered by 12 inches of soil, vegetation, mulch or liners.

Between the lines: The city manager has requested putting $5 million in this year's budget to address the parks — though that sum is not expected to be enough to address all of the issues and additional state funding could be eligible, said Wade Walcutt, director of Durham Parks and Recreation.

Catch up quick: A 2022 study by a Duke graduate student found some parks in Durham that were previously home to trash incinerators or used ash as infill between 1900 and 1950 had lead concentrations higher than EPA standards in the soil.

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