Closer look for cancer near park: Updated federal report finds greater hazard in arsenic from closed plant
By Tom Pelton
Oct. 27--Baltimore's health commissioner plans to study cancer deaths in the neighborhood around South Baltimore's Swann Park in light of a new federal finding that arsenic in the soil poses a greater health risk than previously reported.
The U.S. Department of Health said in June that there was "no public health hazard" to children who have played in Swann Park, unless they ate a tablespoon or more of dirt. But the federal agency revised that assessment yesterday, saying that "recent and historic exposure to Swann Park soil is considered a public health hazard."
"This means that there is a low but potentially real increase in cancer risk for people who have a significant exposure over years to the park," said the city's health commissioner, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein. "It justifies why we closed the park and why we need to clean it up."
The city closed the park in April after tests showed that its soil has high levels of arsenic, a known cancer-causing agent, from dust that blew from an adjacent Allied Chemical Co. pesticide factory that closed in 1976.
An EPA-funded study done in the 1970s by a Johns Hopkins scientist found lung cancer deaths more than three times the normal rate in the neighborhood around Swann Park. The deaths were linked to arsenic dust from the factory next to the park and from train cars carrying the carcinogen.
But until yesterday, city and federal health officials said there was almost no risk to the public from arsenic left in the soil after the factory shut down in 1976.
Now, federal officials are saying that children, coaches and grounds workers who used the park at least 182 days a year might have an increased cancer risk from inhaling dirt particles and touching their mouths after getting their hands grubby.
On Oct. 6, the city and Honeywell submitted a plan to the Maryland Department of the Environment to remove 3,200 cubic yards of contaminated dirt at the park, then cover the site with two feet of clean soil. Under the plan, the park would reopen in 2008......
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