DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Growing up in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, Joseph Blue swam in the creeks and played at the nearby park.
Years later, an issue with the soil has come to light.
“It makes me feel disrespected, simply because of the timing,” Blue said.
A study conducted at Duke University found elevated lead contamination in soil at Walltown, East End, and East Durham Parks. It says the exposure risk can be high.
“Now, my grandson has played in this creek,” Blue, whose backyard faces Walltown Park, said. “My grandson has played on these fields and the basketball court.”
The study also mentions the parks were once converted from waste incinerator sites.
“One of the most serious concerns is that we know there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood,” Walltown neighbor Danielle Doughman said.
There’s concern over when that information was shared. The results of that research study were posted online back in December, and members of the Walltown community say they were never told.
In a statement obtained by CBS 17, a Nicholas School of the Environment representative told neighbors: “I very much regret the distrust we have created and the impression that we are not concerned about residents’ health.”
Stanback Dean Toddi Steelman went on to say the school plans to carry out community and government outreach in the next 30 days.
“Besides distrust, it feels like the city, whose job is to provide a level of safety for community members, has fallen down on the job,” Doughman said.
Now, the city will hire a consultant to conduct an environmental assessment.
City Manager Wanda Page also sent neighbors a statement, saying “once the city’s environmental assessment is completed, I will publicly share our planned next steps of how we will address any findings.”
“I’m really concerned about my grandkids and all the other kids that play here now,” Blue said.
According to the study, “mineral soil lead concentrations” at the three parks are elevated above several EPA hazard thresholds, especially in some high-traffic areas. At Walltown Park, the creek, horseshoe pits and basketball court areas tested with high contamination.
Walltown neighbors ask that the city place signs in dangerous areas, as well as, tell residents of the potential of closing the parks until a remedy is found. The research states the most effective remedies include the removal and replacement of contaminated soil.
The Walltown Community Association also said “several sites not sampled require action, including Lyon Park, Northgate Park, the newer incinerator site in NE Durham, and surrounding dump areas. … Additional testing of existing sites (e.g. the playground at Walltown Park), surrounding homes, and an expansion of existing county-run blood testing of residents are needed.”
The full statement from Page said:
“On June 1, a report composed by a student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment was sent to the City of Durham regarding the mineral soil concentrations of lead in some areas of Walltown, East End, and East Durham Parks.
As is our protocol when concerns are expressed about any City-owned property, I immediately instructed our Finance Department’s Risk Management Division to review this report and provide a course of action for how the City should proceed.
The safety of our properties is something we take very seriously, and based on Risk Management’s recommendation, we will now contract with an North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality-certified consultant to conduct an environmental assessment of the three parks included in the student report as well as Lyon Park, which was not included in the report, but was recommended that it be assessed.
While the City’s environmental assessment is underway, City staff are planning to host information sessions with the communities surrounding these parks to help keep them informed on the progress of the assessment.
We are also engaging the Durham County Department of Public Health to assist with public education to the communities surrounding these parks to help ensure our residents have accurate information to better understand and address any lead exposure concerns in their homes.
Once the City’s environmental assessment is completed, I will publicly share our planned next steps of how we will address any findings.”
The full email sent to residents by Steelman reads:
“Let me again extend my apology on behalf of the Nicholas School of the Environment for not more proactively communicating with the Walltown Community Association sooner. I very much appreciate you raising up the issue of timely communication and consultation with the community, both before, during and after the data were collected. I very much regret the distrust we have created and the impression that we are not concerned about residents’ health.
To address your concerns, we are prepared to do the following. Carry out community and government outreach as a priority in the next 30 days. Under the direction of Dr. Dan Richter, we will 1) Develop a plain language summary, infographics and other data visualizations to communicate findings and vet them with community members before dissemination; 2) Meet in person or hybrid with neighborhood groups, especially those most proximate to the three study sites, to share findings; and 3) Offer support for a community forum with government partners to discuss findings and next steps and we’ll continue our ongoing outreach over the past few years with Durham Parks and Recreation.
We know that Lyon Park is a continuing concern and would like to offer, again under the direction of Dr. Dan Richter, to work with the community association and undertake a similar analysis of soil lead levels in the coming months. We have followed up with Mrs. Mayme Webb-Bledsoe on this and await her response, should she feel this is appropriate.
My hope is that our actions will speak louder than words as a demonstration of commitment to involving the community association in all aspects of the Lyon Park research and that we can demonstrate to you that we can be a better neighbor, partner and collaborator.”