Wednesday, November 30, 2005
7 News Features: Park At Your Own Risk
When south Florida families spend a day at the park, they expect the conditions will be sanitary and safe. But tonight, in a seven news investigation, we have learned of two places that could be dangerous because of toxic chemicals. Here's investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with more in this special assignment report - park at your own risk.
A day at the park is supposed to be about fun and games. But while we want our children to learn about nature, some may be exposed to more than the great outdoors.
7 news has learned two popular South Florida parks could be contaminated with a toxic chemical.
We found arsenic - a cancer causing agent - on several picnic tables.
Dr. Richard Maas: "The concern is - you would get arsenic on your hands and then through direct or indirect hand to mouth contact - you would ingest that arsenic."
Dr. Richard Maas' lab in North Carolina analyzed samples we took in Markham Park and Tree Tops Park in Broward County. The arsenic his staff identified was found on older benches still being used at the parks. He says - the danger level - is disturbing.
Dr. Richard Maas: "The arsenic levels that we observed coming off the picnic tables that were tested in the South Florida area were higher that what we see in a national average. One of the tables was about five times as high."
That particular table was in a pavilion in Tree Tops Park. And it's still there.
Dr. Richard Maas: "And a table like this depending on how a child ate off of that and exactly what their food - hand to mouth contact was - could represent a very significant and elevated cancer risk."
Two park employees have already experienced unusual symptoms. They think working there has made them sick.
John Johnstone: "All of a sudden I went blind."
John Johnstone had worked for the parks department for nine years. When he temporarily lost his vision and was hospitalized in critical condition. Johnstone ended up disabled and says doctors believe his health problems are related to chemical exposure.
Jay Trzeciak: "Well when I first got sick, I was getting tired, weak dizzy - light headed."
Jay Trzeciak is still employed by the parks but says he's never been the same since working there. Tests show Trezciak had levels off the charts of arsenic and lead in his system.
Jay Trzeciak: "Oh I was sick to my stomach. I didn't realize I had that - any of that - in my system at all. Did it scare you? Oh yea."
He thinks the lead in his system came from working around the Markham Park shooting range.
Both men say they handled lead paint - which was dumped in this 55-gallon container and left to sit for years. It was still there as recently as a month ago. As for the arsenic - he thinks it came from those same picnic tables where kids and parents eat their lunches.
Jay Trzeciak: "We used to take the old picnic tables apart and throw them away and put new wood on em and replace them and put them back in the park."
Trzeciak and Johnstone say the old wood was made of pressure treated lumber that contains CCA. That stands for Chromated Copper Arsenate which was once used to protect outdoor wood from rotting.
John Johnstone: "Ah well, um almost every day…moving tables. We used to move them by hand."
Today, there are dozens of old benches - apparently made with CCA wood - still being used.
The head of Broward County parks however refused to discuss our findings on camera.
All Bob Hardin had to say was "people should not have any concerns" and that there is no more arsenic exposure "than you normally get in food or water".
As for the old tables with CCA, we've been told they will eventually be phased out, so for now - it's park at your own risk. Both Trzeciak and Johnstone believe the risk isn't worth it.
Careml Cafiero: "The men did get the attention of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH - came to town in July and took blood and urine samples from park workers to test for arsenic and lead exposure. At this hour - we're waiting for those results."
If your park has older wooden picnic tables - cover them with a disposable tablecloth before serving food. And make sure little ones wash their hands.
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