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OFFICIALS say Miami park contaminated with lead

Updated:
MIAMI, Okla. (AP) _ Testing at city parks and baseball fields shows contamination by mine waste taken from the nation's No. 1 Superfund site, government officials say.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that lead levels in most of the soil samples taken from Miami parks and alleys are above acceptable standards _ in some cases six to nine times higher.

Recent testing of 1,800 Miami children found 3 to 4 percent of them with blood-lead levels in excess of national standards. Lead exposure can damage developing nervous systems, causing problems such as learning disabilities and lower IQs.

Officials said the source of the contamination is lead-heavy mining waste, commonly called chat.

It was taken from a nearby former lead and zinc mining area that now makes up the Tar Creek Superfund Site, and used for years in the construction of Miami parks and streets before its dangers became known.

Susan Waldron, a specialist with the Ottawa County Health Department, urged residents to have their children tested for lead levels in their blood.

But Miami City Manager Michael Spurgeon said ``the results in no way present an immediate health risk to the citizens of Miami.'' Spurgeon and other city officials said they'll release the EPA's findings to the public and caution parents to watch their children when they're at a park.

``Hand to mouth is the main vehicle children ingest the lead,'' Spurgeon said.

The EPA took 92 samples of city land earlier this year. City officials said 65 of those samples exceeded the action level of 500 parts per million for lead.

The sites tested included River View Park, a popular spot for fishermen, as well as three baseball fields and four parks used by civic groups. Jaycees Park had the highest lead content with 2,532 parts per million.

Officials plan to do further testing.

``The sampling was based upon a quick and dirty scan of the area to see if there were any lead hits,'' said J.D. Strong, state director of environmental affairs. ``Now we will do more vigorous sampling of the area to see if we can get a true and accurate picture of what the lead levels of contamination are.''

City officials have requested the EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality to review the results of the tests, conduct inspections and request additional samples.

Some residents fear the lead contamination in Miami will devastate the community.

``Once it's in the printed page of the paper, you can bet it will plummet property values in Miami,'' said Jimalene Green, a real estate agent. ``Nobody will move to Picher and they're not interested in even looking at a house there.''

From the late 1880s to 1960, lead was mined in 300 miles of tunnels near Miami, building mountains of chat.

In 1995, the EPA began a massive cleanup project that involves scraping lead contaminated soil from yards in the nearby towns of Picher, Quapaw and Cardin.
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