New York City has more than 1,700 parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities across the five boroughs. They are places of respite for families, groups, and individuals who want to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life, if for only a brief period. Yet, there are hidden dangers in some of these parks, playgrounds and recreation areas.
A recent study found high levels of lead in the soil of several NYC parks, surpassing the EPA’s soil cleanup value of 400 milligrams of lead per kilogram of soil. Soil samples from Long Island City in Queens and Greenpoint in Brooklyn averaged 540 mg/kg and 450 mg/kg, respectively.
Though most lead sources have been banned from products, lead from the past continues to be an environmental contaminant today. According to the study, deteriorating lead-based paint found in houses built prior to 1978 is the primary source of lead found in soil. Lead used in transportation and industry, such as lead-based gasoline, can also enter the soil. Lead from gasoline accumulates on buildings and is washed into the soil by the rain. This toxic soil poses a danger to children who may accidentally ingest it while playing, and to anyone who eats food grown in it. Wind and construction also lift the contaminated soil into the air as dust that can be inhaled by passersby.
Neighborhoods with an industrial history may be at higher risk – A 2019 report found elevated lead levels in the soil of McCarren Park, Greenpoint, near the former site of NJZ Colors. This paint manufacturer was responsible for the pigments used in road paint, and records indicate that the company used 10 million pounds of lead compounds each year.
The EPA standard for "acceptable" levels of lead is not shared by the Center for Disease Control. The CDC notes that no level of lead is acceptable since it can cause serious neurological issues, especially in children.
In 2017, Columbia University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences found that 84% of the yards in Greenpoint had unacceptable (again EPA standard) levels of lead.
These are public health dangers lurking in our city that could potentially impact our children's future, yet very little is being done to address this issue.