Arsenic detected in chemical-treated Jennings playground frames in Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — The town will remediate both of Jennings’ playgrounds after high levels of arsenic were found in their wood framings.
Superintendent of Schools Mike Cummings announced Friday morning that test results from the frames of both playscapes showed “unacceptable levels of arsenic,” likely due to pressure-treating chemicals used in the wood.
Testing at Jennings was part of the district’s initiative to test all the playground and fields not on the town’s list of sites affected by the controversial Public Works pile, whose contaminated fill was spread throughout town by use on projects between 2013 and 2016.
Through its independent testing, the district has found multiple instances of contamination unrelated to the fill pile, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) left over from a former parking lot at Stratfield as well as old buildings at Ludlowe.
Previously, low levels of arsenic had been detected at an area abutting the playscape to the right of Jennings. This contamination was not related to fill use, the town has said, as there were no records of projects at the site using Public Works pile materials.
Due to the proximity of this site to the timber framing of the right playscape, explained Cummings, the district suspected that the arsenic detected had leached out from the pressure-treated timbers nearby. Thus, they ordered further testing of the wood itself at both playscapes.
Test results from Tighe & Bond showed significantly high levels of arsenic in both sets of wood framing. While the arsenic concentration in the playscape had come out to 13.7 mg/kg, only marginally above the residential direct exposure criteria of 10 mg/kg, the timbers of the right playscape showed arsenic concentrations of 1,200 mg/kg, and the left playscape’s timbers contained 3,260 mg/kg of arsenic.
These pressure-treated timbers, sometimes referred to as railroad timbers or railroad ties, are an old-fashioned system for bordering playgrounds. According to the EPA, chromated arsenicals, a chemical containing arsenic, was used from the 1970s to early 2000s to pressure-treat the majority of outdoor wood. As of December 2003, the EPA has restricted the use of these chemicals.
Cummings said both playscapes will remain closed while the town develops and enacts a remediation plan with their licensed environmental professional, Tighe & Bond.
The town spent the summer testing 60 sites at local parks and fields after discovering that contaminated fill from the town’s Public Works pile had been used on various projects between 2013 and 2016.
The pile is currently the subject of criminal investigation, with Former Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo and Superintendent Scott Bartlett both implicated in the dumping of material contaminated with lead and PCBs at the site. Bartlett pleaded not guilty on Oct. 1, and Michelangelo is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 17.
So far, contaminants including asbestos, arsenic and PAHs have been found at eight sites. Although the state Department of Health has said there are no health exposure risks posed by these levels of contaminants, the town is planning to remediate these sites out of “an abundance of caution.”