Families Against Cancer & Toxics

Stop cancer before it starts

By Tony Davis

Tucson, Ariz. -- The city is fencing off a West Side site vacant but next to residential areas where authorities found levels of arsenic and lead in the soil up to 150 times what the state allows near homes or businesses.

This morning, city officials will start putting notices on doorknobs of more than 3,000 homes in the area advising residents of a neighborhood meeting Thursday to discuss the test results. The area is bounded by Grant Road on the north, Anklam Road on the south, Greasewood Road on the west and Silverbell Road on the east.

Officials have known since Aug. 18 that city consultants had found the high levels of heavy metals in preliminary tests at an old tungsten mill site that operated near Speedway and Silverbell during World War II.

This week, the city placed yellow warning tape and about a dozen barricades around the two acres of the site where the heavy metals were found at high levels. By Friday, they'll start building a permanent chain-link fence around the two acres, which tower above the Anklam Wash. They'll probably finish the fence after the Labor Day weekend.

The city-owned site has been used regularly by a small group of people who live in the area, in houses on the north and apartments and condominiums on the south, said Peg Weber, a city Parks and Recreation Department administrator.

"It's mostly people out walking dogs, using it to take an evening walk," Weber said. "It's not like a Reid Park, by any means."

Neighborhood kids have spray-painted an area above the Anklam Wash at the base of the old mill site, Weber said.

Arizona Department of Health Services officials have said the biggest risk from lead contamination is to kids younger than 6, because when lead gets into younger children's bloodstreams it can penetrate the brain and harm their learning ability. These dangers are less severe for older kids, he said, because they have a fully developed system of capillary cells that protects the brain from harmful substances in the bloodstream.

The city didn't start to barricade the site until it could be more certain about the validity of its test results, said Nancy Petersen, the city's Environmental Services Department deputy director.

Authorities learned about the contamination from studying the site as part of a surrounding city-owned area of about 21 acres that it plans as a park. The city had set aside $200,000 in bond money for the park, which it still plans to develop once the contamination is fully studied and cleaned up, said Councilman Jose Ibarra, who represents the area.

The county Health Department, which will send a physician to Thursday's neighborhood meeting, said it lacks enough information about the test results to comment on the health risk, said spokeswoman Patti Woodcock.
"If you live in the area and have been for a long time, and you have preschool kids who have played in the soil, or they inhaled or ingested the soil, it would be wise to get them tested," Woodcock said.

Blake Gentry, who lives north of the site, said he has walked to the contaminated area for the past 12 years, but won't be nervous about possible exposure to the metals unless he sees results of a study showing the effects over the long term.

Petersen said the city has taken all "reasonable and responsive" measures to protect and notify the public about the toxic materials in the soils.
The city is delivering notices "to a very large area, to anyone who might use that site, even to walk the dog," Petersen said.

Will Herrington, who lives in the Las Lomitas Apartments just south of the wash, said he is nervous about the contamination, particularly because he has a year-old granddaughter who has had asthma.

Tiffany Stull, who also lives in the apartments, said she is concerned for other people's health because she has often seen people walking toward the wash.
Ibarra said he hopes that a second round of tests will provide more definitive answers about the contamination, to learn, for example, if the metals have leached underground toward the aquifer. Tucson Water has no drinking wells in that area, although private wells may exist there, according to Environmental Services.

The site is best known to many residents as the old General Instrument site, which that company unsuccessfully tried to rezone in 1980 for light manufacturing uses. The city has owned the land since 1906 and was planning to sell it to General Instrument if the zoning effort had succeeded.
During World War II, Jacobs Assaying, a Tucson firm founded in 1880, contracted with the U.S. military to process tungsten at a mill at this site to supply U.S. forces with a valuable strategic war metal, according to a city-hired archaeologist's report on the site's history. It was used in tungsten carbide, an extremely hard and heat-resistant alloy.

Soil test results
? Arsenic: Found at up to 1,500 parts per million, more typically at 80 to 90 ppm, compared with mandatory state health standards of 10 ppm in soil near homes and businesses.
? Lead: Found at up to 28,000 parts per million, more typically at 2,000 ppm and up, compared with state health standards of 400 ppm in soil near homes and 2,000 ppm near businesses.
? Cadmium: Two samples found at 41 and 43 parts per million, compared with state health standards of 38 ppm near homes and 85 ppm near businesses.
Source: City of Tucson Environmental Services Department, preliminary soil test results at the old tungsten mill site north of Speedway and west of Silverbell Road.

If you go
? WHAT: Public meeting, held by city officials, on soil-test results at old tungsten mill site near Speedway and Silverbell.
? WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
? WHERE: Brichta Elementary School cafeteria, 2110 W. Brichta Drive.
? Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or tdavis@azstarnet.com.

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