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New Soil Tests Show Safe Arsenic Levels

Jimmy Preston and Steve Morphus, contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency, are analyzing the soil arsenic levels at Fort Reno Park.
Jimmy Preston and Steve Morphus, contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency, are analyzing the soil arsenic levels at Fort Reno Park. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

District and federal officials released new soil test results yesterday showing that arsenic levels at Fort Reno Park in Northwest Washington are safe, but the park will remain closed while authorities continue their analysis.

The latest tests were performed by the Environmental Protection Agency and appear to be at odds with earlier results that led to the park's closing a week ago. This time, all 13 samples showed arsenic levels well below the limits for human safety. Additional test results from the U.S. Geological Survey are expected as early as today.

"The park remains closed indefinitely," said Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service, which controls the 33-acre site. Line said that the agency has a duty to ensure public safety and that "we need more information" before Fort Reno can be reopened.

The park, near Woodrow Wilson High School in the Tenleytown neighborhood, is popular with area residents and is used for community sporting events.

The EPA tested the soil after the park's closing at the request of the Park Service and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). The 13 samples ranged from no traces of arsenic to a high of 12.3 parts per million in preliminary testing and a high of 10.1 parts per million in more detailed testing.

Levels below 20 parts per million do not present a threat to humans, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The park was abruptly closed after the Geological Survey found samples with arsenic levels up to 25 times what federal regulations allow. Under the law, soil with such high levels of contamination must be removed.

A.B. Wade, a spokeswoman for the Geological Survey, said the original soil samples were tested by the Army Corps of Engineers and are being retested at the agency's lab in Denver. Asked how the results could differ, she said, "It's not uncommon to find varying degrees of concentration within close proximity in sampling sites.

"You could sample under the goal posts of [a] football field and you can come up with one number . . . and you could go to the other goal posts and come with a completely different concentration. But you're playing on the whole field, and the question is, is it safe or not?"

Staff writer Marcia Davis contributed to this report.

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