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Neighborhood Questions Health & Safety of Park

An 11-year old girl asked the Town of Framingham Monday night, if Mary Dennison Playground is safe for her and her friend to play, as she heard it had high levels of lead and lead can be dangerous.

The Town and its consultant said right now, soil testing at the park indicates it is safe. The Town has decided not to close the park, at this time.

Consultant Carol Bois, who lives in Framingham, said she would let her two boys play on the soccer field at Mary Dennison Park, which has three baseball fields, a soccer field, a basketball court and a playground.

Monday night, the Town of Framingham held a neighborhood meeting at Wilson Elementary School to discuss the recent soil samples at the park and why the Town has decided the park can stay open while conditions are improved. The park is located down the street from Wilson Elementary, which for the last several years had been at the center of another health hazard, a chemical company located next to the school and its playground.

Last month, William Robinson Jr., who leads the South Middlesex NAACP branch, said he has serious concerns about how the neighborhood is being treated when it comes to environmental issues. Robinson was in attendance Monday night, along with about a dozen residents from the neighborhood.

Earlier this year, the Town notified the state and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) it discovered toxins in the soil of the playground, located off Beaver Street. A representative from Mass DEP was also in attendance Monday night.

In March, the Town hired an environmental consultant to drill in 15 locations to get soil samples between 6 inches and 6 feet in the 17-acre park and uncovered high levels of lead and other metals.

The soil samples from the top 12 inches, except for one, had low levels of contaminates. Several of the deeper soil samples had higher levels of metals, lead and arsenic, but people using the park would not come into contact with them, said the consultant.

A handful of audience members questioned why more soil samples, beyond the 15 taken, have not been completed.

Town Manager Bob Halpin and the consultant said based on the first round of drilling, it is clear that more soil samples are needed.

There were about 50 people in the audience, including about a dozen Town Meeting members, but only a couple from Precinct 17, where the playground is located.

A majority of the Town Meeting members were from south of Route 135, but not from the neighborhood most affected.

"If I had a daughter, I would not let her anywhere near this park," said Town Meeting member Lloyd Kaye, who represents Precinct 10. "Lead scares me, too."

Kaye questioned why if high levels were found near the top of one of the baseball diamonds why more soil samples were not taken in that location.

Halpin and the consultant said that area will be looked at when the second set of soil samples are scheduled.

"You, have a fairly valid point," said Bois, the consultant told Kaye. She said as a consultant, her best judgement is that the park is safe at the moment. She said there is a degree of uncertainty, as there have only been 15 soil samples.

"I can't sample every single gram of soil out there," said Bois, who said they had to start somewhere thus the 15 samples taken in March. ... I don't feel like this is the end of the story. ... We are still in the process of figuring out what is underneath."

Framingham Board of Health Chair Michael Hugo said the Dennison Park investigation was going quicker than the General Chemical cleanup project.

He told the audience in a couple of weeks, we did what took us years with General Chemical.
 
He stressed if there was a risk at the park, it would be closed.
 
Town Meeting member William LaBarge, who lives on East Street in Precinct 16, went to the park before the meeting and brought his own soil samples in a kitty litter bucket to the consultant. He questioned the smell of the soil and the crimson color in locations.

Newly-elected Saxonville Town Meeting Member Tara Alves of Precinct 3 said "the people who live in this neighborhood deserve better."

Halpin said the "message has been received" and the neighborhood does deserve better and the Town is working to improve all the conditions of the neighborhood.

Town Meeting member George Lewis, of Precinct 18, questioned why soil samples were not taken near the baby swings at the playground in the park. Town Meeting member Frank DeMarco, who lives on South Street in Precinct 16, also questioned why soil samples were not done more near the playground.

Town Meeting member Tom Grove, who represents Precinct 15, said based on what he heard he felt somewhat "safe" but said there are still questions remaining. Grove's wife has been pushing for a skate park to be built at Dennison Park.

Between 1955 and 1964, the Town of Framingham acquired the 17.4 acres from Dennison Manufacturing, now Avery Dennison. The recreation and athletic complex was built in 1960 on top of land the manufacturer used as a dump. dump by the manufacturer. Topsoil was put over the buried waste and trash to build the park.

Former Selectman Ginger Esty spoke at the meeting and said there are many sites below Route 135 that are sitting on or near old dumping grounds.

"This is not going to be a simple problem," she said. There is so much of our town along 135 that is one large brownsfields. We have to arm ourselves with the best people to make these areas safer and to clean the town, said Esty.

Esty said Framingham is an environmentally-challenged town. And more money needs to be spent in the neighborhoods that have the issues.

"We can not put frosting on a dreadful baked cake that is all crumbs," said Esty.

The meeting was presented by Town of Framingham, Brazilian American Association, Inc., Framingham Coalition/Community Connections, and the Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety (FACES).

Linda Dunbrack May 06, 2014 at 07:31 AM
I appreciate all who came out and asked thoughtful questions and are pushing for a better quality of life in this neighborhood.
TMM May 06, 2014 at 08:15 AM
Last night's meeting to discuss the chemical contamination concerns of Mary Dennison Playground in Southside should have been important enough to have ALL the Board of Selectmen members show their support. Those who attended were Mr. Bower and Mr. Sisitsky. Missing at this community meeting were Selectmen Laurie Lee, Jason Smith and Cheryl Tully Stoll, all from the north side of town.
Anne Sullivan May 06, 2014 at 10:30 AM
Yes, I think the importance of this meeting warranted the attendance of ALL of the Board of Selectmen. Anne C. Sullivan TMM Pct. 8
Ronda H. Andrews May 06, 2014 at 10:54 AM
I was glad to see what I hope is the start of an open and honest dialogue between the town and the people. It is time we face these issues and make Framingham an environmentally safe place. Let us set an example of what concerned citizens and responsive government can achieve. Ronda H. Andrews FACES
Herb Chasan May 06, 2014 at 01:12 PM
Many thanks to Susan for the great reporting. The only report on this very important issue

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