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Victoria Park playground to be closed for clean up

Victoria Park playground to be closed for clean up

Auckland City is closing the Victoria Park playground after receiving soil test results which show new evidence of high levels of contaminants under trees near the playground.

Soil testing was undertaken at the park after a council desktop study identified the land as potentially contaminated due to its proximity to the former Beaumont Street gas works.

The latest results show high levels of the chemical, benzo-a-pyrene. Benzo-a-pyrene is a suspected human carcinogen and is found in coal, diesel and crude oil. It is often associated with gas works waste.

Having analysed the results, the council will this afternoon close the tree area and the adjacent playground.

Deputy Mayor Dr Bruce Hucker says this is being done so that the area can be cleaned up immediately.

“The council is a responsible landowner and we take our obligations to provide a safe environment for the public very seriously.

“The playground will be fenced off and our top priority is to ensure that this area is cleaned up so that people can use it freely in future.”

The latest soil tests were taken as part of preparations to remediate the playground area following earlier tests done in 2004 and 2005.

The earlier results showed moderate contamination in isolated areas of the playground area.

A risk assessment was done and recommendations for interim remediation measures were followed. This involved isolating contaminated areas with barrier matting, topsoil and bark to limit exposure for users.

Dr Hucker says, “These interim measures have offered protection for users of the playground and have served to limit potential health risks.

“In the interests of finding a long-term solution the council had planned to fully remediate the playground area in the new year. However, these latest test results show contamination at a much higher level under the trees and we need to act now.

“As a precautionary measure the council is closing the area, including the playground in preparation for remediation,” Dr Hucker says.

Auckland City adopted a similar precautionary approach when it discovered contaminated soil at a number of childcare facilities operating on council-owned land earlier in the year.

The council forwarded the latest soil test results for the Victoria Park playground to independent medical expert Dr Tim Sprott.

Dr Sprott’s advice is that the levels of benzo-a-pyrene found under the trees near the playground present some risk over time, but it is likely to be small for individuals using the area.

He says the likelihood is that adults and children will have spent small amounts of time in the area and would therefore have had limited exposure to any contaminants. Nor are they engaged in more risky behaviour such as growing and eating food from the contaminated soil.

This assessment is based on risk modelling considering children 0 to 6 years of age who have used the site moderately intensively for 140 days a year and have eaten a reasonable amount of soil on site. This is regarded as being a conservative model and is in line with council’s precautionary approach.

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has indicated that, based on the information it has received to date, it is satisfied with the approach Auckland City is taking, although it is seeking further information for expert review.

Dr Hucker says, “The advice from Dr Sprott is reassuring because it means that while the health risk is not zero, it is likely to be low for individuals.

“We also need to be aware that we are all exposed to potential cancer-causing agents, from a variety of sources, every day. So it is likely that exposure to contaminated soil in Victoria Park will have very little impact on our lifetime cancer risk.

”I would therefore reassure the public that they do not need to be unduly concerned.”

Remediation works in the playground area will begin immediately and will involve isolating contaminated soil in this area of the park with a barrier mat and then adding a half-metre layer of clean protective material over the area.

The council is investigating ways to do the remediation works while ensuring they do not adversely impact on the large protected trees near the playground.

The remediation works are expected to take up to eight weeks and will be followed by work to upgrade the playground. The playground upgrade will take a further six weeks and will mean the area is closed until the end of March.

The rest of the park can be used while the remediation works in the playground area are underway.

Other works to improve Victoria Park include the re-sanding of the sports fields and restoring the former Logan Campbell kindergarten building.

Those who want further information on the remediation should visit www.aucklandcity.govt.nz.

Ends

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