Concerned about the level of arsenic found in initial soil samples at the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, the city has shut down the park's observation tower, believed to be a possible source of the contaminant.
Carol Stricklin, community development director, told the City Commission on Tuesday that she thought it was "prudent to close the park loop area, pending the outcome of the testing."
"Until we've completed the site assessment, we are going to close that portion of the park, although the northern portion of the park will be open," Stricklin said.
In June, the commission authorized $98,361 to conduct a site assessment in an effort to comply with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which became concerned about the levels of arsenic in two areas of the preserve. One of those was around the observation tower.
The city's testing in July found that the "concern is not isolated to a few locations, but indicated low levels of contaminated soil across the site," it said in a staff report.
The rainy season prevented officials from completing the testing and it wasn't resumed until November, said Paul R. Seavy, of Seavy & Associates, the company conducting the soil testing. Stricklin will ask the city to approve funding next month for additional testing. An additional $53,159 may be requested. It could take six to eight months to complete the assessment.
A landfill from the late 1960s until 1981, the property was turned into a nature preserve in 2002. The preserve is at East Bay Drive and Highland Avenue.
In April 2002, a city study found elevated arsenic levels in several locations at the preserve. The levels around the observation tower were more than three times Florida's target level for cleanup of industrial areas.
Pressure-treated wood was used to build the tower and the sawdust containing arsenic may have contaminated the surrounding soil.
Seavy confirmed that sawdust from the pressure-treated wood was the likely culprit. He said pressure-treated wood is a problem in the state and that many organizations such as schools are removing playground equipment that was built with the material.
In 2004, Largo sent a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection listing the actions it had taken to protect the park users. The city put up signs warning users to stay on designated trails. It put dirt caps planted with vegetation over containment areas and fenced off land near the observation tower and another area.
But in January, the state division of Waste Management told Largo that it needed to do additional testing because extensive contamination was found at the site and there was potential for arsenic to leach into waterways.
Tuesday, commissioners were concerned not only about the arsenic levels but also at the cost.
"At what point do you start coming to us with the cost of cleanup?" asked Commissioner Harriet Crozier.
Seavy said he could not give an accurate figure, but he said it could cost between $300,000 to $400,000 to complete the analysis.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com.