New study says toxic materials in Hyde Park soil

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December 21, 2006

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Imagine your home, the yard where your kids play, sitting on contaminated ground.

That's what people in Hyde Park say they've dealt with for years.

Now there is a new effort to get answers, and there was a meeting this afternoon to talk solutions.

People who live in Augusta's Hyde Park community met this afternoon to talk about the future of their neighborhood.

They say they've been living in a contaminated area for years.

City leaders are now involved and looking harder for answers.

Past studies of the conditions in the Hyde Park neighborhood have been rather inconclusive, but results of recent study have city leaders saying there is in fact a problem.

Now neighbors and leaders are meeting to talk about it.

Residents in Augusta's Hyde Park community have been vocal about it for decades. Now they say their concerns about living near toxic waste are finally being heard.

"We feel like help has finally come," said resident Arthur Smith. "We finally feel like our cries have finally been heard."

Arthur is one of many Hyde Park neighbors who believe their homes and health have been at risk for years.

But it wasn't until a recent study showing high levels of mercury, zinc, and lead in the soil near some Hyde Park homes that city leaders realized how serious the problem was.

"Just for the residents to know, it is something we are working on addressing," said Mayor Deke Copenhaver.

The study finds the contamination came from what was the nearby Goldberg Junkyard.... Now that area is a vacant field.

Heavy metals and other materials are believed to have been spread through storm water runoff.

Mayor Copenhaver is starting a task force to address the issue, calling on the EPA and health department for help.

"Of course, we certainly are concerned about it, and proactivity is always a good idea in any of these situations, but how far do you want to take it? That's up to our leaders," said specialist Michael Allison of the health department.

Allison says the contaminants can be hazardous to health, possibly causing brain damage in children if the soil is ingested.

While the city is coming up with a plan, the mayor urges patience.

"People who are trying to fan the flames of 'We've got to get this done overnight,' I don't want to give the neighborhood unrealistic expectations," he said.

And right now, the two options on the table seem to be either relocating the residents or spending millions cleaning up the area. Those options are bringing mixed feelings

"We are split right now, half and half," Arthur said. "Half of the community wants to leave, half wants to stay."

Years ago, there was a concern about their water being contaminated. Back then, the neighborhood was using well they are not, so that is no longer an issue. However, some of the folks there believe they developed cancer and respiratory problems because of the years they drank contaminated water.

People in Hyde Park first started filing lawsuits in the 1980's.

They were all dismissed because of lack of evidence, but that was before two decades of complaints piled up.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division got involved and started testing in 1991, and the city was awarded a Brownfield Pilot--more money in other words--to study that area in 1999.

But still, there were no conclusive results from the neighborhoods in Hyde Park.