Contaminants at Indy park could spread during storms, expert says

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A day after Indianapolis was hit with heavy rain and winds, an IUPUI professor has a warning for people living near a contaminated park and for parents who send their children to the school next door. 

News 8 was the first to report on the contamination at Sandorf Park, 2020 Dawson St., back in March. Documents obtained by News 8 showed high levels of arsenic and lead close to the surface of the soil.

The fear is that some of those toxins could be sent airborne when storms hit, according to Gabriel Filippelli, an earth sciences professor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

“Just because you think the contamination is confined to a site does not mean it is,” said Filippelli, the director of the Center for Urban Health at IUPUI.

The site has “park closed” signs up around it, but Filippelli said the high winds and heavy rain could move contamination into areas around the park. That includes a neighborhood with dozens of homes, as well as SUPER School at Frederick Douglass School 19, which is part of Indianapolis Public Schools.

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The question Filippelli said is crucial, is how high up within the soil is the contamination found? Testing done by the city of Indianapolis showed arsenic and lead from 0-1 foot into the soil. He said there isn’t data on whether the dangerous levels are at the surface, which would be the concern. 

“That’s kind of a double whammy you have. If that soil is contaminated in the top, there’s now contamination in the neighbhorhood and in people’s homes,” said Filippelli. 

The risk from high levels of arsenic and lead include heart and kidney disease. Filippelli said permanent brain damage could be caused in children. He said no level of lead exposure is safe for children.

“That’s what makes it really troubling,” he said. 

People who live in the area said no one had told them about the potential danger until News 8 showed up Friday. The city of Indianapolis owns the park. 

Filippelli said the city does not have an obligation to do anything because right now, no contamination has been documented outside the park. He said, morally, they should have notified homeowners. 

A teacher at SUPER School 19 said the school did tell anyone about the potential dangers, either. 

Filippelli said people living nearby should avoid standing water and mud. That’s not easy for parents like Jessica Hunnell, who lives less than a block away from the park with her 2-year-old son.

“As a mom, I want my kids to be able to play outside safely and not worry about something going airborne,” she said. 

Dust is another problem: Filipelli said it could contain lead and arsenic. He suggested people nearby use a wet wipe to clean inside and outside your home.

“I don’t have my windows open because I don’t know if the air’s contaminated,” said Sheila Wix, who has lived a couple doors down from Sandorf Park for nearly 20 years. 

Filippelli said the possible danger is not only short-term from this storm but could arise from any storm since the park has been contaminated.

It’s unclear when the contamination began, but the site was used for “industrial waste placement” by a cement company in the mid-20th century, according to documents obtained by News 8. 

Filippelli said if the contamination goes airborne during severe weather, people might not know what precautions to take. 

The city of Indianapolis performed testing at SUPER School 19 and various homes around the park last year. No sites had levels of contamination. 

However, Filippelli said more testing is needed at the top of the soil at Sandorf Park. He also said more testing is needed for dust at homes around the site. 

Neither the city of Indianapolis nor IPS responded to News 8’s request for comment as of Friday night.