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South Bend EPA Superfund Site gets clean bill of health, but some still skeptical

Beck's Lake // WSBT 22 photo

South Bend city leaders say LaSalle Park and Beck's Lake get a clean bill of health.

The EPA tested soil samples taken from the neighborhood for arsenic and lead.

Beck's Lake is an EPA Superfund Site.

It became seriously contaminated because people were using it as a dump. They poured all kinds of things in there – asbestos, paint waste and foundry sand contaminated with arsenic.

Those chemicals became a concern because of homes right across the street.

"This has been an ongoing situation in and around the LaSalle Park neighborhood and one that we've taken very seriously through the years," said Aaron Perri, Executive Director of South Bend Venues, Parks and Arts.

The EPA just released the results of its most recent round of testing.

That report says, "there is no immediate risk from exposure to the soils in the sampled areas and no immediate clean-up is needed.”

South Bend Venues, Parks and Arts is pretty happy.

The department is making improvements to the Charles Black Center and LaSalle Park.

"This will allow us to do some of the other planned improvements to the park,” said Perri. “We plan on irrigating the soccer fields out there, adding some new pavilions and play structures, things of that nature. so we're certainly excited about the greenlight to be able to move forward on those projects."

The president of the LaSalle Park Neighborhood alliance says a clean bill of health isn't enough.

"Because we've clearly found out that we're not at a dangerous level doesn't mean the contamination is not there anymore,” said Henry Davis Jr., LaSalle Park Neighborhood Alliance president.

He has a point. A few samples did test higher for lead or arsenic than the EPA finds acceptable. But the report says those samples were deep enough underground that people aren't likely to come into contact with it.

"But that does not erase the last 57 years of people being involved in environmental discrimination, environmental racism," said Davis.

Dumping in Beck's Lake started as early as 1930. Davis says no one did anything about it until 10 years ago because the neighborhood is poor and made up of people of color.

"There obviously needs to be a public apology because not only did the local government fail us, the state government failed us as well,” said Davis. “No one took the opportunity to warn these people or remove these folks from harm’s way."

WSBT 22 talked to a few people in this neighborhood.

One man told me his nephew is a young child and likes to eat dirt, so the report did make him a little nervous.

But he felt better knowing the arsenic and lead levels are low.

In the report the EPA says it will keep watching this area to see if any cleanup becomes necessary.

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