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Heavy metals have been discovered at Harris Field in Bedford Park during the park’s reconstruction, the Norwood News has learned.

The Parks Department declined to answer specific questions about what heavy metals were found, the levels of contamination, or the steps taken to make the site safe. Although the agency claims proper procedures were followed, further questions were referred to its legal department and the Norwood News has filed a Freedom of Information Law request to obtain the information.

Construction at Harris Field, which lies between Lehman College and the Bronx High School of Science, started in April 2008 and is slated for completion in the fall of this year, though workers at the site said the project is behind schedule. It is one of dozens of Bronx parks projects benefiting from a $200 million pool of funds stemming from the city Department of Environmental Protection’s Croton Water Filtration Project in Van Cortlandt Park.

Though the city is required to notify the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) when any quantity of a hazardous or toxic substance is released that might violate air or water quality standards, the DEC had not been alerted to the contamination at Harris Field, said spokesperson Maureen Wren when asked by the Norwood News last week

Since that inquiry, the DEC’s regional director has contacted the Parks Department’s deputy commissioner for Capital Projects to request a briefing on the site’s status, according to another DEC spokesperson, Arturo Garcia-Costas.

Heavy metals are metallic elements with high atomic weights like mercury, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, and lead. Heavy metals become toxic when they are not metabolized by the body and accumulate in the soft tissues. They can enter the body through food, water, air, or absorption through the skin, according to an article by the Life Extension Foundation.

Harris Field is near several schools and is used for Little League games and by the High School of American Studies.

Don Bluestone, executive director of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, said he hadn’t been told about the situation, but was not surprised. He has been frustrated by the effect of local parks’ construction on his Center’s youth baseball league.
“They almost destroyed our league,” Bluestone said. “The fact that we had zero fields to play on [at Harris] last year was hysterical.”

The Center’s league and other leagues had permits for Harris Field last spring but they were revoked only two weeks after the season started in April. As a result, hundreds of children weren’t able to participate in the league, Bluestone said.

Keisha-Gaye Anderson, a Lehman College spokesperson, also said they had not been alerted to the contamination at Harris.
“They told us nothing,” echoed Phoebe Cooper, assistant principal at the Bronx High School of Science.

Parks spokesperson Jesslyn Moser said in an e-mail that the renovations were budgeted at $8.9 million, although the Department of Parks and Recreation Web site shows a budget of $9.5 million.

The original renovations included rebuilding six fields, adding three staircases and handicapped access, a picnic area, fitness/exercise station, a play area for 5- to 12-year-olds, a water spray area and a play area for toddlers.

Now, according to the Parks Department Web site, the scope of the project appears to be limited to athletic fields, staircases, and ADA access leading into the park.

The land where Harris Field now sits used to be a part of the Jerome Park Reservoir. The Department of Water Supply, Gas & Electricity acquired the land in 1895, but then returned it to the city in 1917.

Harris Field was acquired by the Parks Department in 1940.

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