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Durham parks lead cleanup plan still months away

The creek at Northgate Park in Durham, N.C.
Durham Parks & Recreation
Northgate Park is among five public parks in Durham found to have elevated levels of lead in soil

The state Department of Environmental Quality estimates it will take six more months to complete lead testing in and around five of Durham's public parks.

Research from a Duke University graduate student in 2022 and follow-up tests showed high levels of lead in soil in some parts of Walltown, East End, East Durham, Northgate and Lyon Parks.

Each park is near what used to be city trash incinerators that operated until the mid-20th Century.

City manager Wanda Page has recommended the city council set aside $5 million for local cleanup efforts.

"Our priority is to get this remediation underway soon with local funding while waiting for decisions on state assistance for the remediation in full," Page said during her budget presentation this week.

Neither Page nor the city's Parks and Recreation director, Wade Walcutt, have said what those cleanup efforts will look like. DEQ said it has to conduct extensive testing of soil, groundwater and surface water.

"The investigation has to be completed before we can even consider remedial action options," said Ryan Channell, supervisor of DEQ's Pre-Regulatory Landfill Program.

Channell spoke in a virtual public forum Wednesday.

"It's going to be several more months — maybe six months — before the investigation is completed and a lot of that is driven by the location and extent of waste," he said.

Parts of each park remain closed in areas where there are elevated levels of lead in the soil.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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