, Salem, MA

June 4, 2013

Frequently asked questions: Salem's Bertram Field and arsenic

The Salem News

---- — The following has been released by the city of Salem, following yesterday's announcement of elevated levels of arsenic found in the soil at Bertram Field.

What is arsenic?

The American Cancer Society has a helpful Web page summarizing what arsenic is, how the element was historically used by industry and agriculture, and how people might become exposed to it.

Where did the arsenic come from?

While we cannot say for certain where this particular arsenic came from, it is not uncommon for arsenic to be a byproduct of combustion and other industrial processes that characterized Salem’s economy for many decades in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Arsenicals were also used as pesticides and are common in urban soils.

How much arsenic is there?

The total quantity of arsenic in the soil underneath Bertram Field is not known. To date only 10 preliminary samples were taken. Those samples ranged from 7 to 43 parts per million of arsenic.

Where was the arsenic found?

Samples were taken from the topsoil of the football field from locations equally distributed across the field and from subsurface soils behind the visiting team’s bleachers. No one area of topsoil significantly exceeded any other area in terms of arsenic level.

What levels or types of arsenic are considered unsafe for human contact?

Findings above 20 ppm require that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is notified, while findings above 40 ppm require that the site be closed immediately. Two of the 10 samples at Bertram Field exceeded that 40 ppm threshold, with the highest one exceeding it by just 3 ppm.

My child played or plays at Bertram, how concerned should I be?

At this time we cannot say what sort of health risks, if any, past use of the field might pose. Our environmental engineers are conducting a risk assessment that we anticipate will be complete by the week of June 10. The assessment will model the projected health impact for an individual of high school age who made regular and frequent use of the field for five years. Once the results of that assessment are complete they will be made available to parents and the general public.

What are the symptoms of arsenic poisoning and what should I do to test for suspected arsenic poisoning?

Complete details about the potential dangers of arsenic, symptoms, testing, and treatment are available from the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

How will the arsenic be mitigated?

Because the arsenic was detected only 6 inches beneath the surface, mitigation will be accomplished through completion of the planned improvements, which including removing the top 1 foot of topsoil to install an artificial turf field and sub-base. Dust monitoring will be in place during excavation and, for soil removed from those areas identified as contaminated, excavated soil will be covered below and above while on site.

How will this impact the improvements proposed for Bertram Field?

How contaminated soil is removed and disposed of is highly regulated by both federal and state law. Once further testing shows precisely which parts of the field have arsenic in the soil, those areas will be subject to more careful excavation and disposal. It is not anticipated to significantly impact the timetable of the improvements project. Until it is clearer how much of the field is contaminated we will not know the precise amount of additional cost this mitigation will entail; initial estimates based on the cubic yardage of soil and level of contamination found thus far suggest it should not present a significant cost barrier to the completion of the project close to budget.

Were any other hazardous substances identified in the samples?

No other potentially hazardous elements or compounds were found in levels that exceeded DEP or federal thresholds to date, though we do not have all of the analytical results yet. These results will be available the week of June 10. Samples have been analyzed for petroleum hydrocarbons, PCBs, metals, and volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds.