Despite Lingering Health Risks, Skate Park Set to Reopen in Summer

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After much delay caused by the presence of harmful toxins and pollutants, a Berkeley skateboarding park is on track to reopen this summer.

Construction of Harrison Street Skate Park in West Berkeley was halted in November 2000 after the carcinogen Chromium 6 was found in ground water under the site. Construction resumed last November after the skate bowls were lifted and the water underneath them was treated with a sulfur compound, eliminating the health risk.

But an ongoing study conducted by the Community Environmental Advisory Commission has shown that the park's health problems are not yet over. The study shows particulates-tiny particles of matter that can endanger human health-have been found to occasionally exceed state regulation standards at the park site.

In response, the city of Berkeley has been working to warn the community by sending out public notices about the park's pollution.

"The information will be discussed at the community level and at the council level, and there will be much community discussion," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.

She added that children's skating and sporting groups have been informed of the contaminant and will "probably receive specific notices" in the future.

The park's proximity to interstates 80 and 580 is to blame for the high amounts of particulates, which are commonly spread through smokestacks, exhaust pipes and clouds of dirt.

Though Dean said she supports the skateboard park, citing the need for "a place for kids to do their skateboarding activity," some experts fear that high concentrations of particulates could have detrimental effects on children's health.

"The affects of particulates on human health include everything from exacerbation of respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis to emergency room visits and even death," said David Fairley, a particulate expert working for Bay Area Air Quality Management.

But Berkeley Director of Parks and Waterfront Lisa Caronna said the park was necessary for the youth sports and skate community, despite the pollution.

"There's no way the highway is going anywhere, so that's the trade-off of providing quality recreation for youth in an urban area," she said.

Data collected during the six-month air study found the levels of one particulate occasionally exceed the California state regulations of 50 micrograms per cubic meter. The particulate sometimes reaches 80 micrograms per cubic meter in the park.

Nabil Al-Hadithy, city hazardous materials supervisor, said the location was the best the city could do in a difficult situation.

"This is not the ideal location for a park in this area. That having been said, the city was faced with a need for exercise fields and a lack of space. This was a compromise," he said.

Dean said that while the city is releasing warnings, they are also taking steps to improve the situation.

"We've been working toward improving the overall environment," she said. "We support the issues around cleaner-running vehicles. Various attempts have been made at getting people to use transit instead of expanding highways."

But while Al-Hadithy said he remains hopeful that the city can reduce particulate concentrations in the park, he added that control of emissions is a different story.

"The city will control the use of biodiesel and wetting agents in adjacent facilities, and thus the particulates the city generates," he said. "But we do not have very much control over particulates from industry or the highway."


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