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Bloomington Rail Trail Named For High Arsenic, Lead Levels

The Bloomington Rail Trail had traces of arsenic in ground samples, most likely caused by coal used on old nearby railroad.

The Bloomington Rail Trail has been identified by an national environmental group as site for high levels of coal ash contamination. The trail is on a list of 20 locations across the country as coal ash dump sites causing soil and groundwater contamination.

The Environmental Integrity Group began compiling a list of such sites in 2010. Officials say the Bloomington Rail Trail is contaminated with arsenic at 900 times the level allowed by federal standards. The report also said lead concentrations were three times above the Environmental Protection Agency allowed levels.

Spokesman Jeff Stant says the group has sent a letter to Congress asking for more government oversight over coal ash contamination and testing.

“It is no solution for Congress to hand authority for addressing the problem permanently to states that have refused to enforce common sense standards for the last 30 years and hope that the whole problem then somehow goes away,” he says.

Bloomington Parks and Recreation Director Mick Renneisen says the report is not surprising since the trail runs by an old railroad trail.

“The common practice to create these rail beds was to take the byproduct of burning the coal that they used for moving the engine was used as a substrait, a subsurface that you would then put the ties and tracks on,” he says.

That coal then breaks down to arsenic, which was the main chemical found on the trail.

Renneisen points out that even if the levels are high, people using the Bloomington Rail Trail do not normally come in direct contact with the ground.

“Do I think it’s a risk to the users? No, I don’t because I don’t think the kind of interaction occurs when your walking, riding or biking on the trail that would suggest that there’s going to be mass exposure to these things in a way that’s harmful to the users,” he says.

Similar concerns have been raised over the McDoel Switchyard, which the city is considering developing into a playground. Renneisen says the city is undergoing extensive research to determine the plan’s environmental impacts and see what needs to be done to remove any substances that could be harmful to children. He says the city would need more extensive research before it took steps to reducing the arsenic or lead levels on the Rail Trail.

Network Indiana contributed to this report.

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