FOX 29 Investigates: Dream Park soil raises questions, concerns

- They call it the Dream Park.

A sprawling South Jersey park along the Delaware River that attracts crowds from across the area.

But, a lawsuit filed in federal court, and a new study on the soil used to build the park is raising questions.

Now top environmental experts are battling back and forth about possible health effects from the soil on people and animals.

Fox 29's Dave Schratwieser took a deeper look at the controversy and what these new studies might mean.

Nobody loves the dream park world class equestrian facility in Logan Township more than Dave Kenna and his wife Lolly.

Kenna is a retired New Jersey State Trooper and Iraq war veteran. Last November he and Lolly purchased two horses, Blue and deuce. They board them at the Dream Park.

The park was built by Gloucester County eight years ago at a cost of $20 Million.

The Kennas and dozens of others board, train and ride their horses there. They enjoy the huge outdoor/indoor training site in Gloucester County and all the facilities the park has to offer to them and their horses.

But, now the Newfield Township couple is concerned to hear that the very ground their horses walk on may pose a risk. A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health shows 3 million tons of soil used to build the massive park along Route 130 may pose a risk, especially to those who frequent the park on a regular basis.

The new study was just filed in federal court and obtained by FOX 29 Investigates. It's part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network against Soil Safe, a local firm less than a mile away from the park.

According to the lawsuit, Soil Safe removes harmful chemicals, like benzo pyrene or BAP,  from contaminated soil. The study says that because hundreds of truckloads of soil from Soil Safe were used to construct the park, "there may be a potential for imminent and substantial health risks" for park construction workers and children visitors here.

The Riverkeeper Network filed the lawsuit two years ago. It's still working its way through the federal court system in Camden.

The study was conducted using Soil Safe's own samples pulled from soil treated at the massive company site along the Delaware River.  The study says the soils contain arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel and PCBS.

But the primary concern is benzo pyrene.

In its lawsuit, the Riverkeeper Network says Soil Safe takes in truckloads on contaminated soils from all over the region including from the massive Newtown Creek Superfund site in New York State.

Trucks rumble down Route 130 past the dream park to the company's site every day. Once the material is treated and tested at the facility, the company says it's safe enough to use, even at a park frequented by children on a regular basis.

While Soil Safe officials and their lawyers would not comment on the new John Hopkins study for this report, court papers filed by Soil Safe and other documents obtained by FOX 29, strongly challenge the results of the Johns Hopkins study.

One environmental expert called the study an "erroneous and misleading report."

In fact, Soil Safe's lawyers hired an expert toxicologist who's report, they say, thoroughly rebuts any claim that the engineered fill used at the Dream Park is creating any human health or ecological risk at the facility.

The Soil Safe expert says the doctors who wrote the Johns Hopkins report "failed to apply generally accepted scientific methodology" and used the wrong soil samples to draw their conclusions.

The expert went on to say the concentrations of chemicals "of concern to the plaintiffs do not exceed, and may well be below, the stringent health protective standards mandated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection".

The Johns Hopkins study contends that because of the levels of BAP in the soil "the cancer risk was estimated to be higher than the acceptable cancer risk identified by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection."

But the safe soil expert says the soils used at the park "pose no unacceptable risk to human health."

Workers at the dream park are represented by the United Steel Workers Union Local 4 in Deptford. The Johns Hopkins report says park employees who work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, may also face elevated risks from the soil at the park.

Union officials told FOX 29 they are investigating and would not comment further.

The Dream Park and Soil Safe lie along the banks of the Delaware River and the park has tributaries flowing through it. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network says in its lawsuit, that wildlife uses those waterways and the community relies on the river for drinking water, jobs and recreation.

Johns Hopkins report says further development of the Dream park includes riding trails along the Raccoon Creek and the river. Researchers said use of Soil Safe product in the construction of those trails "presents a number of potential exposure scenarios for horses, riders, wild animals and the potential for contamination of the creek and river."

But a high ranking NJDEP official wrote in a March 15th letter to the Riverkeeper Network that "according to currently available data there is no evidence to support the conclusion that toxins are entering the wetlands due to surface water runoff at the Soil Safe site."

He went on to say soil being used at the park pose no environmental risk to the adjacent wetlands.

Soil Safe officials and lawyers for the company declined to comment citing the federal lawsuit. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network also would not comment, but concerns over the soil are far from over.

Experts from both sides will be deposed in the next few weeks as the company and the Riverkeeper Network continue to battle this out in federal court. 

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