McCarren Park and Lead in Soil

As part of a larger project testing the soil of publicly accessible open spaces within Brooklyn’s Community District 1, North Brooklyn Neighbors undertook sampling of soil within McCarren Park. Specific areas of the park were found to be heavily contaminated with lead – in particular, an area near the intersection of Driggs and North 12th Streets and areas along the fence near an informal running path.

It is important to note that not all parts of McCarren Park tested high and that many areas of the park are safe for play. Additionally, there are many steps that individuals can take to lower the chances of ingestion or inhalation of lead from soil. Because children are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead, parents and caregivers of young children should be aware of not only which open spaces are contaminated with toxic metals, but also to seek out locations for play with covered soils. Spreading a blanket on the ground when near exposed soil for a picnic, wiping down hands after playing and before eating, and keeping children away from exposed soil generally are all good practices for reducing chances of contamination.

Our findings show that specific areas of the park showed levels of lead consistently above the standards set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The DEC’s guidelines use 400 ppm as the level of allowable lead contamination in soil. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated their standards to set 200 ppm as a more protective standard for lead levels in soil in order to reduce childhood lead exposure.

NBN is now for the first time making the results of our McCarren Park soil testing public.

It is important that these findings be immediately investigated and action taken.

North Brooklyn Neighbors’ recommendations for McCarren Park include:

  • A comprehensive assessment of lead levels in McCarren Park to identify hotspots.
  • Immediately install a protective layer between exposed soil and human contact in the area near the intersection of North 12th and Driggs. The range of available options could include better lawn management with reseeding and watering to ensure lush grass cover; wood chipping; the addition of compost to soil; and/or a new layer of soil.
  • Swift action to ensure the safety of the informal running path that skirts the perimeter of the park. Because this is a highly trafficked route, it is unlikely that the aforementioned interventions would remain in place for any appreciable length of time. Therefore, an alternative solution should be found, such as fencing off the path or spraying any dust with water while a long-term fix is discussed.

New York City’s Response to Findings:

In late 2023, NBN shared the results of our soil sampling with the New York City Parks Department. In April of 2024, after the news of contamination was broken publicly in the New York Times, a spokesperson for the mayor stated, “… the Parks Department is actively adding soil and mulch to the park as an additional protective layer. We are evaluating next steps, and will continue to do everything in our power to keep New Yorkers safe.”

The photos below were taken the morning of April 13, 2024 and show the addition of mulch in some of the most problematic locations within McCarren Park.

To learn more about our comprehensive soil testing of North Brooklyn’s publicly accessible open spaces, please see our report on the issue.