As a child, my grandfather took my brother and me to a park in a Jacksonville, Florida African-American suburb. The park included standard kid-approved characteristics: The swings, grass, seesaws, sunshine and instantaneous friendships formed during play. Then, my grandpa learned that the park was constructed on a toxic site. He never took us back. I didn’t completely understand why.

A recent WOSU news report conjured these memories. On the east side of Cleveland, the Marion Motley Playfields park sits. While the site is named after a professional athlete, and includes “grassy fields, baseball diamonds and hills,” it–like many parks, homes and community resources where Black, Brown and especially economically vulnerable people in America tend to live or gather–is also on dumping grounds.

“That’s where we played, that’s where everybody played. We didn’t know not to be there because of contamination – our mindset was on enjoying life,” Vita Brewer, a local resident, said. The news report conveyed a stark juxtaposition between community knowledge (residents knowing the lands were compromised) and officials’ purported ignorance  about what composed some people’s soil.

That Cleveland park was constructed in the 1960s. It is now 2018. While awareness, governmental action and environmental equity interest have picked up speed, a 2017 report also confirmed that arsenic and lead remain in the ground there.

“Back in those days, when people filled in property, whether it was in their backyards or whether it was anywhere else, there was no Environmental Protection Agency or Ohio EPA, and the materials they put into those areas were unknown at the time,” Matt Sprontz, Cleveland’s capital projects director, said.

Ohio officials plan to place a soil barrier on the ground, in hopes of increasing children’s safety. Experts report that lead exposure compromises children’s cognition.

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