NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Once home to little league teams, football games and soccer matches, several of the Red Hook fields in Brooklyn now sit fenced off and seemingly abandoned.
Under the surface, there is a hidden danger the city is trying to eradicate, CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported.
“It’s frightening, it’s frightening, especially when we have children here,” said volunteer track coach Firelei de Leon-Rice.
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency found many of the fields were polluted – a byproduct of lead smelting facilities that once operated nearby. The agency ordered fields 5, 6, 7 and 8 to be shut down and cleaned up.
Additionally, the Department of Parks and Recreation decided to remediate the rest through a four-phase plan.
But the 2018 deadline for cleaning up those four most toxic fields in the first phase was pushed back to 2019. Now, the deadline has been delayed again to 2020.
“If it were in another community, this would have been taken care of a long time ago,” de Leon-Rice said.
The parks department attributes the delay to trouble finding a contractor that meets the city’s strict bidding requirements.
Despite the shutdown, the surrounding track was deemed safe and stayed open – an odd sight when you realize the field in the middle is off limits, Castro reported.
“It’s unfortunate for us coaches. We can’t even see our runners across the track,” de Leon-Rice said.
Some parents said the danger isn’t very well known and signs, like one from the parks department, don’t mention lead contamination.
“I didn’t even know that’s why it was blocked off,” said parent Sheena Hockaday.
The parks department, however, said the issue has been well publicized and the signs around the four most toxic fields do specify the cleanup of lead.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has been critical of the delays in her district, but admitted it’s complicated work.
“Public health cannot be compromised,” she said.
She said the community pressure may have sped up the process.
“I believe that in July, New York City parks will have some information to share with the community,” she said.
Residents will play ball there again – hopefully sooner, rather than later.