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Leslie Science & Nature Center changes programming after soil tests positive for heavy metals

Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

Recent soil testing at the Leslie Science & Nature Center showed dangerous levels of heavy metals including lead and arsenic, causing the center to make programming changes.

An industrial toxicologist alerted the city on Sunday that the soil could pose a risk if it were ingested.

In what the city is calling "an abundance of caution," the nature center has moved all of its programming off its grounds until further testing is carried out.

One of the areas that was tested is the future site for the center's Nature Playscape behind the DTE Energy House. Plans to develop the project are on hold until further testing is completed, and temporary fencing has been installed in the areas that were tested.

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In April, the center discovered an unnatural depression near the construction site for the Playscape and asked the city to analyze the soil. According to an old map of the property, an area in the woods may have been used as a dump site.

As additional soil testing gets underway, the LSNC Park will remain open. By the end of next week, a second round of testing should be completed and the city will receive recommendations for next steps.

"The safety of our families, campers, volunteers and employees is our top priority and we've been working through the weekend to ensure that our families can continue to enjoy an amazing experience at an alternate outdoor location," the center's executive director, Susan Westhoff, said in a statement.

"We understand such changes can cause inconvenience and we appreciate the support and understanding by our community while we await the results of further environmental testing by the City of Ann Arbor and a plan to remediate the area."

"The city is moving quickly to identify an appropriate remediation plan that will ensure LSNC remains a valuable community asset," Assistant City Manager John Fournier said in a statement.  

Below is the city of Ann Arbor's answers to frequently asked questions on the issue:

How long will programs be impacted? 

Programs will be impacted while further soil testing is completed and a specific remediation plan is developed with appropriate agencies. The second round of testing should be completed by the end of next week and next steps will be communicated as soon as possible.

Is the park open?

The park does remain open, except where temporary fencing has been installed to prevent access to the areas that were tested, which includes the future site of a Nature Playscape. This project is on hold until further testing is completed and remediation steps are known. Signage will be installed to inform park users to avoid restricted areas. 

Why was soil testing conducted?

In April, during the construction planning phase of the LNSC Nature Playscape project, LSNC asked the city to analyze soil near the construction site after an unnatural depression in the woods was discovered. An old, hand-marked map indicated there may have been a dump site in the woods where there currently are no play structures or programming. The property had been gifted to the City of Ann Arbor by its previous owner Dr. Eugene Leslie, who was active in the field of chemical engineering and was a professor at the University of Michigan. The property was the headquarters for much of his pioneering work and included fruit orchards.  

Once city staff became aware of the situation, they engaged Tetratech, an environmental consultant to gather soil samples from a number of locations in and around the proposed play area and perform testing for a variety of contaminants. 

What were the results of soil testing?

Soil samples were collected on May 30. On June 20, the city received draft soil test results, which indicated elevated levels in the reported dump area of the property of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, zinc, selenium, silver and mercury in addition to some semi-volatile and volatile organic compounds. Soil samples taken near the Playscape construction area indicated elevated levels of arsenic and lead. 

Why is the city doing the testing? 

Leslie Science Center separated from the City of Ann Arbor in 2007 and became Leslie Science & Nature Center — an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. However, the City of Ann Arbor continues to own and maintain the buildings and grounds, while the LSNC manages activities and programming. The two entities work in partnership to manage and program the facility.  

Are there any impacts to animals housed at LSNC?

Please contact LSNC directly regarding specific program changes or questions about future impacts to animal programming or enclosures. 

What remediation will the city do?

The city intends to work with partner agencies to develop a remediation plan that will allow the site to maintain its full range of uses and activities. That plan will be informed by subsequent rounds of soil testing that are now getting underway. The city's timeline is as soon as possible, but will ultimately be decided by the results of subsequent rounds of soil testing and in conjunction with partner agencies. ​​​​

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