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Families furious after dangerous amounts of lead, arsenic found at little league field

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    CHICAGO, IL (WBBM) — It has been a summertime gathering spot in Hegewisch for more than half a century, but beginning Tuesday, the Little League field in the neighborhood became an active Environmental Protection Agency cleanup site.

It is all because of dangerous amounts of arsenic and lead in the soil. And as CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, Little League families are understandably distraught.

Generations of kids in Hegewisch have learned to play baseball on the fields at 12710 S. Carondolet Ave. But about half of the baseball diamond and the outfield tested for positive arsenic and lead levels that were so high that they qualified for immediate removal.

Gavin Demkowicz, 12, has spent about half of his life on the Hegewisch Little League Field – about six or seven years.

“I play first base, but this year, they’re trying to put me in outfield,” he said.

His uncle Daniel Ralich did the same, about 25 years ago as a pitcher.

“I played baseball most of my life,” Ralich said.

And grandpa Yogi Ralich has been watching from the stands.

“It’s just one big toxic waste over there, what it looks like,” Yogi Ralich said.

Yogi Ralich said he had been contacting the city about pollution concerns in the highly industrial area for years. But it wasn’t until January 2019 that local lawmakers asked the EPA to do a soil sampling.

The agency found unacceptable levels of lead and arsenic.

“You know, they slide in there. They fall. You know, they get dirty, rub their faces,” Yogi Ralich said. “These are little kids.”

A mailer alerted the families in this area to the time-critical cleanup, which started Tuesday.

“I got angry, you know, and everyone can point fingers at everyone else but who’s actually going to take the blame?” Daniel Ralich said.

“They knew this stuff was on the ground,” Yogi Ralich added.

What’s more concerning is that they haven’t gotten any information about possible health impacts. So we asked EPA on-scene coordinator Kristina Miller for them.

Hickey: “Lead and arsenic. What do you say to parents that have health concerns for their kids?”

Miller: “They can reach out to the health department, or they can also reach out to their doctors if they have individual questions. They are the health experts They’re the ones that ho know their kids the best, so they should reach out to them.”

Miller said me the field, which has been there since at least 1964, was built on top of industrial waste. She said the expedited, nearly $700,000 clean up qualified for federal funding.

The season had already been postponed because of COVID-19.

“It’s just like one thing after another,” Gavin said. “We’re not going to be able to play baseball.”

The cleanup should take about 20 business days.

There were dust monitors on the field earlier Tuesday who will be monitoring air quality throughout the project.

So is there a potential health concern for these kids right now? We have not really gotten an answer to that question, and we are awaiting a response from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The EPA did say it was the soil that was contaminated, not the grass, and there is a fair amount of grass that could have served as a barrier. But again, the EPA advised that parents should consult their family’s primary care physicians if they have any questions.

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