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Release Date: 02/15/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - Government and community efforts have teamed up to clean a contaminated lot in Hartford that will be used this spring for gardens, recreation and wildlife. City, state and federal officials met with community leaders and students at Trinity College today to announce the various projects that have been done to clean the 1.2-acre parcel on Chestnut Street, which had been polluted with toxic levels of lead.

An innovative settlement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the City of Hartford played a key role in cleaning most of the vacant lot. Trinity students used an innovative agricultural technology to clean the rest of the lot, which is near the college campus.

The newly cleaned lot will provide a garden for students in the Quirk Middle School across the street, and for the House of Bread, which plans to plant a vegetable garden this spring. There will also be a wildlife area as well as a community garden.

"It is deeply gratifying to watch a project that successfully engages community groups, the city, the state and the federal government in working together for a better urban environment," said Mindy S. Lubber, acting regional administrator of EPA New England. "The Chestnut Street lot will one day be the home of a vibrant community garden, a learning center and a useful open space, thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated people."

Soil from almost three-quarters of the lot was removed and replaced this fall by the city, under an agreement last year with EPA. Under the agreement, the city agreed to spend $108,000 to clean up the parcel to settle claims that the Hartford Department of Public Works had violated federal hazardous waste management laws and oil spill control regulations. Part of this area will be planted this spring for a wildlife area and the rest of it will be made available as a community garden.

The remaining section of the lot cleaned by Trinity students and professors was planted with vegetation that absorbs the lead from the soil. The vegetation planted last summer cut lead levels in half, Trinity reported. This paves the way for a local soup kitchen to plant a garden that will help feed Hartford's homeless.

"Neighborhood leaders as well as Trinity students deserve to be acknowledged for spending the time and effort to demonstrate alternative approaches to the clean-up of contaminated property. This has added a tool for use in our Brownfield Pilot Project," said Saundra Kee Borges, Hartford city manager.

Other partners in the project, who were at today's luncheon, include the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); The Neighborhood Revitalization Committee and the Knox Parks Foundation.

The Knox Parks Foundation initially leased the land from the city so it could build a community garden. In 1997, EPA New England's Urban Environmental Initiative gave the Knox Parks Foundation $10,000 to help turn the area into a garden and park. But a site assessment done that year and paid for with EPA Brownfields funds found contamination was beyond acceptable standards for a garden or recreation area. Plans for the community garden came to a halt. The lot had formerly been the site of a paint store, accounting for the high levels of lead contamination in the soil. When the old paint store building was leveled several years ago, debris was buried at the site, adding to contamination. Now that the site has been cleaned, the foundation's vision can move forward.

"This area can now safely be used by our residents to grow food, for recreation and to learn more about the environment," said Rev. Cornell Lewis, chairperson of the Clay Arsenal Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committee.

The team from Trinity College reported today that students reduced lead from levels in excess of 1,000 parts per million to less than half that amount. The allowable level for soil that is to be used for residential or agricultural purposes is 500 ppm. The group planted Indian mustard at the lot last summer as part of their project.

"The garden was an important demonstration because it shows that a poor neighborhood with limited resources can tackle environmental problems," said Hebe M. Guardiola-Diaz, a Trinity assistant professor of biology and neuroscience who guided the student research effort. "The project appealed to our students, who are very interested in the environment and very interested in doing something to improve the quality of life in Hartford."

The Trinity research was supported by a grant the college received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. EdenSpace, a biotechnology company in Monmouth, NJ, provided seeds and expertise for the project as part of its effort to explore marketing the process, known as phytoremediation, or the use of plants to remove pollutants from the environment or to render them harmless. EdenSpace has had some success in this country, as well as near Chernobyl in the Ukraine, using its phytoremediation methods.

Guardiola-Diaz and Trinity chemistry professor David E. Henderson independently approached college administrators for funding for very similar projects. Guardiola-Diaz was looking for ways to collaborate and help the city of Hartford. Henderson, meanwhile, was looking for a project that would allow his department to use a newly acquired piece of equipment known as an "inductively coupled plasma emissions spectrometer," which can detect trace levels of lead and other metals. The college gave the professors $37,000 to hire students and buy supplies.

Recognizing that the college is part of the community, Trinity students and professors worked closely with city and state officials to find a suitable site. They agreed on the lot off Chestnut Street for their experimental clean-up project. This site is adjacent to the House of Bread, a non-profit organization that operates a soup kitchen and temporary housing for the homeless. One harvest was completed in mid-July, the second in August.