Distributed September 12, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

No significant risk to campus

Brown contacts DEM about high arsenic levels in College Green soil

Brown University has filed a report with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management describing levels of arsenic that exceed state limits in soil samples from The College Green. As the University works with the DEM to decide what remedial efforts may be appropriate, a geochemical consultant hired by Brown has reported that these concentrations of arsenic do not pose a health risk to the campus community, and that typical activities on the Green may continue.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a report delivered yesterday (Tuesday, Sept. 11) to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, environmental officers at Brown University described findings of arsenic in soil samples taken from The College Green. Although the average level exceeds state standards, health and environmental experts see no reason to take any action for public safety reasons.

“An independent consultant hired immediately by the University has determined that these levels of arsenic do not constitute a health threat or significant risk to anyone who uses the College Green or to employees who maintain it,” said Stephen Morin, Brown’s director of Environmental Health and Safety. “There is no reason for any member of the community to curtail typical activities, including lawn mowing, sitting or lying directly on the grass, even diving after a Frisbee.”

A Brown University senior discovered the arsenic levels in late August while working out methods for a study of trace metals in Rhode Island orchards and potato fields. The test samples from the Green showed a significantly high level of arsenic as well as the presence of lead. The student and Harold Ward, professor of environmental studies, contacted Brown’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, and the University, in turn, brought in GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc. to conduct more extensive testing and analysis.

“On August 28, GZA took 14 soil samples from various spots on the Green and conducted additional tests of air quality, designed to correspond to an employee operating a riding mower for six hours,” Morin said. “The soil testing by GZA basically confirmed the student’s results, while the air samples did not detect any amount of airborne arsenic or lead.”

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil in concentrations generally ranging from 1 to 40 parts per million, with significantly higher concentrations where mining operations have existed or coal has been used for fuel. Permissible levels vary widely from state to state – 30 ppm in Massachusetts, 10 ppm in Connecticut. Rhode Island’s DEM sets stringent standards of 1.7 ppm in residential settings and 3.8 ppm in commercial areas. The average level from samples on The College Green was about 24 ppm.

Concentrations of lead in soil samples from The College Green exceeded state limits but were typical of urban soil.

Studies by GZA and Brown’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety have not determined the source of the arsenic or how long it has been present in the soil. Much of the Green was resodded in the summer of 1995 when the University installed an automatic sprinkler system. However, elevated levels of arsenic were also found in areas of the Green that did not receive new sod.

“Brown notified DEM as soon as it learned about the arsenic,” Morin said. “We asked GZA to conduct further tests and prepare a site report, which we have also forwarded to DEM. What remains is for Brown and DEM to agree upon a course of action, which could range from replacing the soil to managing it in place.”

Brown has also submitted its risk assessment to the Rhode Island Department of Health and will work with the department on resolving these issues. “The Department of Health is very supportive of the approach Brown has taken with respect to the soils on the College Green,” said Dr. Robert Vanderslice, chief of the Office of Environmental Health Risk Assessment of the Department of Health. “We are also confident that Brown has ensured the safety of the students and employees and that appropriate actions will be taken if conditions change.”

“The health and well being of our students, faculty and staff is of paramount concern to Brown University,” said Laura Freid, executive vice president, public affairs and University relations. “Although we are satisfied that there is not a significant health risk, we do want the community to be aware of the situation. We are grateful to our student and his faculty advisors for alerting us to this potential problem and we commend the Office of Environmental Health and Safety for working so quickly and efficiently. We have taken and will continue to take every measure to make sure that there is no risk to our community.”