The soil at Bridgeview Park is contaminated with chemicals including arsenic and lead, The Detroit News reported. Plantings at the park are among many across the city this year by The Greening of Detroit, which says new trees will help remove contamination.
On Monday, a dozen residents met with officials from the nonprofit to voice their frustrations, including potential health threats caused by digging, possible increases in the local rodent population and their lack of input on the project.
"This is unconscionable — against humanity," resident Emma Lockridge said. "I say you're doing this only because we're black people. You would never go into Ferndale and do this. You would never go into Southfield and do this, go into a Birmingham playground and just start digging and treating people like guinea pigs."
Greening of Detroit said new trees and plants would remove contamination, benefiting the community.
"We believe it is very important to build a strong relationship with the communities we work in to ensure they understand and are aware of the purpose of our projects," spokeswoman Trish Hubbell told The Associated Press. "We did not acquire access to the Bridgeview Park until February, and engagement was difficult over the winter months, but we understand and value input from community residents."
Greening of Detroit conducted its own soil testing in recent weeks to confirm the property is contaminated, The Detroit News reported.
"That's why we haven't used this field in 10 years — because they said it was contaminated," resident Sharon Moore said. "So if you're uprooting or whatever you're doing, it has an impact on us."
Bridgeview Park is owned by Detroit Public Schools. It was the site of Jeffries Elementary School, which was torn down in 1991. Jennifer Mrozowski, a spokeswoman for the district, said the property previously was secured with fencing to prevent trespassing.
"We have asked Greening of Detroit to resecure the fence and place a sign on the property to inform neighbors of the project," Mrozowski said.
A state Department of Environmental Quality official said the agency was unaware of contamination at Bridgeview Park but that owners are obligated to take action.
"You don't just put up a fence and say 'I'm done here,'" said Gerald Tiernan, an acting district supervisor with the DEQ. "If they know a property is contaminated, they can't just walk away."
After the school was torn down, the lot became filled with debris and waist-high grass. An effort took place to clean up the area, backed by financial contributions from Michigan Consolidated Gas and some other businesses. It opened as Bridgeview Park in 1994.