The city of Nashville has a big plan for an adventure play park along the river. But it also has a problem the public hasn't heard about.

The Channel 4 I-Team spent months uncovering an environmental mess at the site where families will soon play. The Adventure Park costs millions in taxpayer dollars, but it turns out the public's money is also being spent on a big cleanup project that no one has talked publicly about.

Will it be safe for families to play there?

The dirt, the I-Team found, is so contaminated with heavy metals that right now, no children would be able to play there.

"It's very serious," said John McFadden of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

The I-Team obtained years of evidence of soil contamination at the site of the play park and took its own samples.

Soil contamination reports show that the site contains traces of arsenic, lead and a contaminant called PAH that comes from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

According to one of the contaminant reports, the potential hazard from this impacted soil comes from exposure through inhalation and contact through the skin.

Arsenic has been linked to cancer, and lead can cause neurological problems in children.

According to a 2008 soil report at the site, the biggest contaminant of concern is PAH, which is thought to be another carcinogen. The report states the contaminant is not isolated to one area within the site, but is widely distributed.

It's such a problem that orange tape will be buried beneath one huge section of the park to warn future developers.

"That is a warning tape. That is to let anyone in the future that might be digging for any reason, that whatever is below that needs to be addressed with caution," said Edward Owens, waterfront redevelopment director.

"Will this site be safe enough for kids to play on?" asked I-Team chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

"Absolutely. No question about it," Owens said.

Owens is charged with cleaning up the site. He said it's unclear exactly why the site is contaminated, but this area has housed industries, such as the Nashville Bridge Company, for more than a century.

He said once the city received these reports, it immediately knew serious remediation would be needed if children and families were to one day go there.

So a massive operation has begun, removing contaminated soil and taking in clean soil to replace it.

Owen said by the time the park opens, what's left of the contaminated soil will either be covered up with clean dirt or buried deep beneath concrete walkways.

While the city did receive a grant to clean up the site to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards, it's unknown how much of the $11 million price has gone to remediating the contamination in the dirt.

"Wherever they occur throughout the site, they are deeply buried. There's no way that humans will ever come in contact with them," said Owens.

The I-Team sampled both the dirt that's being used to cover up the contaminated soil and an area that hadn't been remediated yet and had both samples analyzed professionally.

The dirt that's being used to cover up the contaminated soil came back completely safe.

The soil that came from the section of the site that hadn't yet been remediated still showed higher-than-acceptable levels of lead for residential property. But the levels of lead were acceptable for a place like a park.

Metro Councilman Mike Jameson's name is on the park's construction sign, and while he said it's unfortunate the city has had to spend taxpayer money to clean up the site, he said it will be worth it.

"I genuinely think it's going to be the safest place where you can take your kids on the riverfront," Jameson said.

The soil contamination found at the site is the result of a history of industries in Nashville setting up shop on the river.

The most recent soil sampling from the city was done April 11. The areas tested show the soil below risk levels; that's a good thing.

But there is still remediation to be completed at other areas of the park, and it's slated to open either late this summer or early fall.

Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

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