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Arsenic found in Bear River soil

Traces of arsenic were found on the site of the proposed aquatics center at Bear River High School, further complicating construction of the $6.3 million complex that includes a performing arts center.

Consultants for the district found traces of arsenic in July, during soil testing of both sites.

The new discovery is the latest in a string of setbacks for the beleaguered Bear River expansion that could delay the start of construction until at least December, staff members said.



The school board voted 3-0 Wednesday, with board members Jon Katis and Diane Correll absent, to accept contractor Aberdeen Burris’ offer to hold their bid for both projects until Dec. 31 so the district can prepare a plan to safely remove the soil from the basketball courts, where the proposed aquatics center will be located.

The plan must be approved by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.




The process includes a 30-day public comment period.

The discovery of arsenic at the basketball courts also means the district will have to test the pile of dirt excavated from the performing arts center for arsenic, as well.

That dirt already was suspected of being contaminated with lead from previous use of the site as a trap-shooting field.

Consultant Ijaz Jamall said samples taken from the area near the aquatics center contained arsenic levels as high as 520 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of soil. Those high levels, he said, are limited to a specific section of the basketball courts and buried several feet deep below the surface of the blacktop.

The dirt poses no threat to students unless it is excavated.

Board members discussed removing the soil near the basketball courts during the Thanksgiving or winter breaks. It’s a job that could take one day to complete, Jamall said.

Other sites showed levels between 230 and 380 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of soil, and there were some sites with arsenic levels at less than five milligrams per kilogram of soil, he said.

Ten milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of soil or less is acceptable, said Jamall, a former Department of Toxic Substances Control employee who now runs a Sacramento-based consulting firm.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that, when inhaled, can cause nausea or vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If inhaled in large quantities or over a prolonged period of time, exposure to arsenic can result in death.

Each construction delay is costing the district more money than it originally planned to spend on the Bear River project.

The district has already spent $130,000 from developer fees for testing and removing soil from the future performing arts and aquatics center. Aberdeen Burris’ bid for the performing arts/aquatics center also came in more than $900,000 over budget, in part because of the rising cost of steel and concrete, said Julie Hopkins, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services.

In July, the Department of Toxic Substances Control was prepared to draft a response to the district’s handling of the leaden soil. Jamal said Wednesday the state agency may handle both cases together.

It can take up to 45 days once the department receives notification of the problem before a cleanup plan can take place, said Ron Baker, a spokesman for the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Hopkins said she’ll work to secure a response from the Department of Toxic Substances Control as quickly as possible.

The Bear River project is being financed through Measure A, a $15 million bond passed by voters in 2002.

Originally, the Bear River expansion was scheduled to be finished next fall. It may not be completed until 2006, she said.

“We will be pushing as hard as we can to do that,” she said.

Alta Sierra resident Don Herrmann said persistent delays have him questioning the district’s decision to place the complex behind the high school.

The district owns a 10-acre parcel adjacent to Bear River they could have used to build the center on.

The district bought the property in 2000, and earmarked it for future expansion of the 1,100-student Bear River campus.

“Is it feasible to move the complex there?” he asked board members.

Board president Charlie Compton said the issue of relocation of the complex has not been addressed, but he said the board would be interested if more would like to discuss that possibility.


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