**FILE** A playground at Parkview Recreation Center used by Bruce-Monroe Elementary School has closed after a routine test found lead levels higher than federal standards allow. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** A playground at Parkview Recreation Center used by Bruce-Monroe Elementary School has closed after a routine test found lead levels higher than federal standards allow. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

February was a busy month for environmental news, nationally and locally. In Ohio, a train carrying toxic chemicals– including the flammable vinyl chloride– derailed outside the village of East Palestine on Feb. 3, forcing an evacuation and causing concern about air and water quality. Here at home, D.C. saw the warmest day on record for Feb. 23, at 81 degrees; two days later, it was snowing. 

Over the last three decades, the District’s average annual temperature has risen 1.1 degrees, and climate change will continue to make our city’s notoriously-fickle weather even more unpredictable. 

Get caught up quick with three more environmental stories making headlines in D.C. recently.

Playground Problems: High Lead Levels Force Closure of Playground in Park View

A D.C. rec center closed a playground used by Bruce-Monroe Elementary School after a routine test found lead levels higher than federal standards allow, WUSA9 reported Feb. 16. It’s not an isolated incident: in 2019, after outside testing raised the alarm about lead at Janney Elementary’s playground, the District identified 18 playgrounds with “actionable” levels of lead. 

The city said it will power-wash the playground at Parkview Rec Center to get rid of the contamination. The Department of General Services has repeatedly said that the lead issues at District playgrounds comes from “the surrounding environment.” Contaminated soil from outside the playground can easily get stuck and accumulate in any cracks or holes in the rubber mats used in many play areas, according to an independent study commissioned by DGS in 2020. 

But testing by a group called the Ecology Center in 2019 found high levels of lead inside the actual material of the rubber mats in samples from Janney Elementary in Northwest. That material, which is often called crumb rubber or “poured-in-place” rubber, has raised concerns over the years in the District and across the country for issues with lead and other toxic chemicals

Taking Out the Trash: D.C. Announces Curbside Compost Pilot Program

The District plans to launch a pilot program this summer to collect food waste the same way it does regular trash and recycling pickup, DCist reported Feb. 17. The curbside composting program will open up to 1,500 homes in each ward. Only households already served by the Department of Public Works’ trash services — which includes single-family homes or apartments in buildings with three or fewer units — will be eligible. 

When buried in a landfill with other trash, food scraps and organic waste release high amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. Composting helps divert that waste, reducing emissions and preventing landfill overflows at the same time. 

Currently, D.C. residents can bring their food scraps to 10 designated dropoff spots at farmers’ markets. Each Ward has at least one drop-off site, though not all of them are open year-round.

A number of nearby jurisdictions have already adopted curbside composting programs, including Prince George’s County, which recently began the practice countywide after a multi-year pilot phase. 

Cash for Cleanups: Federal Money for Environmental Concerns Keeps Flowing

The Environmental Protection Agency announced $2 billion of funding last month to help states address “emerging contaminants,” or potentially harmful but understudied chemicals. The money will go towards grants for projects dealing with drinking water contamination in small or disadvantaged communities. 

Importantly, emerging contaminants include perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. These substances have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because of how long they stay in the environment without breaking down. Researchers have linked PFAS exposure to a wide range of potential health harms, including increased risks for certain cancers, immune dysfunction, liver damage and high cholesterol. Tons of products, from school uniforms to cookware to food packages, use PFAS for their water-resistant and nonstick properties. 

Maryland has particularly widespread PFAS contamination in its waterways, according to an October study by the Waterkeeper Alliance. That study sampled water in 34 states and D.C., and Maryland scored highest for the number of PFAS detections. In its recently announced grant funding, the EPA allocated $18.9 million for Maryland. The District received that same amount, and Virginia got $27.2 million.

Readers: The Informer has some exciting plans for our environmental coverage this spring — and we want to hear from you! Would you read an environmental roundup newsletter, similar to this one, delivered to your inbox monthly? Let us know at kbenjamin@washingtoninformer.com.

Kayla Benjamin

Covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine writing stories...

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