Surfrider’s mission does not just encompass keeping our waterways clean, but also advocating for environmental justice in the communities we reside in. Back in our chapter meetings of June and July 2020 we focused on the topic of environmental injustice in DC. As an introduction, we shared with our members a useful map for visually understanding the locations of sites such as landfills, power plants, and sewage treatment centers as well as the demographics of people who live and do not live around these sites.

We went into more detail specifically about Kenilworth Park, an area of about 130 acres located right on the border of the Anacostia River. For almost 30 years, this tract of land located in DC’s 7th ward was an open-burn landfill site. The harmful smoke it produced would make its way to the communities that surrounded it, a population mainly made up of BIPOC. The injustice reached a tipping point in the late 1960s, when a young boy named Kelvin Tyrone Mock died after accidently getting trapped in its flames when playing with his friends nearby. After this tragic incident D.C.’s mayor at the time ordered the burning to stop, however dumping continued to be a problem even as recently as the late 1990s. To learn more about this storied site please see the following resources: Part 5 of ESRI’s Story Map on the Anacostia River, this amazing article written by Will Lennon, and the slides to our July 2020 Chapter Meeting. 

Shortly after burning was halted, a cap of soil was placed on top of the estimated 4 million tons of raw refuse, incinerator ash, and other burned residue located at the site. Athletic fields currently occupy the northern part of the park while the southern part remains undeveloped. Due to the hazardous nature of what the site was before, it is now classified as a  superfund site and as such has been under review process outlined in CERCLA. This review process has been lengthy, having started in 1998, but will very soon reach a decision point into what will be the future of this park. In October of 2020, the NPS released a Feasibility Addendum Report, with updated environmental data and an outline of 5 proposed clean-up solutions for the park. The NPS will select one of the 5 proposed solutions and create a Proposed Plan for the site which will be opened to public comment after its release. The NPS will host a virtual public meeting in November to explain the Proposed Plan. However, please keep in mind that in 2017, NPS released the Anacostia Park Management Plan, in which the future uses of certain areas of Kenilworth Park were decided on. The determined uses were natural resource recreation, organized sport and recreation, and community activities and special events zones. These designations guided how the exposure levels scenarios were modeled and evaluated in the Feasibility Addendum Report. 

The report’s findings concluded that exposure to contaminants in surface soils posed an unacceptable excess lifetime cancer risk (above one in one million) to park visitors, primarily due to arsenic, dieldrin, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) Aroclors, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); and that lead exceeded the screening level in select locations in subsurface soil, posing an unacceptable hazard to site workers. Furthermore, there is an unacceptable risk to excavation workers associated with potential for exposure to contaminants in buried waste, methane gas, and the possible presence of buried unexploded ordnance.

Very detailed write-ups of each solution start on page 18 of the report, but to summarize the options presented were:

  1. No Action
  2. Limited Action/Institutional Controls
  3. Containment/Selective Placement of Clean Soil Barriers & Institutional Controls
  4. Containment/Site-wide Clean Soil Barrier & Institutional Controls
  5. Removal/Landfill Removal & Shoreline Stabilization

In the report, evaluations of each solution were documented. Due to the contaminants found in the soil, solutions 1 and 2 cannot be selected since they do not comply with non-impairment standards established in national law and the standards that will need to be met to establish the determined future uses of the park as outlined in the  Anacostia Park General Management Plan and Environmental Assessment. Solutions 4 and 5, though effective in mitigating the exposure to chemicals at the site, would temporarily destroy existing habitat within Kenilworth Park South that is highly valued by NPS and the community. Also, it is also foreseen that receiving funding for these projects will be difficult. 

Notifications of the progress on this site can be found on the park’s website. Surfrider DC is eager to review the soon to be released proposed plan. The Anacostia River is a treasured part of the DC ecosystem and it is important to be aware of the current and historical issues surrounding it.  We always encourage our members to participate in citizen discourse on the future of natural areas in our communities.