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ONME Local Fresno Special Report: Maxie Parks Center is clear to reopen Sept. 1; many are concerned

Southwest Fresno residents and local community advocates are worried about the health risks of the community center shut down last year due to contamination concerns by state agencies

By ONME Newswire

In this It's ONME Local Fresno Special Report: Maxie Parks Center is clear to reopen Sept. 1; community not convinced it is safe to open, producer host, Julia Dudley Najieb reviews excerpts of Tuesday night's (Aug. 10) 90-minute Councilman Miguel Arias District 3's meeting with local Southwest Fresno residents and community advocates concerning the potential health hazards of the facility--all is clear, according to District 3 Councilman Arias' office, city officials and a contracted toxicologist. But community health advocates and residents are not quite convinced for several reasons.


Download or see Maxie Parks Summary from District 3 Councilman Arias' office:

Download PDF • 148KB

On Tuesday, August 10, District 3 Councilman Miguel Arias held a community meeting to address a summary of conclusions concerning the initial premise of the the Maxie Parks Center being contaminated due to a potential chlorinated solvents discovered at the site location. In 2019, the State Water Board requested that the city of Fresno do further testing once they found a potential contamination in the groundwater, possibly from a previous dry-cleaning business.

The city of Fresno shut down the center during the COVID-19 pandemic to take advantage of the opportunity for two rounds of extensive testing. They have confirmed there is no mitigation required at the point concerning the safety of attending the Maxie Parks Center. The solvent has not impacted the surrounding ground water, nor has it impacted the community center facility, said Councilman Arias during the community meeting. Thus the facility set move-in date is September 1, 2021.

The third-round of testing will make sure that the solvent has not affected the sub-surface soils outside the Maxie Park Community Center--this third round will be completed by the end of 2021.

As there were still concerns about the chemical benzene present in the air, possibly related to a Stoddard solvent, testing was broad-based, with an extensive air test taken inside the community center, according to the city of Fresno, hired toxicologist, Dr. Scott Dwyer. Dwyer and city of Fresno externally hired attorney, Jim Betts, said the, Stoddard solvent, which (also known as white spirit or mineral spirits,) is a petroleum-derived clear liquid used as a common organic solvent in painting, is not at toxic levels.

"We've done two rounds of indoor air sampling, as well as sub-surface sampling," said toxicologist, Dwyer, who continued "and based on those two investigations we find no evidence that anything under the building is migrating into the building, said Dwyer.

"Actually the data shows that anything we found indoors is most likely either coming from outdoors or based on chemicals or building materials that are used or are a part of the building."

The Stoddard solvent is also known as mineral turpentine, turpentine substitute, and petroleum spirits, is a petroleum-derived clear liquid used as a common organic solvent in painting. Stoddard solvent is a specific mixture of hydrocarbons, typically over 65% C10 or higher hydrocarbons, developed in 1924 by Atlanta dry cleaner W. J. Stoddard and Lloyd E. Jackson of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research as a less flammable petroleum-based dry cleaning solvent than the petroleum solvents then in use

Attorney Betts confirmed that through all the extensive testing, the community center is not a release point for chlorinated solvents, which was there biggest concern. The city of Fresno and the State Water Board were very concerned that perhaps the contamination was coming from a monitoring well at the Valley Gas station on the corner near the center. This was the former location of the Imperial Cleaners. (However a community listening on the Zoom call identify another dry cleaning business prior to that one.)

The community center is located in Southwest Fresno at 1802 E California Ave, Fresno, CA 93706; it was acquired by the city of Fresno in 2009 from the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission who worked with the Local Conservation to construct the center.

However prior to this purchase, a dry cleaning business operated on that very same location in the 1950s and 1960s--Imperial Cleaners. Since 2014, the nonprofit, West Fresno Regional Board, had been operating the facility under the leadership of executive director, Yolanda Randles.

Although experts found that the non-chlorinated solvent levels that were found did not pose a serious health hazard, the benzene originally found during testing was due to the outside air quality, confirmed Dwyer.

However, community health advocate, Dr. Venise Curry, was clear that the groundwater had been tested in the area, but she was more concerned about the air quality in and around the facility; these odorless gases can cause terminal illness, affect people with asthma and allergies, as well as other health issues after longtime exposure to these hard-to-detect chemicals.

"Earlier documents, it seemed, suggested there were volatile organic compounds," said Dr. Curry. "Specifically, benzene, a known carcinogen, leaking into parts of the gym. What has been done to address the air quality?

Benzene is a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable. Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas. Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water. It can lead to unconsciousness. It can shrink ovaries, cause irregular menstruation and even pass through blood from a mother to her fetus.

Exposure for as few as five minutes to high levels of benzene — between 10,000 parts per million and 20,000 parts per million — can kill you, according to One Breath Partnership. Benzene is one of the most common chemicals in the U.S; it’s also one of the most toxic chemicals in the U.S., discovered at more than 1,000 of the 1,684 national priority sites designated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Three independent agencies — the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the EPA — have determined that benzene causes cancer, usually leukemia and aplastic anemia.

Attorney Betts said that a large part of the levels initially found of benzene inside of the facility air is because of the outside air is where the chemical was. The documentation is in a March 2021 Report that was released the night of the meeting (Aug. 10) which stated the possible external sources of the chemical.

"We did have a level of comfort associated with the forensic analysis that the air quality inside the center was safe for adults, employees and children," said Betts.

The city of Fresno would rather the community center be open as soon as possible to prevent further vandalism and from the homeless from believing the building is vacant; during its closure, several outside windows were busted out of the center, there was significant garbage throughout the property and graffiti.

Councilman Arias also said that a new air conditioning unit to upgrade from the current evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) that was installed in the gym when the building was first built, will be replaced; this and other improvements will be fully funded by the city of Fresno, as a part of the passed budget. The upgrades in the budget also include removal of carpet from the offices, replacing the with tile; repainting of the community center, and replacement of stained ceiling tiles.

Director Randles also addressed the foul smell coming from the the community center's boys' and girls' locker-room toilets for years; since 2014 when asking for assistance to deal with bad smell, Randles was given direction from city of Fresno officials telling her to pour bleach down the toilets to get rid of the smell--this was the first time Councilman Arias ever heard about the issue concerning the bad smell in the bathrooms, along with the frivolous advice of pouring bleach down the toilets; this was advice given when he was not in office serving in the district 3 seat. Randles said they have been doing this for years, 2-3 times per week. Councilman Arias said he will follow up on this issue before the opening in September.


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