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A citizen expressed concern about her son's cancer and a perceived cancer cluster among his friends. The citizen was concerned about "Dumpers Field" where her son used to play. The recreational use of Dumper's Field, also known as the Ellen Play Field, would not result in exposure to environmental contamination. The Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, Bureau of Public Health (BPH), visited the playground, spoke to the citizen about her concerns, contacted the City of Milwaukee Health Department, and reviewed the available information in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources's (DNR) regional office files.


The playground is located in the southeastern part of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at 1829 East Fernwood. A major road construction project is underway along the western border of the playground in a former railroad right of way. The neighborhood on the other three sides of the playground is residential.

The concerned citizen told BPH that her son played in the playground between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s. She indicated that he and his friend used the playground primarily for playing football and would have had considerable contact with anything at the surface. After BPH visited the playground and discussed the location with the citizen, we determined that the playground she was calling "Dumpers Field" is called "Ellen Play Field" on the City signs. She also indicated that her son had not mentioned noticing any waste materials coming through the soil and grass.

Jim Igowski, with the City of Milwaukee Health Department, reported the site was previously used for dumping ash, bricks, and bottles. The city decided that the lot wasn't suitable for development because of potential waste settling problems. The property was covered with a very thin layer of soil sometime in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, children playing on the property were getting cuts from the glass that was beginning to come up through the soil. The city then added one foot of clean soil at that time and seeded with grass. Improvements have been made in equipment and facilities over the years; however, there has not been significant excavation into the fill.

Mr. Tom Abraham, Recreational Facilities Director for Milwaukee, said that the city does not use herbicides on these facilities and has not since he has been an employee (since the early 1960s).

During the planning process of the roadway, the Department of Transportation conducted some limited investigation at several locations along the corridor. In 1990, two soil borings were taken on the property to get a waste profile. Fill material was encountered at 2 feet in one boring and at 7 feet in the second boring. The cover material above the fill is a silt and clayey silt. The fill material consisted of ash, cinders, fine to coarse sand, glass, and brick fragments. This description is typical of incinerator ash, foundry sand, and demolition wastes. Samples from those borings were analyzed for heavy metals, total petroleum hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compound (VOCs). Heavy metals were detected at elevated levels in one of the samples. Those metals were below the screening criteria for hazardous wastes. Also, one of the samples contained 51 parts per million (ppm) total petroleum hydrocarbons, as diesel fuel, at 3-4 feet. No VOCs were detected in any of the samples.


The available information on the playground suggests that no waste material is near the surface. This condition has existed since the park was covered with soil in the 1960s. In order for citizen's son to be exposed to chemical contamination at the Ellen Play Field, the contamination would have to have been at the surface during the 1980s and 1990s. The chemical contaminants associated with this type of waste are not expected to be mobile in the environment. The soil cover that is vegetated and well maintained provides a protective barrier against exposure to non-mobile chemicals in the subsurface. The exceptions would be when excavation occurred and when erosion events occurred. Exposures that may have occurred at those times were limited in duration. Because pesticides have not been used on the playground, no exposures to those chemicals have occurred.


Some metals and fuel oil are beneath the property, but not where people can come into contact with the contamination.

No contamination was present at the surface, thereby resulting in exposure, during the period when the concerned citizen's son used the playground.

Use of the playground does not pose a public health hazard.


No additional evaluation of the Ellen Play Field is recommended.


Chuck Warzecha
Bureau of Public Health
Division of Health


This Dumpers Field/Ellen Play Field Public Health Consultation was prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services under a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). It is in accordance with approved methodology and procedures existing at the time the public health assessment was begun.

Gail Godfrey,
Technical Project Officer. SPS, SSAB, DHAC

The Division of Health Assessment and Consultation, ATSDR, has reviewed this public health consultation and concurs with the findings.

Lisa C. Haynes,

Table of Contents The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30341
Contact CDC: 800-232-4636 / TTY: 888-232-6348

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