What follows is a question-and-answer session with Mike Martin regarding the recent discoveries of arsenic in the soil at the Matanzas Woods golf course, which closed in 2007. Martin is helping lead an effort to stop planned development on the field until more research can be done into the problem. He agreed to an interview ahead of Wednesday’s planning and zoning meeting at Palm Coast City Hall, in which he will use the public comment area to speak out on the matter. In addition to his community activism, Martin was elected to the East Flagler Mosquito Control Board in 2020. The meeting will be held on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Palm Coast Town Hall.
Chris Gollon: So first of all, what, in summary, what’s going on with the arsenic in Matanzas Woods?
Mike Martin: âOkay, they found arsenic on the old golf course. The established residential level is actually 2.1. That’s milligrams per kilogram, which is a mouthful to say, let’s just say it’s 2.1. Well, they found out that they had done 100 test wells just on the driving range, they found that 27 of those wells contained arsenic that was above the permitted safe residential level. So 27% of the pits show a higher level. The only problem is that the tests themselves, the test parameters were set by the developer, not by city staff, or and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was not involved in this.
âSo the tests were only done down to a two-foot level. And according to several conversations I’ve had with people who work for DDP, including Mr. Brian Durden who is DEP’s Northeast Regional Director, the standards are that you have to test down to the water table. . You cannot stop two feet away. Because we don’t know how far arsenic can go. I actually have a report from an environmental company from a golf course in Buffalo, New York, the Westwood Country Club that showed arsenic did not find arsenic up to two feet deep. , and they actually found arsenic as deep as three and a half feet. The soil analysis carried out is therefore incomplete. They haven’t tested anywhere below two feet, you can’t, you know, the planning board, and the city can’t approve things based on incomplete soil testing because their own planning rules and development, their own land use code says that the tests have to be exclusive to show that the area is safe, safe for environmental factors.
âAnd the test is also incomplete because they did not do any testing to patrol the distillates. The areas around the still existing warehouse may well be contaminated either by chemicals from the use of pesticides or herbicides or from gasoline storage tanks. Because several people who have played on the golf course have told me that they use gasoline golf carts, that means they have gasoline storage on site because they weren’t going to charge. Golf carts on vans and drive them to the local gas station.
âSo the developer has to develop tests wherever the golf course has been stored where the old one and as far as I know there may still be underground gas tanks. Testing should be done to show that there is no contamination from petroleum distillates, as it could be as dangerous as arsenic. And the planning board is planning what they call the sitemap tomorrow. Based on incomplete testing, incomplete evidence, we have no idea if the actual level is worse than any place on the golf course except the driving range.
“And I can tell you that I spoke with a gentleman who is now retired from DEP Mr. Craig Park, who told me that it was very surprising for him to find no arsenic contamination. only on the driving range, because the driving range is an area where they use the least chemicals, no one plays ball outside the driving range. He said they generally find the highest levels of arsenic contamination on tees, fairways and greens, not on driving ranges. So he said he would be very suspicious. So what we’re going to do, we’re going to ask the planning board to either reject this request for incomplete soil tests, as they don’t have the information to approve this. Or to file this and get the Florida Department of Environmental Protection involved right now, make sure all soil tests are done, meet EPA standards down to the water table and they sample actually the water table.
âThere are eight unclogged wells on the golf course property. We do not know whether these wells contaminated the groundwater of the golf course or not. But the City of Palm Coast and the members of the Planning Council owe it to us to ensure that before approving any type of site plan or any type of development, they do everything possible to ensure that it is developer does not cause any damage to any of the existing neighbors or any of the new owners who will be purchasing properties on the development, they owe it to us to make sure it is safe. Their responsibility is not to ensure that the developer makes maximum profit. It’s to make sure that the development does no harm to those of us who are already living here and those of us who will be living here, okay. “
How does arsenic end up in the soil and what are the risks associated with its presence in residential areas?
âWell, arsenic was in chemicals used on golf courses until the EPA banned in 2009. Now the golf course closed in 2007. So it’s entirely possible as the chemicals they use contain arsenic because they were legal at the time, there was also naturally arsenic present. And this is happening here in Florida, we cannot say for sure that the arsenic they found in the test they did was a result of chemical contamination, it could be arsenic from ‘natural origin. But arsenic is a heavy metal, it takes hundreds of years to break down. It’s a very, very stable compound. And if you expose yourself to arsenic in the air, it causes a lot of health problems. Now the arsenic in the soil is good, as long as it is not stirred.
âThere is no problem with the practice as it is now, because the arsenic is contained between a meter and a half and two feet from the preliminary test they did. If you don’t bother him, it’s okay. But they’ll dig because that’s where they build, they have to dig more than two feet to put the infrastructure, water, sewer, they can bury power lines, I don’t know what the plans are for that. But sure, they’re going to dig deeper than two feet, to put the infrastructure in place. And it’s going to disrupt the arsenic if it’s left untreated, and it can make it take off.
“And anyone who lives close enough to where the wind can carry them can inhale that arsenic.” And if that causes you all kinds of medical trouble, it makes you really sick. And if you don’t know that could be arsenic poisoning, you know, you’re not going to adopt and say I need you to test me for arsenic. Because it’s not something everyone thinks about.
Are people living near the area already threatened by what is in the ground at this point, or is it just a potential issue with the developer?
âI am not an expert. But I think that’s just a potential problem. The only problem I see it could cause now would be if the arsenic has contaminated the groundwater. And you have you for example, I have a well for my sprinkler system. If arsenic contaminates the water table in my well water, it is contaminated. It covers my grass. I don’t eat weed, but my dog ââdoes. So if my dog ââwent out and ate grass and it was contaminated with arsenic, it might make him sick. And again, and you’d be wondering what to look for, because who thinks your dog has ingested arsenic?
âBut I’m not sure that’s a realistic problem. It all depends on the contamination of groundwater and its degree of contamination. To be fair, the arsenic levels they’ve discovered now aren’t that bad. These aren’t the worst that anyone has seen in this sort of business, but they’re still three times higher than normal levels for residential arsenic. And that’s important anytime you’re three times the security level. This is something everyone should be concerned about.
AskFlagler thanks Mike Martin for sitting down for an interview.