Two South Florida cities are taking steps to ensure the land they hope to turn into golfing destinations is safe for people to use.
The remnants of arsenic-containing herbicides, which years ago were used to control weeds at golf courses, typically must be removed for safety.
Tamarac says it will soon be applying for environmental permits to remove arsenic found at the 262-acre Colony West Golf Course.
The city has paid more than $4 million to buy the course and make upgrades, such as adding new air-conditioning units. But before a hotel opens on the grounds next year, helping complete redevelopment plans, the city first must rid the land of arsenic.
Similarly dealing with contamination concerns is Boca Raton, which plans to test the soil at the now-closed Ocean Breeze Golf Course.
The state in 2010 found high arsenic levels there, and the city’s beach and parks district decided Monday to proceed with soil tests as part of plans to buy and reopen the course.
Arsenic is an odorless, tasteless contaminant that has been linked to a number of cancers, including of the bladder, lungs, skin and kidney, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But officials in Tamarac and Boca each have said the arsenic at the golf courses poses no danger to residents.
Through the years, arsenic has been found at more than a dozen South Florida golf courses, the result of a variety of herbicides and pesticides being used over time.
“Over the years and years of applying these materials, there is a buildup in arsenic,” said Jeff Halsey, Broward’s director for the Environmental and Consumer Protection Division. “This problem has popped up over the years. People definitely get concerned [but]the levels are often very low.”
As part of Tamarac’s plans to spruce up Colony West golf course, it recently agreed to spend an extra $7.4 million for a new golf clubhouse. A Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott is expected to be built near the greens by next year.
Colony West was treated with arsenic-containing herbicides since the 1970s. A 2011 study showed there was arsenic detected in eight locations that exceeded the criteria for commercial and residential use, records show. Testing showed arsenic in both the soil and groundwater.
“When the city bought Colony West, we knew there were potential issues with arsenic, as that’s pretty typical of golf courses from that era,” said city spokeswoman Elise Boston. “None of it there is at a dangerous level.”
The use of MSMA, a popular weed killer containing arsenic, was discontinued from use at Colony West about 2010, records show. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, MSMA no longer can be used at any Florida golf course.
There is no estimate yet on what the decontamination will cost Tamarac taxpayers.
“We’re waiting for the engineer’s sketches and … calculations,” Boston said.
Jon McMillian, the spokesman for AD1 Global, the company developing the Marriott hotel as a franchise, said the arsenic will not cancel plans for the hotel. Closing on the land should be within the next two weeks, and hotel construction is expected to begin later this year.
“The public should know that all golf courses contain arsenic and other contaminants in various amounts,” McMillian said. “And there are best practices … to deal with it.”
Clean soil — or asphalt to create a parking lot — can be capped over contaminated soil, or soil can be taken off site to fix the problem, officials said.
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District wants to buy the Ocean Breeze Golf Club for $24 million and spend millions more in course renovations.
The site could possibly have a rebuilt hotel, new pro shop and golf education center, but would likely be built on a part of the course that was not subjected to the herbicides.
In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection said high concentrations of arsenic were found in the groundwater and soil on the southern portion of the golf course. The levels at the time prompted concern from neighbors despite state officials ruling that there was no immediate public health threat.
Arthur Koski, executive director for Boca’s parks district, said because Ocean Breeze has been out of commission for a year, the levels have likely changed due to rains and a lack of maintenance. But it will not be apparent by how much until tests are completed.
“You don’t want to build on it, but you can put sod on it and use it as a golf course,” Koski told the park district’s board members Monday. “As a fairway, that is not something that is going to present you with a problem that is insurmountable.”
Lennar Homes, the company selling the course to Boca’s parks district, could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
An upcoming land survey also will help decide any upcoming renovations for Ocean Breeze, which district officials previously estimated at more than $9 million, on top of any costs to remove arsenic from the soil if needed.