The city of Greensboro announced in April it's taking additional measures to close Bingham Park, including the installation of a fence. City leaders are now weighing options to dispose of the contaminated soil, something which community members have long advocated for.

Bingham Park Environmental Justice Project member Courtney Ullah recalls once taking a family member out to the park to show them how massive the space is. At the time she saw a group of young men riding ATVs through the area, and with unease, worried how their activity could disturb the land.

Ullah lives in Willow Oaks, one of three neighborhoods near the park.

"Because I'm very unafraid and unabashed I immediately got out my car and was like 'hey, hey,' explained who I was, and I asked them if they would go ahead and leave the park because what they're doing could be making people sick by disturbing the soil," she said. "That's just one example of how the park was being used because it's not a usable space."

Ullah says it's why she and her team were ecstatic the city took additional steps to close the area.

The park was once the location of a pre-regulatory landfill and an incinerator that burned household waste from Guilford County and the U.S. military. Arsenic, lead and iron were some of the metals found in the soil sampled on site - all of which can be toxic at high concentrations.

"When that site for that incinerator was proposed there were hundreds of Black and brown people, and predominantly women, that stood against that happening and asked for that not to be happening," Ullah said.

It's why Bingham Park is an example of an environmental justice-based issue, she said. The social movement pushes people to understand how similar situations impact the long-term health of what are often some of the most underserved neighborhoods.

"This has occurred everywhere," Ullah said. "But it's specifically occurring in poor or marginalized communities, Black and brown communities. It's defined by being harmed by hazardous waste, resource extraction and other land uses from which community members do not benefit."

Ullah said neighbors came together around 2020 to form the Bingham Park Environmental Justice Project, with the hopes of expediting a remediation plan after long advocating for change. Now, residents are working alongside city officials after years of mistrust.

"A lot of that stems from trauma, the trauma of feeling overlooked and unseen," Ullah said. "And so now, I think community members knowing that they have other community members to help represent them in this cause has helped to shed more light."

She said the most important of this effort is that city leaders and neighbors agree a full remediation is needed. It involves removing the contaminated soil and moving it to an agreed-upon landfill. Ullah said she believes the effort is something that could inspire similar projects across the state.

"It's really truly righting the wrong as opposed to like a cap and cover, which is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, and it doesn't truly fix what was done," she said. "It doesn't truly create that justice and that right for the wrong that was done. But the full remediation will allow for that, and that will really pave the way for other processes like this, which we have hundreds, if not thousands of pre-regulatory landfill sites just in North Carolina."

Ullah said neighbors would like to see the park be restored to a space where children could play, including possibly a new basketball or tennis court, or even establish a walking trail. Once re-opened it could also serve as a reminder of what should never occur again.

"We can't just leave things where they are in any of these pre-regulatory landfill sites or anywhere else where any type of environmental hazard is present," Ullah said. "We have to do what it takes to remediate these spaces."

Ullah said she hopes her children will one day be able to experience Bingham Park, and that it will remain a space for families for generations to come.

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