In September 2002, Berkeley, California’s public, free, and cement skatepark opened up to the public, but not without some controversy. In November 2000, while the park was in its development stages, a carcinogenic toxin, hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI), was discovered at the Fifth and Harrison site in the liberal municipality. After a cleanup with a hefty price tag (total budget jumped from 380,000 dollars to 821,000 dollars), the park’s construction continued.

Even though the park had only been open for a mere four months, the city of Berkeley had to close the gates on December 27, 2002 for an undisclosed amount of time because contaminated water began seeping into the bowls.

What’s the big deal? It’s just a little water. Well, hexavalent chromium is on Proposition 65′s list of known chemicals to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (oehha.ca.gov/prop65), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, osha.gov) has set guidelines for a permissible level of toxicity at 100 parts per billion as a ceiling concentration or 100 parts per billion as an eight-hour time-weighted average. What? It means you shouldn’t be subjected to a room with the chemical in the air or exposed to the chemical for an extended period of time at an outdoor site.

According to a news story in the Saturday, January 4, 2003 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle (“Berkeley Skateboarding Park Closes Because Of Pollutant”) the level of toxicity of the water seeping into the bowls found at the Berkeley site measured 120 parts per billion in one bowl and 320 parts per billion in another bowl.

Does that make it dangerous to skate at the park? No one knows for sure. That’s why the park is temporarily closed until a solid answer can be found.