Naked City

Springs Safe for Swimming

City officials last week gathered representatives of various state and federal agencies in one room to publicly declare that Barton Springs Pool is safe for swimming. The scientific Dream Team served another purpose as well: redeeming City Hall in the eyes of the people -- or at least those few stalwarts who watch Channel 6 on a Wednesday morning.

In either case, the 12 agencies represented did not find anything to corroborate the sensational Jan. 19 Statesman package -- "Toxic chemicals taint Barton waters" -- that turned the town on its ear and prompted City Manager Toby Futrell to close the pool for 90 days. (Final test results this week likewise pronounce Barton Springs safe; the pool is expected to reopen soon.)

"Trust is a fragile relationship between government and the people we serve," Futrell said as she opened last week's meeting. "It's difficult to achieve and easy to lose." Then she opened the floor to, as she put it, the "high-powered brain power" from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Dept. of Health, the EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, Texas A&M, and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, among others. Their overall opinion held that the pool posed no health hazard to humans, but further studies were needed to assess ecological and aquatic health in and around Barton Creek.

In that Jan. 19 issue, the Statesman theorized that hazardous chemicals found in water samples came from an (unverified) old coal-gas waste site uphill from the pool, where an apartment complex now resides. But state and federal officials have discounted the buried-waste theory and lean toward the city's suspicion that parking lot sealants are the source of the dangerous benzene-based chemicals. "It looks pretty clear that there's not a hazardous-waste site beneath the apartment complex," said Peter Van Metre of the U.S. Geological Survey. "And the theory of parking lot sealants seems quite reasonable."

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