Although two sports fields at the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center will remain closed because of lead concerns, the city of St. Paul reopened a playground at the popular rec center Monday because tests showed levels of the contaminant weren't worrisome.

Officials held a public meeting Monday night at the Oxford Community Center/Jimmy Lee Recreation Center to talk about the situation. The rec center is south of Interstate Hwy. 94 and east of Lexington Parkway.

The city closed 6 acres of sports fields and the playground in March when tests from the lower field turned up unhealthy levels of various contaminants, with lead being the biggest concern.

The state Department of Health is still testing the fields. Results and a plan to fix the contamination are expected in a month or so.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is guiding the city on how to proceed.

The maximum amount of lead acceptable in soil used for recreation is 300 parts per million. Tests found 10 locations in the field with amounts greater than that. Two samples showed amounts of 3,300 parts per million and 2,800 parts per million within 2 feet of the top -- the depth officials are most concerned about.

Limited testing of the surface hasn't shown high lead levels yet, officials said Monday.

The city had the playground tested as a precaution. Results showed that "exposure to the sand and surface soil in the playground will not harm people's health," according to a letter from the state Health Department. However, if the city wants to renovate the play area in the future, it will need to put down 2 feet of new soil.

Heavy lead exposure in young children can cause brain damage and interfere with the nervous system.

The contaminants were found as the city prepared to install a synthetic field, which is the final phase of the $15 million renovation of the rec center site.

CHRIS HAVENS