St. Paul has closed all of the sports fields at a popular recreation center because of contaminants found in the soil.

Portions of the lower fields at the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center have unhealthy levels of lead, arsenic, mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, according to soil test results. Lead is the greatest concern at this point, although officials don't know the full extent of the pollution. A fence was to be put up on the perimeter of the 6-acre space Friday.

"It's clear we need to limit access," said Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm. He wouldn't speculate as to what might happen in the future, saying test results will determine the next steps.

Officials estimate about 25,000 people use the fields for baseball, football and soccer each year. Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and Twins All-Star Joe Mauer played there as youngsters.

A playground south of the fields also will be closed for testing, although there hasn't been any indication of contamination there. The adjacent community center building will not be closed.

Officials said there's no need for alarm. "Let's wait until we finish testing and, if you're still concerned, bring your kid in for a blood-lead level test," said Rob Fulton, director of the St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health.

The maximum amount of lead acceptable in soil used for recreation is 300 parts per million. Tests found 10 locations 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.

The state Department of Health will test the top of the field for lead soon.

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

The fields border the south side of Concordia Avenue, east of Lexington Parkway and just off Interstate 94.

The ground was first tested in late August 2009 to see how water would drain under a synthetic field. Crews noticed that there was ash, brick and clinker, which indicated that fill had previously been used. It's unclear whether there had ever been a dump there.

More tests were done over the winter and in mid-February, the city notified the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

A report came back March 11 outlining the high lead levels, and the city decided to close the fields.

St. Paul is participating in the MPCA's Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup program. That means the city is paying the MPCA for guidance and monitoring in an effort to fix the contamination and continue with plans to redo the fields.

Renovating the sports fields -- one area synthetic and one natural grass -- is the final phase of a $15 million project to expand the site. The community center -- with four gyms and the city's only indoor water park -- opened in 2008.

A meeting to update the public will be held at 6 p.m. April 19 at the center.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148