Health officials on Thursday began testing the blood-lead levels of hundreds of children who live and play along the contaminated Bingham Creek.
A number of blood tests already administered by private physicians generally revealed lead levels within a normal or low borderline range, according to Dr. David J. Thurman, state medical epidemiologist.That good news is offset by fears that toddlers - who have a tendency to put dirty fingers and toys in their mouths - may have ingested possibly harmful amounts of lead from the dry creek bed and surrounding areas in the rapidly growing towns of West Jordan and South Jordan.
State environmental health investigators have detected lead levels approaching 30,500 parts per million in some Bingham Creek soil samples, which is 30,000 ppm higher than the Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable for such accessible sites.
West Jordan City Manager John Hiskey said subsequent soil samples taken from a site a short distance from the creek in the city park tested within acceptable levels, indicating that the danger zone may be relatively narrow.
"We hope that's true all along the creek," said Hiskey.
His counterpart in South Jordan, City Manager Richard Warne, said the communities are striving to develop information upon which to base remedial policies. Continued soil analysis and the blood testing is vital to that effort, he said.
Thursday, public health officials planned to administer blood tests in South Jordan from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Welby Elementary School, 4130 W. 9580 South. Tests will be administered Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at West Jordan City Hall, 1850 W. 7800 South.
Thurman said the test consists of a simple blood draw. The sample will then be analyzed at a state laboratory, with investigators looking for blood-levels that exceed 10-15 micrograms per deciliter, which is considered a mild level of excessive exposure.
If a child is found to have a blood-lead level in the low borderline range, probably the only remedial step necessary would be to keep the child away from the source of exposure, Thurman said.
It is "very, very unlikely" that anyone will require the available medical therapy for excessive lead levels in the blood, Thurman added, because at the level such therapy is warranted, acute illness has already appeared. And no one yet has exhibited that illness.
"There is no reason for alarm, but with the environmental levels found (at Bingham Creek), we do have to be concerned," Thurman said.
One limitation of the blood test is that it is useful only as an indicator of relatively recent lead exposure, Thurman said. "It is not as useful for detecting exposure that may have occurred months or years ago."
Still, a borderline or high level would probably trigger additional tests to determine the degree of the health threat.
"Recent research suggests that what we used to consider a safe level - up to 25 micrograms per deciliter - is not entirely safe. It is only in the past few years that we have recognized that levels as low as 10 to 15 may be harmful," Thurman said.
The primary medical concern is that lead exposure could affect the neurodevelopment of children, causing learning disabilities.
Thurman said high levels of lead in the blood also pose a fetal health risk, and he suggested that pregnant women who have been exposed to lead should also be tested.
Some lead is expected in almost any blood sample because lead is so pervasive in an urban environment, Thurman said, pointing to lead in paints, gasoline, plumbing and from industrial sources.
In the case of Bingham Creek, investigators suspect the lead, arsenic and other toxic materials came from mining operations and tailings ponds upstream in the Oquirrh Mountains.
Warne said South Jordan has mailed notices to 687 households west of 3600 West alerting residents to the risk and advising them on how to minimize the danger.
People are being told to:
-Keep children away from Bingham Creek.
-Wash hands thoroughly before eating or handling food.
-Wash all garden-grown fruits and vegetables.
-Wash children's toys when they become dusty or dirty.
-Avoid letting dust accumulate in the house.
-Keep windows and doors closed on windy days.