Environmental scientists from the Utah Department of Health went door-to-door Friday warning residents of Glenmore Village subdivision to keep their children out of Bingham Creek because of extremely high lead concentrations that could be hazardous.

Health officials said the discovery is the highest level of lead contamination ever found in Utah."We're mainly sticking these (fliers) on the front doors or porches, so we can cover as many houses as we can in the short time that we have," said Brent Everett, one of the scientists.

Michael Storck, the other expert, said people have reacted to the news positively. "They just want to know some of the facts," he said.

The news is in the fact sheet: "Studies conducted by the state of Utah have shown that soils in some areas along and in the Bingham Creek channel in West Jordan and South Jordan contain lead and arsenic in concentrations that could pose a threat to human health."

The state's Environmental Response and Remediation Bureau sampled the creek bed in August. The data were verified on Wednesday.

The samples showed extremely high lead concentrations in the creek bed. The peak found so far is 30,500 parts per million parts of soil.

That is nearly eight times the highest level of lead found in a vacant lot off-site near the Sharon Steel Smelter in Midvale, one of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund cleanup priority areas. The EPA's action level, at which it says lead pollution must be cleaned from soil with public access, is 500 ppm.

Kenneth L. Alkema, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Health, said Friday that the high lead levels could have been present in Bingham Creek for 20 to 30 years, but the samples were just now confirmed.

He said the levels are higher than the contamination from Sharon Steel, "but it's still not an `Oh, my gosh' sort of thing."

Environmental officials are very concerned but say that a person still would have to ingest a lot of dirt to cause problems.

"Our first order of business is to get the word out to residents," he said. "We worked till 9 o'clock last night," speaking to about 600 local residents who live near the meandering, 12-mile creek. The stream bed stretches from the Copperton area to the Jordan River.

Kennecott uses the entire stream flow as the creek comes off the Oquirrh Mountains, so there is no water in the creek except during downpours. A great deal of mining has taken place in the mountains over the years, and the state officials are uncertain of the source of the contamination.

A tailings pile owned by a different company is along the drainage, he said. The few samples taken at this pile are around 5,000 or 6,000 ppm.

Samples upstream of the channel so far "are nowhere close to this level of lead," Alkema said.

Utah's environmental health chief said the EPA has been contacted to see if the site can be placed on an emergency cleanup schedule. "They say they need more information from us" before the EPA can decide that, he said.

The danger is that children playing in the soil may have ingested some and that high lead levels can lead to neurological problems including mild retardation.

"Unless the kids have played in there on a very regular basis and have eaten the dirt, there's probably not a problem," Alkema said. If there is a health impact, it won't be acute lead toxicity, but more subtle difficulty like retardation.

Parents whose children have played in the creek bed are being advised to check with their pediatricians if there are questions. The doctors "can do a blood-lead test just to make sure that their kids haven't had a significant exposure," he said.


(Additional information)

Public meeting set

The Utah Division of Environmental Health has scheduled a public meeting to discuss the high lead and arsenic levels in Bingham Creek's bed. It will begin 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Welby Elementary School, 4130 W. 9580 South, South Jordan.

Meanwhile, anyone with questions can call the division's community relations coordinator, Renette Anderson, at 538-6121.