Most of the children who live and play along the contaminated Bingham Creek in southwest Salt Lake County do not appear to have elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams, according to test results mailed to parents Saturday.
A state Health Department letter informed the parents that an analysis of 169 blood samples revealed an average lead-blood level of 4.3 micrograms per deciliter, which is well below the "borderline" safe level of 10 to 15 micrograms per deciliter.The blood tests were administered Oct. 25 and 26, three weeks after state environmental health officials discovered that the 14-mile-long Bingham Creek was heavily contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. Area residents were immediately warned to keep children away from the usually dry creek bed and take other precautions.
Concerned parents had waited anxiously for the results of the blood tests and kept telephones busy Saturday afternoon comparing the numbers in their individual notices.
"It came back at 5.0 for all three of my sons," said South Jordan resident Karen Olson. "Everybody I've called has said the same thing. I've talked to six of my neighbors, and all of their children had a 5.0."
Although she was relieved to hear the news, Olson said the identical results raised a number of questions in her mind. Her oldest son, 12, spent a lot of time playing in Bingham Creek over the past three years, yet the amount of lead in his blood was no higher than that in two neighborhood children who were never allowed near the creek.
"I feel the testing wasn't very accurate," Olson said, explaining that she and others were told that such tests detect only recent exposure to lead and that none of the area children had returned to the creek since the warning was issued Oct. 4. "I would like to know how much that affected the results."
She noted that the blood levels seemed higher in those children who were tested by private physicians earlier in October.
Dr. David J. Thurman, state medical epidemiologist, said last week that one limitation of the blood test is that it is useful only as an indicator of "relatively recent" lead exposure. "It is not as useful for detecting exposure that may have occurred months or years ago," he said.
State and county health officials said they will explain the test results and also release information on additional soil samples at a press conferenceMonday morning. They also plan to meet with area residents at a town meeting Thursday night at the West Jordan Middle School, 7550 S. 1700 West.
The first soil samples were taken from the creek bed itself, with scientists finding lead levels as high as 30,500 parts per million, which is 30,000 ppm higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable and at least five times higher than the average concentration at the Sharon Steel site in Midvale. Two weeks ago, an additional 150 samples were taken from residential properties to determine the extent of the contamination.
One West Jordan resident was told on Friday that soil samples in his yard were as high as 11,000 ppm. Officials had hoped that the contamination was confined to the creek bed, but the latest samples indicate otherwise.
In at least one case, a South Jordan family decided to sell their house and move. A child in that family had a lead-blood level of 7.0. Parents told neighbors they were not willing to risk further exposure.
Most residents said they're not alarmed and expressed appreciation for the way the state and county have handled the Bingham Creek issue. William Hightower, South Jordan, said, "I think they should be commended for the excellent job they have done in getting information out. They have done it more rapidly than anyone expected."
Average lead-blood levels of children living along Bingham Creek is 4.3 micorgrams per deciliter.
Above 15 may be harmful
below 10 generally safe