State health officials held a good news-bad news press conference Monday about the Bingham Creek lead pollution in West Jordan and South Jordan.

The good news is that neighbors living near the winding, 14-mile dry creek channel apparently have no health problems caused by the incredibly high lead levels, which reach 20,000 to 30,000 parts per million. In residential areas, the "action level" prompting a cleanup is 500 ppm."I don't think this is a cause for panic among the families," said Kenneth L. Alkema, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Health. "I don't think they should be overconcerned about long-term exposure."

Another piece of good news is, except for the creek bed and an area that was once a flood plain for the creek, no land is polluted so badly that it requires a cleanup.

The bad news is that some expensive homes in the Jordan View Estates subdivision are built on the contaminated flood plain, and cleanup costs could reach $5 million to $10 million. As many as 60 homes might be on soil with high lead concentrations, though many haven't been tested yet.

Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Division of Health, told reporters that 169 people living near the creek bed were tested for blood levels on Oct. 25 and 26. Most by far - 157 - were children whose parents were concerned about the lead concentrations. Children are more susceptible to damage from lead poisoning.

"The results of this lead testing revealed no individuals with current evidence of lead intoxication," says a summary issued by the division. Dandoy said the level at which health effects could occur in children is 10 to 15 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

The highest concentrations discovered were 9 micrograms, and this was found in only two people. The majority tested, 95 people, or 56.2 percent, were below 5.

The variations might be traced to a variety of causes. Auto emissions contain lead, and some hobbies involving lead-containing material, such as use of ceramic glazes, can cause significant exposure.

Dandoy said the testing, while not definitive, seems to show this is not "an emergency situation . . .

"We tested those who volunteered to be tested," she said.

State officials do not feel a need for further health testing.

One problem with the examinations, she cautioned, is that blood-level tests "are not a particularly good indicator of exposures that may have taken place years in the past, because lead leaves the system rather fast."

Alkema said an additional 116 soil samples were taken, from around 110 homes. Of the samples taken, 90 were below 500 ppm of lead.

The rest were above that level, he said.

Soil was not tested around all the homes in the subdivision in the former flood plain, he said. But of those tested, 16 had levels above 500 ppm.

The Bingham mining district was home to all sorts of extraction and milling starting back in the 19th century. Alkema said this makes it difficult to trace the cause of the pollution.

Indications that the contamination may have an antique cause are that the flood plain, now covered with homes, is high in lead; and the fact that the lead is so concentrated. Back before copper mining became the predominant kind of mineral extraction in the Bingham Canyon area, around the turn of the century, the ore was mined for lead.

After the high-lead ore was about mined out, the copper-bearing properties were mined.

The creek bed might cost $1 million to clean up, but much more will probably be required to rectify the soil contamination around the homes.


(Additional information)

Public Meeting

A public meeting to brief residents near the West Jordan-South Jordan lead contamination along the dry Bingham Creek bed in a nearby flood plain, are invited to a public meeting for an update.

State health officials have scheduled the meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, in West Jordan Middle School, 7550 S. 1700 West. Latest results of soil samples and blood tests will be discussed.