The extent of contamination along Bingham Creek in southwest Salt Lake County will be more clearly defined in about three months, according to an Environmental Protection Agency official.
Steve Way, EPA's on-scene coordinator for the Bingham Creek investigation, has informed state and local authorities that the extensive sampling effort of the past month is coming to an end."We have collected in excess of 500 soil samples to date and hope to wrap up that part of it in about two weeks," Way said. The next phase involves analysis of the samples, he added.
The results of the evaluation will give officials some idea of what type of remedies may be required, Way explained. "Once we have that information, we are prepared to respond rapidly."
Soil samples taken from the usually dry creek bed in October revealed lead levels as high as 30,500 parts per million, which is 30,000 ppm higher than what the EPA considers acceptable. The severity of the contamination prompted an immediate warning to residents to stay away from the creek.
Three weeks later, health officials administered blood tests to area children and reported that none of the children exhibited any signs of dangerously elevated blood-lead levels.
Dan Symonik, Utah Department of Health toxicologist, said residents appear to be heeding the warning, and no additional blood tests are planned in the near future. However, he said more tests may be administered in late summer or early fall, when local exposure to dust and dirt from Bingham Creek is usually at its peak.
"If we still feel that a health threat exists, then we would consider further testing," Symonik said.
He also said the state will be mailing informational questionnaires to residents to "lay the groundwork" for test evaluations. Scientists want to learn more about the residents' lifestyles and personal environments, such as the source of yard soils and substances used in homes.
Way said the EPA has made Bingham Creek one of its top priorities in the Intermountain West. The contaminated zone may cover a large area, including several densely populated subdivisions in South Jordan and West Jordan.
Residents of those communities have cooperated fully with the investigation, said Way, who met last week with representatives of those cities. "Everybody is eager to find out the extent of the problem, and they are very interested in how long it might take to resolve it."
Way said the EPA team gathered three to eight soil samples from all of the targeted properties in the area. None was taken from Kennecott's land, which encompasses the first three miles of the 11-mile-long creek.
In December, Kennecott conducted a large-scale testing program along 300 yards of Bingham Creek to find out how long it might take and how much it might cost to remove the contaminants. A company spokesman said the contamination probably came from two dozen lead mines and mills that operated in Bingham Canyon in the late 1800s, before Kennecott arrived on the scene.
Although Kennecott is not responsible for the contamination, the company has offered to help remove affected soil both on and off it's property, the spokesman said.
Way said Kennecott's testing program will not effect the EPA's and that the EPA has no objection to the activities, even though the extent of the company's work came as a surprise. "We would have been more surprised if they were not interested," he said.