Federal and state health officials said Friday that they have decided to recommend the cleanup of possibly dozens of residential properties along lead-tainted Bingham Creek in southwest Salt Lake County.
A cleanup probably will be ordered after experts complete their review of the analysis of about 1,000 soil samples, which will establish boundaries and determine exactly which homes require remedial action."We are looking at substantially higher concentrations of lead than what the background level is, so one can reasonably say that a cleanup is necessary," said Steve Way, Environmental Protection Agency on-site coordinator for the Bingham Creek investigation.
Way spoke to reporters via a telephone link during a press briefing Friday at the Utah Division of Environmental Health. State officials at the briefing said the cleanup recommendation is no cause for alarm but reiterated their warning to residents to continue to avoid exposure to potentially contaminated soils.
Samples taken from the usually dry creekbed in October revealed lead levels as high as 30,500 parts per million, which is 30,000 parts per million higher than what the EPA considers acceptable. Three weeks later, health officials administered blood tests to about 160 area children and reported that none exhibited any signs of dangerously elevated blood levels.
EPA investigators then conducted an extensive soil sampling program. Officials disclosed on Friday that they found excessive lead levels (above 500 ppm) in samples at 95 homes in West Jordan and South Jordan, mostly in the Jordan View Estates subdivision. Some samples registered lead levels in excess of 10,000 ppm.
"At concentrations of lead this high, you have a problem," said Dan Symonik, Utah Department of Health toxicologist. "The risk depends on the exposure; more exposure, more risk."
A letter was sent out to the 95 homeowners on Friday asking them to complete a questionnaire designed to help officials evaluate the health threat. The letter also offers blood-lead level tests to women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Those women are considered a "special sensitive population" because they could have stored lead in their bones.
The blood testing will be available March 28 and 29. Women interested in the service are invited to contact Renette Anderson, the health division's community relations coordinator, at 538-6121, or Laura Taylor, City-County Health Department, at 534-4510.
Anderson said the 95 homeowners receiving the letter should not assume that samples from their property registered on the high end of the scale.And Symonik emphasized that the blood testing is being offered in response to public concerns and is not meant to be a comprehensive study.
Officials are not recommending blood tests for children because their exposure to contaminated soils is low at this time of year and tests only detect recent exposures, Symonik said. Additional testing of children may be considered at the end of the summer.
Symonik said the questionnaire will provide information useful to any future risk assessment. Among other things, the questionnaire asks residents how much time they spend outdoors, whether they have any hobbies or occupations that might expose them to lead, and whether they consume produce from backyard gardens.
Kent P. Gray, director of the Bureau of Environmental Response and Remediations, said a public meeting will be held in mid-April to inform residents of the latest findings and plans.
He advises parents to keep children away from potentially contaminated soils - particularly in the creekbed itself - as the weather improves and the tendency to play outdoors increases.