- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

CHERRYVALE, Kan. (AP) - Recent lead levels among children tested in a southeast Kansas town that was home to a zinc smelter were “significantly” higher than statewide and national levels, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Tests conducted from 2005 to 2012 showed children tested in Cherryvale had a mean blood lead level of 4.54 micrograms per deciliter, the KDHE said in an analysis of the tests. The mean level for children in Montgomery County was 3.17, and the state was 2.49. The national average, which has been dropping, was 1.3 from 2007-2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“My takeaway from the analysis is Montgomery County is an area of the state that we’re seeing average blood lead levels among children that is higher than what the state average is, and within that, Cherryvale itself, is also higher than the state average, and those are statistically significant higher numbers,” Farah Ahmed, KDHE’s state environmental health officer, said Thursday.

The KDHE analysis, which was released last week and did not address the source of the lead exposure, said 2013 tests among children whose levels were least 5, showed the mean blood lead level was 12.32. Of that group, levels in Montgomery County were 11.29, and in Kansas were 9.05. The analysis did not say how many children were tested, only how many tests were performed.

The CDC recommends initiating public health actions, including follow up testing after three months, when blood lead levels reach 5 micrograms per deciliter. Lead can harm a child’s brain and other organs. Children have picked up lead poisoning from contaminated soil, dust tracked in from industrial worksites and lead paint in older homes.

Cherryvale, a town of about 2,300 residents, is located in the former Tri-State Mining District, which encompasses sections of southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, and was once a major producer of lead and zinc ores. Mines and smelters in the area, including the National Zinc Company in Cherryvale which closed in 1976, have been subject to federal and state cleanups. The KDHE is also investigating reports of possible contamination found elsewhere around Cherryvale, said Chris Carey, KDHE’s site restoration manager.