- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Cleanup of mining waste in northern Idaho is working based on blood-lead levels in children, the director of Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality said.

The Spokesman-Review reports (https://bit.ly/1dQCgSc) that Curt Fransen told state lawmakers Wednesday that the blood-lead levels of children in the Kellogg area are at levels consistent with national averages.

Children in the area once recorded some of the highest blood-level levels ever recorded in the country. Children living near the Bunker Hill smelter in the 1970s had blood-lead levels averaging 65 micrograms per deciliter. Officials say that has now dropped to 2.4 micrograms.

Officials last summer did extensive testing of children in a 21-square-mile Bunker Hill Superfund site, an area called the “box.”

Results, Fransen said, “confirmed that the blood-lead levels of children in the ‘box’ remain within national averages and demonstrate that the cleanup efforts have been successful, effectively maintaining the progress that has been made.”

Officials conducted an extensive testing of children in the area last summer, offering a $30-per-child incentive to get parents to have their children tested. Workers with the state Department of Environmental Quality also went door to door trying to persuade parents of children ages 6 months to 9 years old to have them tested.

Officials said 276 children were tested with the result being the blood-lead level average of 2.4 micrograms. Two of the children tested at levels of 10 or above.

Rob Hanson, mine waste program manager for the state agency, said those two children weren’t exposed at their homes, but in areas where they went to play that hadn’t yet been cleaned up.

Federal officials have been dropping the level they consider safe for children, but most recently said there’s no safe level of lead for children’s blood.

Federal and state officials have been making a massive cleanup of a century’s worth of mining pollution in the area of Idaho’s Silver Valley, polluted with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

Fransen said work is continuing on the cleanup, with projects that include installing drains and culverts to protect areas already cleaned up from being recontaminated by flooding.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, https://www.spokesman.com

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