- Associated Press - Sunday, April 3, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho environmental authorities are asking every water utility in the state to double-check its system after problems surfaced with lead-tainted drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

Jerri Henry, who runs the drinking water program for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, has asked every Idaho utility to make sure the water is safe from lead. She’s given them a July deadline to complete the work, The Idaho Statesman reported (https://goo.gl/NRkFqs).

The agency says it knows at least three systems in Southwest Idaho, including one at Tamarack Resort, are not in compliance.

The state has 900 drinking water systems - from ones that serve several dozen people to Suez Boise’s system which serves 240,000 people.

Whether local water systems are tainted with lead has been a heightened concern since the crisis in Flint erupted as a national story. Drinking water became tainted when Flint switched from the Detroit water system and began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money.

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters a person’s body from drinking water or other sources.

The Flint crisis has recalled Idaho’s own “Flint moment” four decades ago when a North Idaho mine smelter spewed tons of lead into the air and ground.

In the 1970s, the smokestack filter at the Bunker Hill Mining Co. smelter in Kellogg went unrepaired for months as it covered surrounding communities in lead and heavy metal-laced dust.

Of 172 children living closest to the smelter in January 1975, all but two had dangerously high levels of lead in their bloodstreams. Hundreds of others throughout the valley also were poisoned, the Statesman reported.

Cleanup of the site around the Bunker Hill smelter continues after the smelter site was designated a federal Superfund contaminated site in 1983.

“The thing at Flint … got people thinking again,” said Paul Flory, 46, of Smelterville, who went to school and played in the shadow of the smelter. He was tested when he was 9 and found to have high lead levels.

Amid the Flint crisis, Idaho officials wanted to redouble its water-monitoring efforts.

“These aren’t required, but they make sense,” said DEQ’s Henry, who wanted to make sure the state was doing enough to keep the water safe.

She said she has gotten a positive response. The city of Meridian had decided on its own to conduct a full evaluation of the lead levels in its water.


Information from: Idaho Statesman, https://www.idahostatesman.com

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