Silver Valley Action

The Good News May Not be All That Good
by Jeri McCrosky


     According to a news story on page two of The Spokesman/Review, Thursday, April 24, entitled “Broad study finds boost in U.S. kids well-being,” there are positive indicators that our kids did better in the ten years between 1947 and 2007.              

     The story originally printed in the Washington Post reports that mortality rates have declined, the number of kids testing positive to lead at elevated levels dropped 84 percent, the number of sixth grade students fearing attack at or on the way to school dropped 36 percent and the number of mothers who smoked during pregnancy dropped 36 percent.

     In regard to the 84 percent drop in lead poisoning, studies done in the last several years indicate that these statistics relative to lead are not so encouraging as the figures might seem. The current standard that defines “excessive” is 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.  This is the level that determines further action.

     However, studies done since 2001 show alarming evidence that lead blood levels way below 10micrograms per deciliter do far more damage.

     In fact, these recent, extensive studies, particularly those conducted at the University of Cincinnati by Dr. Bruce Lanphear find that amounts as low as one and a half micrograms per deciliter are extremely damaging to the developing brain and body of a child.   Researchers have found that there is a correlation between criminal behavior, violence, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and blood lead--even at these lower levels.

     What does a microgram of lead dropped into a deciliter of blood look like?  It would be smaller than a grain of sugar dissolved in a half cup of water and invisible to the naked eye.  

     Some of the most striking drops in blood lead levels in American children occurred as lead no longer was used as a gasoline additive.  Studies noted that criminal behavior, particularly violent criminal behavior, declined in the following years.  Lead was no longer allowed in paint after 1947 but paint applied before 1947 lingers in many homes and public places, particularly in homes occupied by the poor.

     During the past year, the media has featured stories about imported toys and jewelry having “excessive” lead, above the “allowable” amount in toys for children.  There have been recalls of name brand toys from the shelves of big name stores.  States have passed laws to eliminate lead and other toxins.  Parents are alarmed and on their guard, reading labels to find out “where manufactured.”

     This all may not be enough to protect our children because, as Bill Radnosevich put it, “The cat is out of the bag.”. Radnossevich is the marketing manager for Nitron Analysers, a hand-held electronic devise that can tell you how much of any metal is present in your necklace or plastic bottle.  Radnossevich also works in the program of the cities of Minneapolis/ST. Paul in their lead eradication program.

     His cat-out-of-the-bag analogy referred to what most of us would consider a sound practice, the recycling of plastics.  He says that when plastics are recycled the lead in them is also recycled. The United States ships garbage containing plastic to China which separates out the plastics and recycles them, turning what was refuse into usable plastics that it ships back to the United States.

     All of this should be of particular concern to those of us who live in the Coeur d’Alene River/ Spokane River drainage system for we live either in the Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund Site or on the peripherals of that Superfund Site.  We and our children have the potential to be exposed  not only to old, lead paint, imports containing lead, and soils still containing lead from the days when we burned leaded gasoline in our cars but from lead and other heavy metals carried by wind, rain and flowing water from the mining district, known as the Silver  Valley

     Since this drainage system with its lakes and rivers is also an area attractive to recreationalists, those who swim, fish,  or frequent the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, are at an uncertain amount of risk since no studies have been done in regard to these recreational activities.  There is evidence of a variety of health problems but, except for a few instances, these problems have not been investigated and remain anecdotal.

     In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences released a study commissioned at a cost of nearly a million dollars by the Idaho delegation to Congress.  The study found that, in general, that EPA’s thirty year plan to clean up the Basin was on the right track.  Furthermore, the study found that more needed to be done, not less, particularly in the area of testing and treating children showing evidence of lead poisoning.

     These findings had to come as a surprise to those who encouraged and commissioned the study, who also, judging from published comments, hoped to prove that EPA’s plan was flawed and doing too much, particularly in extending Superfund beyond the original “Box” centered in Kellogg.  (Any area found to be contaminated by residue from a Superfund Site, automatically becomes part of the Site.)

     There is little evidence of a genuine effort to follow up on the recommendations of the NAS who asked for comprehensive testing of children. Panhandle Health District’s response appears to be hit and miss.  Each year the agency places ads in local newspapers listing time and testing at various locations without giving a reason for testing. It has posted notices of the availability of HEPA vacuum cleaners to use in homes without also posting the reason for the need for their use—the presence of lead-laden dust in carpets and furniture.

     Many newcomers have no understanding that they have moved to a Superfund site or its implications because the fact is downplayed or never discussed and the media spreads the fiction that the area is all cleaned up. This nonsense is promoted by those who value short term, economic profits and who fear that acknowledging Superfund’s existence would in some way hurt business—an unlikely possibility.  The danger of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, erupting volcanoes, or houses sliding into Puget Sound has never detoured people from living or playing where it pleases them.

     But people have a right to know if they are building their dream home on a fault or the pond next door is home to a bunch of alligators. Potential hazards should not be kept a secret.  And those whose health has been impaired by lead and other heavy metals have a right to diagnosis and health care and the knowledge that the source of their misery is being cleaned up.

     For the past twenty years the Silver Valley Peoples’ Resource center has worked toward the end that children and adults damaged by lead and other heavy metals—whatever the source are entitled to diagnosis and treatment. 

     Members of this organization are not confined only to the Silver Valley. They reside in Post Falls, Spokane, Montana and other states and all share one goal, to assure sources of lead will be found, that children will be properly tested and evaluated then treated to the extent possible.  This grass roots organization deserves the financial and moral support of the region’s population and anyone else who would like to see lead poisoning ended.     


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