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PHD: Recreation may increase lead exposure

| April 13, 2024 1:05 AM

As warmer weather returns, people are spending more time in North Idaho's outdoors. Panhandle Health District wants to remind residents and visitors in the Silver Valley and the Coeur d’Alene River Basin to go about recreation activities responsibly to protect their health.

Historic mining, milling, smelting and disposal activities employed in the Silver Valley led to widespread heavy metal contamination hazards found throughout the region, a PHD press release said.

Although these practices took place decades ago, there is still an abundance of contaminated materials left behind that continues to be a threat to health, PHD said.

Cleanup efforts have been ongoing in the site since 1986, but contamination continues to be found in area sediments and water bodies. 

Though risks of lead exposure may seem like an issue from the past, lead exposure remains a widespread problem, especially within the Bunker Hill Superfund Site, according to PHD.

Exposure often goes unnoticed because people may have no symptoms and appear healthy. Lead can enter the bloodstream through inhalation or ingestion and a blood test is the only way to find out if a person has been exposed.

Panhandle Health held its 2023 summer lead screening event and tested 292 individuals that live within the boundaries of the Bunker Hill Superfund Site.

The youngest children are at higher risk to the effects of lead because their bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead, PHD said.

Exposure can result in difficulty learning, behavioral problems, hearing issues, slowed growth and headaches. Adults and pregnant women can also be at risk for lead exposure through occupations, such as mining, construction or welding, or by activities such as home renovations, making ceramics, shooting guns or fishing, the release said.

Lead exposure in adults can result in cardiovascular effects, increased blood pressure and the incidence of hypertension, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems. Pregnant women who are exposed to lead can result in exposure to the developing fetus, PHD said.

Recent in-home inspections showed a variety of lead exposure sources with the most common being recreating in unremediated areas such as along the South Fork or the Coeur d’Alene River; occupationally related such as miners not showering and changing work clothes prior to going home; lead-based paint exposures associated with renovation projects; and antique furniture or toys and old peeling or chipping paint.

Panhandle Health offers free blood lead testing to anyone that works, lives or recreates in the Bunker Hill Superfund Site. To schedule an appointment, call 208-783-0707. 

The 2024 lead screening event is scheduled Aug. 5-10.