There’s no summer break from lead safety

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KELLOGG — With all of the local schools officially out for summer, Panhandle Health District (PHD) wants to make sure that kids don’t find their way into any potentially toxic situations.

While blood-lead levels have hit their historic lows, there are still places where toxic heavy metal particulate matter remains, and any exposure to lead is unsafe.

“Children suffer effects from lead exposure at much lower levels,” PHD program manager Andy Helkey said. “Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized. There is no safe lead threshold for the adverse effects of lead on infant or child neurodevelopment that has been identified.”

Val Wade, an environmental health specialist with PHD, spends countless hours to help educate local children on the dangers of lead exposure.

Each year Wade travels to the various schools throughout the county and discusses the importance of lead awareness and being safe while still enjoying the beautiful area we live in.

Through pictures, models, and actual heavy metal specimens Wade is able to educate and entertain the students on the very important local issue.

“I show the kids historic photos of the Silver Valley that display how much logging and mining industries impacted the landscape,” Wade said. “The ‘before’ pictures show the kids how much things have changed over the years. Then I remind them that all the things we did in the past still have an impact on our lives today.”

Despite various opinions throughout the Valley, the message to be aware of the dangers of lead poisoning and contamination are very real, and Wade is proud she can be the one to educate the kids.

“This might be the first time these kids hear about the dangers of lead and how easy it is to protect themselves,” Wade said. “The presentation isn't supposed to scare them, but get them thinking about how they can prevent themselves from ingesting lead.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the health effects associated with lead are the same whether it enters the body through breathing or swallowing. Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body, especially the nervous system. No safe level of lead exposure has been identified.

With all of the remediation and barrier work that has been done, it is no surprise that the blood lead levels are moving in a positive direction.

PHD has implemented the Institutional Controls Program (ICP), a locally-enforced set of rules and regulations designed to ensure the integrity of clean soil and other protective barriers placed over contaminants left throughout the Bunker Hill Superfund site.

The ICP also provides education, sampling assistance, clean soils for small projects that need less than one cubic yard of material, pick-up of soil removed from small projects and a permanent disposal site for contaminated soils generated site wide.

Local organizations have also placed extensive signage throughout the county to educate folks about potential and unseen dangers in various areas.

The PHD has some very simple rules for avoiding lead exposure during the summer months.

• If recreating in the floodplain of the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River or along the Coeur d’Alene River between Enaville and Coeur d’Alene, wash your hands and face before eating.

• Try to avoid playing in the dirt.

• Wash any toys that are played with in the soil.

• Make sure shoes and clothes are not covered in dirt or dust that can be tracked back into your home.

These simple tips can help reduce lead exposure in both children and adults.

The Panhandle Health District offers free blood-lead screenings for families.

For more information on blood screening, or the Institutional Controls Program, contact the Panhandle Health District at 208-783-0707.

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