Guest opinion: Park City leaders, residents must come together to beat back an old enemy

Beverly Hurwitz
Park City

For this old pediatrician, the issue of Park City’s proposed soil repository triggered fear of an old enemy: lead poisoning. The Park City and Deer Valley skier parking areas were once prime dumping grounds for millions of tons of mine tailings. The soils that will be excavated for reconstruction of these parking lots, and for the arts and culture district, are contaminated with lead, arsenic and probably other toxins.

In coming years, tens of thousands of truckloads of dirty soil will be traveling (if not idling) on our already congested roads. Though such truckloads must be secured with tarps, sharp rocks can pierce tarps and winds can make them flap. Rain can leak in and then leak out as contaminated storm water, directly into McLeod Creek along S.R. 224, and Silver Creek along S.R. 248. Contaminated dust from this soil excavation and transport can also increase the lead content of air and soil.

Lead is toxic to the brains of young children and fetuses. Even low-level exposure can cause loss of IQ, learning disabilities and child behavior problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics suspects that 1 of every 5 children with ADHD has been affected by lead exposure. Adult criminals have a high incidence of childhood lead exposure. Lead poisoning in adults can cause hypertension, headaches, concentration and memory problems, mood disorders, joint and muscle pain, abnormal sperm, and in pregnant women: miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth.

Some experts believe that a few generations suffered loss of IQ points because, for 60+ years, lead in gasoline permeated our air, soil, water and food, until leaded gas was finally phased out between the 1970s and 1990s. Lead in paint was outlawed by the federal government in 1978, but many lead-contaminated cans were probably used thereafter. The CDC recommends that all homes be tested for lead contamination, especially if they’re old or near major roads.

Lead exposure often doesn’t show itself until after the damage has been done, but it can easily be diagnosed by a simple blood test. Your child’s physician can provide lead testing. So can the Summit County Health Department (435-333-1500, with a cost of $25, covered by Medicaid). Some states mandate lead testing at age 9-12 months and again at age 2. All experts agree that every young child should be tested. Lead poisoning is preventable and treatable if diagnosed early.

For more information about testing people, homes, water, yards, etc. for lead contamination, the website provides numerous resources. Various home test kits are available, as are web opinions about their reliability.

According to the Utah Lead Coalition, less than 4% of Utah children are currently being tested for lead exposure. In view of the impending disturbance of lead contaminated soils in multiple large construction projects, Park City leaders, public health officials, health care providers and citizens must come together to make sure that a beatable, old enemy doesn’t hurt Park City’s next generation.

Arsenic also needs to be on the public health radar screen. Major news networks recently reported that dehydration of the Great Salt Lake will increase the concentration of arsenic in the environment. Arsenic exposure is associated with many kinds of cancer, especially skin, kidney, bladder and lung cancers.

In view of the environmental burden put upon Park City by its historic mining industry, I’d like to thank The Park Record for informing residents about basic things they can do to protect their families from the small risk of potentially devastating problems.

I express these opinions as a Board-Certified pediatrician with fellowship training in developmental neurology and special interest in neurotoxicology.


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