High lead levels in parks raise concern

Sunday, May 15, 2011 | 4:15 p.m. CDT

PARK HILLS — Lead contamination has long been a concern in the region of Missouri known as the Old Lead Belt. Now there is another reason for worry.

Testing by the Environmental Protection Agency shows that 11 of the 12 city parks in the region around Park Hills have elevated lead levels.

The Park Hills Journal reported last week that the EPA recently tested parks in Desloge, Park Hills and Bonne Terre. In six of the parks, elevated lead levels were found in the children's play areas.

Lead, used in such things as car batteries, computer screens and X-ray shields, was mined in the region about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis dating back to the 1800s. The mines around Park Hills have been spent, but lead waste continues to be a problem, with elevated levels in yards and some waterways and with massive piles of chat — mine waste — standing at several spots.

Health investigators also have found elevated levels of lead in the blood of children. High lead levels early in life can affect learning, IQ and memory. The toxic metal can also cause cardiovascular, blood pressure and kidney problems in adults.

A level of 440 parts per million or more is considered elevated. One play area at Bonne Terre City Park had a level more than four times the maximum allowable — 1,848 ppm. Another play area at Bonne Terre's Lakeview Park tested at 1,708 ppm, and Elvins Park in Park Hills had a level of 1,726 ppm.

Parks had not been a big concern for the EPA because they are not visited at length by the same children on a daily basis. But EPA biologist Jason Gunter said results of the testing are being reviewed by risk assessors. For now, he said limiting activity in the parks may be a good idea.

Park Hills City Administrator John Kennedy said he wasn't sure how to react to the EPA testing.

"Before I get too concerned, I want to see individual samples," he said. "I'm interested in seeing, obviously, more detailed results and what kind of plan the EPA is going to propose."

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