Health workers will be going door to door from the Idaho-Montana border to the Chain Lakes this summer, collecting blood and urine samples from hundreds of people.
The sampling is for a study of health in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, which has been polluted with heavy metals during a century of mining.
The $260,000 study is the first to try to identify the source of health problems outside the Bunker Hill Superfund site.
“There’s been a lot of speculation of the presence of contaminants and effect on human populations in the Coeur d’Alene Basin,” said Steve West of the state health department’s Division of Environmental Health and Safety.
“In response to public concern, we’ve decided to step up to the plate and characterize it,” he said.
Barbara Miller, a Silver Valley health activist, opposes the new study because she believes the money would be better spent treating people with health problems associated with lead.
“To do the study equates to human experimentation,” Miller said. “We’re tired of studies.”
State health workers argue the new study can help identify the source of problems and develop solutions.
Children within the Superfund site have had their blood-lead levels tested annually. But no study has ever examined blood-lead levels in all age groups upstream and downstream from Bunker Hill.
Lead, which can cause neurological damage, high blood pressure and infertility, is stored in the blood before it moves on to bone and other tissues.
The health department also plans to test for cadmium in urine. Cadmium is linked to cancer and kidney disease.
Along with testing lead and cadmium levels in humans, the researchers will gather soil samples, household dust, test for the presence of lead-based paint, and in some cases test well water.
“When you look at long-term exposure, it can come from a number of sources,” said Brian Abbott, a state health department toxicologist.
Individual results will be returned to residents in the fall, and a study compiling and interpreting all the data should be complete within a year, West said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Meetings this week Two public meetings will be held to provide information about the study. The meetings are 7 p.m. Wednesday at Canyon School, and 7 p.m. Thursday at Silver Hills Middle School.