Leah Thompson can’t wait for her 19-month-old son Benjamin to play in his yard once the sod is laid. She is one of the 15 Trail residents to have contaminated soil replaced this year.

Leah Thompson can’t wait for her 19-month-old son Benjamin to play in his yard once the sod is laid. She is one of the 15 Trail residents to have contaminated soil replaced this year.

Environmental program replaces contaminated soil

A program dedicated to ensuring locals are not ingesting lead at home, continues to deliver results – even if it means replacing the soil in a resident’s yard.

A program dedicated to ensuring locals are not ingesting lead at home, continues to deliver results – even if it means replacing the soil in a resident’s yard.

With a priority on families with children, the Trail Health and Environment Committee’s Home and Garden Program offers soil testing and replacement when high lead counts from smelter emissions are discovered in vegetable gardens and yards.

Leah Thompson recently decided to get her rental property tested in East Trail and was surprised by the results.

“I was really nervous, I was worried and concerned for my son’s health because he’s at the age where everything goes in his mouth,” she said.

“I was very happy to hear that they were coming in a couple weeks, it was really fast.”

The mother of 19-month-old Benjamin took advantage of the program when her and her husband Stephen moved back to her old stomping grounds.

Under contract from Teck, SNC Lavalin environmental employees collected samples with stainless steel tools, one that can do an instant pre-screening test to detect metal levels, which are later confirmed with laboratory results.

Their lead-soil count was found to be over the 1,000 parts per million (ppm) required (5,000 ppm for yards) for replacement and in no time their lawn and soil was ripped out to make way for new soil and sod.

“I didn’t actually realize how leaded the soil was and then when I started talking to my friends and they, too, had their soil tested and some replaced I thought, maybe it is a concern and we better make sure our soil gets tested and that I get his blood tested as well,” she said.

The committee promotes blood-lead level testing for Trail toddlers, which gives their parents peace of mind but also can help determine a lead source.

The geometric mean blood level for children tested last fall was 4.9 micrograms of lead per decilitre of blood, down from 5.6 in 2009.

While the latest results are not statistically significant, improvements have come a long way since 20-some years ago when the current generation of parents were toddlers and the level of concern was 25.

Although play is crucial for developing minds, Trail lead health services coordinator Jacquie Johnson says it’s important for parents to provide their kids an opportunity to do so in a safe atmosphere.

“Children absorb lead differently than adults do, they absorb up to 50 per cent of what crosses their lips – unlike adults who absorb seven per cent,” she said. “Developmentally, in the first five years of a child’s life, that’s when everything is developing so fast that you don’t want to give them an opportunity to not do that to their fullest.”

The garden program is one of the initiatives of the community program –delivered by Teck, Interior Health and the B.C. Ministry of Environment – that attempts to manage and eliminate a hazardous source.

“Back in the ‘90s there was a lot of effort in understanding how kids got exposed, why it’s just kids and confirming that it’s not adults and focusing on things like covering soil in the yard and the big smelter emission reduction,” said Steve Hilts, director of environment risk assessment for Teck. “Later on, it was determining what other things we could do to keep moving things along further.”

The home renovation program gives residents in Trail and Rivervale, or those living in Greater Trail homes built before 1976, access to tools to ensure home improvements are done safely.

“We’ve started doing more with soil testing and soil action in recent years but, really, still the biggest issue that we see continues to be dust and that’s why there’s still a great emphasis on continuing to reduce emissions from the smelter,” said Hilts. “Even though we meet the current B.C. guideline for air quality, we believe that by going further that we can see further improvements in blood-lead and that’s why the home renovation support program is important, too.”

Making sure dust stays out of reach from children starts with a simple measure like washing their hands before they eat. But much like the programs suggest, there are a number of ways to reduce the contact a child has with potentially contaminated dust or soil.

“People need to think about taking off their shoes at the door and not tracking the dirt from the front yard in through the house because then when the child sits down and spills the Cheerios across the carpet and then eats off the carpet, they’re picking up again that dust and dirt from outside,” said Johnson.

The Trail Health and Environment Committee’s programs are run out of a community program office at 1319 Bay Ave., which can be reached at 368-3256. To find out more information on the program, visit www.thep.ca

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