The Silver Valley of Shoshone County was a major mining area in the late 19th century, through most of the 20th century and continues today. Early mining practices resulted in the discharge of mine tailings and sediments into the Coeur d'Alene River, its tributaries and the flood plain.
Silver Valley mines stopped discharging mine tailings into the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River in the mid 1960s. Deposits remain in the river system. Spring storms and floods wash the tailings downstream, redepositing them along the river and throughout the chain lakes and the Coeur d'Alene River Basin.
Mine tailings contain a number of contaminants, including lead. Lead can be a poison.
Facts about Lead
- Lead is taken into the body by swallowing lead-contaminated dirt, dust or paint.
- Lead is taken into the body by inhaling air contaminated by lead dust.
- Lead can be in homes, soil and water.
- Lead was once used in gasoline, paint and some toys. It's not allowed now, but lead paint is still in many older homes. It's also sometimes found in toys produced outside the United States.
What can lead exposure cause?
Low levels of lead can be dangerous and the danger grows as the lead levels increase. In children, lead can cause:
- Learning disabilities
- loss of coordination and poor sense of touch
- hearing loss
- slower growth
- kidney, liver and reproductive organ problems
- hyperactivity and aggression
- headaches and trouble sleeping
- damage to the nervous system, including the brain
- death (extremely high levels of lead)
In adults, lead can cause:
- memory problems
- muscle and joint pain
- problems getting pregnant
- high blood pressure
- digestive problems
How do I find out if someone in my family has lead poisoning?
A blood test will show if lead is in the blood and how much. In areas of Shoshone County, Panhandle Health District screens for blood lead absorption each summer when risk of exposure is the highest.
How do I protect my family from lead poisoning?
If you live and/or play where lead is in the environment to any degree:
- Wash your hands and face before eating.
- Wash after contact with the soil.
- Wash toys, bottles and pacifiers if they've been in contact with the soil or dust.
- Stop children from chewing on painted surfaces, printed material, snow or icicles.
- Reduce household dust with frequent wet mopping and dusting with a damp cloth.
- Remove lead-based paints from peeling surfaces.
- Purchase clean sand for sand boxes and play areas.
- Feed children a healthy diet.
- Don't eat locally grown leafy or root (carrots, potatoes, beets) vegetables grown in contaminated soil.
- Thoroughly wash and peel locally grown fruit prior to eating.
If you play in the flood plain of the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River or along the river from Cataldo to Lake Coeur d'Alene:
- Remove loose soil from your clothing, shoes, camping equipment, toys and pets prior to leaving the area. Keep soiled items in a plastic bag and launder them separate from the rest of your wash.
- Always eat at a table or on a clean surface off the ground. Food dropped on the ground should be thrown away.
- Drink, cook and wash only with water from home or an approved source. Do not use river water for drinking, cooking or washing.
- Don't eat wild plants from the flood plain, river or lake areas.
- Let children play in grassy areas away from loose soil, dust and muddy areas.
- No mud pies.
- Don't remove or take home any soil or plants.
Pregnancy and lead
Pregnant women with lead in their blood can pass it on to their unborn babies. Women who have lead in their bones from earlier exposure can also pass it on to their babies.
Pregnant women who have been exposed to lead are more likely to have low-birth weight babies, miscarriages and stillbirths.
Pregnant women should talk to their health care providers as early as possible about how to avoid the risks of lead poisoning.
For information on lead screening through the Panhandle Health District, call (208) 783-0707.
Click on these links for more information on lead: