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Schoolchildren show no signs of lead exposure after Goodsprings water scare

The schoolchildren of Goodsprings show no signs of lead exposure, according to blood test results released by county health officials Tuesday.

None of the seven children tested at tiny Goodsprings Elementary School last week showed lead “at any level that would be of concern,” said Dr. Joe Iser, chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.

The voluntary blood screenings were administered after elevated lead levels turned up in water samples collected from the water system that serves the K-5 school and the adjacent community center, 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Iser said the finger-stick blood tests on the children showed “nothing significant at all, nothing to worry about.”

Health officials are still awaiting the results of blood-lead level tests on four adults who might have been exposed to the lead-tainted water. Iser said lead testing on adults takes longer to process than it does on children younger than 16, but he expects to have all of the results in by Friday.

The health district is still trying to pinpoint the source of the lead-tainted water. Iser said a district staff member was in Goodsprings on Tuesday collecting samples from the entire system, from the source groundwater to the pipes, faucets and drinking fountains at the school and community center.

Test results on those samples should be available within a week or so, Iser said.

The lead scare was triggered by water samples collected by the Clark County School District in September that showed a lead concentration of 16 parts per billion, just above the action level of 15 parts per billion set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The school district notified the health district about the results in February.

A short time later, the health district ordered the drinking fountains to be shut off and bottled water distributed at the school and community center. That was followed with a letter, sent to parents and school staff members on March 16, recommending the blood screening for anyone who might have consumed the tainted water.

Iser said the health district is still offering free blood tests to anyone from Goodsprings who is worried about lead exposure. Health officials have also offered follow-up testing and “appropriate referrals to a medical provider” for anyone who might show signs of lead exposure, which can cause brain damage and other health problems.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has brought renewed attention to the issue of lead pollution.

Tap water samples collected in Flint by a research team from Virginia Tech showed lead levels ranging from 25 parts per billion to more than 100 parts per billion. At one home in the depressed Michigan city, the lead level exceeded 1,000 parts per billion.

Goodsprings also sprang from industrial roots. In the early 20th century, the town was at the heart of one of Southern Nevada’s most productive mining districts, and lead was among the minerals extracted there until the boom went bust after World War II.

Today, what’s left of the town is home to just over 200 people. The seven children tested for lead last week represent nearly the entire enrollment at the historic schoolhouse, which opened in 1913.

Iser said the health district has sent notifications about the lead-tainted water to the parents of a few students who transferred out of the school during the current year. But based on the evidence collected so far, he said, “there doesn’t appear to be a significant risk.”

Liz Warren said she moved to Goodsprings 40 years ago because of the small school there, which reminded her of the two-room schoolhouse she attended as a child in Pennsylvania.

In the decades since her two youngest sons attended Goodsprings Elementary, Warren said, the community seems to have lost some of its “sense of common purpose.” Perhaps this lead scare will bring residents closer together, she said.

In recent years, the school district has talked about closing Goodsprings Elementary to cut costs. Warren said she and others worry that the lead problem — and the expense of fixing it — will give the district the excuse it needs to finally close the doors.

Saving the school might be just the cause Goodsprings needs to become a real community again, she said.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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