Free lead screening coming to Palmerton after feds detect high levels in air

A view of Palmerton in 2005 from a barren patch of Blue Mountain. The federal government designated the area a Superfund site after decades of industrial contamination. (THE MORNING CALL / FILE PHOTO) The Pennsylvania Health Department is offering free lead testing Saturday to Palmerton residents after a federal study showed higher-than-acceptable lead levels in the air.

The federal agency tasked with monitoring lead levels in Palmerton released its findings last summer. After the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s finding, the state Health Department warned Palmerton residents of potentially dangerous lead levels.

“Lead is toxic,” said Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, in a prepared statement this month. “That’s why it’s important for adults and children to have their blood screened to see if you’ve experienced any exposure levels that are not safe. The side effects of lead exposure can be dangerous, even fatal.”

The high lead levels were found in 2015 within three miles of the American Zinc Recycling Corp., which recycles metals, batteries and other industrial waste. Workers there had elevated blood lead levels in recent years, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Calls to the company were not returned Thursday.

For most of the 20th century, Palmerton was home to a New Jersey Zinc Co. smelting operation, which built up the Carbon County borough and contaminated it.

Zinc smelting ended in 1980 because of declining demand as well as increasing environmental concerns.

Industrial operations in Palmerton left 33 million tons of rocky waste stretching nearly 3 miles and defoliated thousands of acres on Blue Mountain, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1983, the federal government designated Palmerton a superfund site requiring extensive clean up.

From 2013 to 2015, federal data showed that lead levels in Palmerton were higher than acceptable in a three-month period. More recent data have not yet been released.

Those results aren’t conclusive and don’t show a clear pattern, said Rodger Danielson, Palmerton borough manager. However, he stressed that people should take advantage of free screening for potential health problems.

Lead can be found in air, soil and water, as well as in products such as paint. People can build up dangerous levels of lead through drinking contaminated water, eating food grown in contaminated soil and breathing in lead dust and fumes.

Pregnant women are among the most at risk of developing serious health problems from lead, such as miscarriages and premature births. And lead puts children at higher risk of learning and developmental problems. Adults exposed to too much lead can suffer high blood pressure and kidney damage.

It’s unclear if blood lead levels in children in Palmerton are higher than the state average because the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry does not have an adequate sample size from the borough’s children.

Health workers will conduct the tests at Palmerton Area Junior High School from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Residents can pre-register at 877-PA-HEALTH. Walk-ins are also welcome.


The Pennsylvania Health Department is offering free screenings in Palmerton this weekend.

Where: Palmerton Area Junior High School, 3529 Fireline Road

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday


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