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Anaconda schools tested for possible lead, arsenic

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ANACONDA - After finding high levels of lead in a playground sandbox, officials are testing Anaconda schools for toxic contaminants.

Deer Lodge County asked for testing from the Environmental Protection Agency after tests showed high levels of lead and arsenic in Benny Goodman Park in 2017.

This week, Anaconda schools are out for spring break, and scientists are taking the opportunity to go inside the school buildings and look for lead and arsenic.

A team of 6 scientists have collected more than 200 air and dust samples from throughout the school district, including Fred Moodry Middle School and Anaconda Junior and Senior High School.

Officials are collecting dust samples from hallways, classrooms and mechanical rooms, all places where children and staff spend the most time.

Art Villasenor is a maintenance and facilities supervisor for the Anaconda School district. He showed us how the process works.

"I had the custodians not clean the building on Thursday and Friday last week, and now I gave them the maps of where these people will be, so now they're going in and cleaning where they are not going to be sampling," Villasenor said.

One of the scientists, Nic Piscioutta, gathered a dust sample from the top of a cabinet. He started by taking a picture of the area and then sets a timer to keep track of how long it took to collect the dust from start to finish.

All of the EPA data is collected and logged to keep everything organized. 

Villasenor says the goal is to keep children away from potentially harmful material.

The EPA hopes to have test results back by spring, so the school can figure out what to do for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Crews also continue to remove sand and trees from Benny Goodman Park.

The Centers for Disease Control say that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and it can lead to lower IQ, shorter attention spans and lower academic achievement.

The Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site is one of the biggest environmental cleanups in the country, since more than a century of mining waste leached high levels of toxic metals and chemicals in the surrounding areas.

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