Blog post: Lead Soil Contamination in Gardens


Now that spring is here, many homeowners begin to grow their own fruits and vegetables in gardens.  Unfortunately there is something that may be present in the soil that can cause major health issues.  People across the nation are being affected by lead in soil by either accidentally ingesting contaminated soil or by eating lead contaminated fruit or vegetables grown in the soil.

Lead has been found in soil in both urban and suburban areas.  Lead dust is toxic to inhale and food grown in this dust is hazardous to eat.  Hazardous levels of soil in backyard and community gardens have been report in cities such as New York, Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington.  For gardens the issue is that any lead in the soil can cling to crops and may also affect root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes and leafy vegetables.  Fruiting vegetables are less like to contain lead from the soil, but must be carefully washed or peeled to lessen the chance of lead poisoning.

The EPA and HUD recommends to avoid growing vegetables in gardens with a soil lead level over 400 mg/kg (ppm).  But many researchers have stated that gardeners should avoid growing vegetables in soil with even lower levels of lead which has led to many states and cities to lower their levels of concern for gardens.  For Example, Minneapolis considers soil with 100 ppm of lead as hazardous.  Low levels of lead that naturally occur in soils (10-50 ppm) have shown no harmful health effects. But higher lead levels can raise the body’s lead level without producing any obvious symptoms.

Lead in soil contamination can occur due to lead containing paint dust, leaded gasoline, lead plumbing lead batteries and lead arsenate which was used as a pesticide.  Lead contamination can also occur if your home is close to a roadway due to lead in automobile parts.  Even though some of these materials may no longer be in production, the contamination that occurred from their use will linger in the environment for years to come.

If you are planning on growing vegetables in a garden and suspect that lead contamination is present then sending a sample of your soil to a testing laboratory is highly recommended.  Soil samples should be taken from several areas to determine the location of the contamination. The greatest lead concentration is in the top 1 to 2 inches of soil.  For more information on lead testing contact:  [email protected]



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