Lead Contaminated Soil - Tips for Testing Your Yard and Garden | Illinois Poison Center 

Lead Contaminated Soil - Tips for Testing Your Yard and Garden

Dec 04, 2020
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Testing Your Yard and Garden for Lead Contaminated Soil 


Although lead-based paint is the most likely source of lead in a home, lead can also be found in other places.  One of these places is in the soil (dirt).  Lead contaminated soil can be a health hazard to children who play in the soil, gardeners who work with the soil, and those who eat food/herbs grown in contaminated soil. 


Lead is released into the environment through factory pollution and past leaded gasoline emissions. Lead can also get into soil from chips of old, peeling, lead-based paint on the outside of a home and lead dust from home remodeling/demolition projects.  Lead can build up in the soil over time and, generally, lead levels in soil are higher in cities and industrial areas. Higher lead levels can also be found around roadways where lead from car exhaust may have entered the soil before leaded gasoline was banned in 1986.   Lead is a toxic metal and exposure to it can lead to serious health problems.


Health Effects 


Lead poisoning can occur at any age.  Children under the age of 6 are at higher risk of lead poisoning because their bodies absorb the lead more easily and the lead can build up to higher levels. Children with high lead levels in their blood may not have any symptoms, but the long-term effects can be quite problematic.  Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity and impaired hearing, as well as damage to other vital organs within the body, such as the kidneys and stomach.

In adults, lead can cause muscle and joint pain, high blood pressure, memory and concentration issues and digestive problems. Lead also has the ability to cause reproductive problems, difficulties during pregnancy and even nerve disorders. 


Important Tips for Safer Play Outdoors  


Lead contaminated soil can be accidentally ingested by children who play outside on or around exposed soil (dirt). The lead contaminated soil may get stuck under fingernails or on toys and other things that children put in their mouths. Contaminated soil can also enter homes from shoes exposed to lead contaminated soil. Check out these tips for safer play outdoors:

  • Wash child’s hands after outdoor play and before outdoor meals/snacks
  • Avoid playing in bare soil around building foundations
  • Avoid playing under porches
  • Move play areas away from old buildings and roads.  Fill a new sandbox with clean sand.
  • Wash toys that have been outdoors

Important Tips for Safer Gardening and Home Grown Produce/Herbs


Plants usually do not absorb lead, but in areas with a high concentration of lead, plants may take in a small amount. Most fruits and vegetables have  not been shown to absorb lead.  Lead is more likely to be found in leafy  vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage and root crops like carrots and potatoes.

After gardening, always wash hands and face as well as any produce/herbs grown

in the garden.  If possible, plant gardens away from roads and old buildings or plant them in pots or raised beds using new soil and compost.


Creating a Safer Yard through Landscaping


The key to a safer yard is filling any areas of bare soil with thick grass, crushed stone, wood chips/mulch, compost or other ground covering to reduce exposure to the contaminated soil. 

For more information visit the EPAs Safer Yards Project at http://epa.gov/Region1/leadsafe/index.html .


Testing the Soil for Lead


Testing your soil is the only way to determine if your soil is contaminated with unhealthy levels of lead. The process is inexpensive and easy.  

A current list of the National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program’s (NLLAP) recognized laboratories can be obtained by calling the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD or check out the list at http://www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/nllaplist.pdf.


For More Information on Lead and Lead Testing:


Call the EPA at 1-800-245-2691 or the State Department of Environmental Protection at  217-782-3517

Keywords: yard, soil, plant, lead-based paint, lead poisoning, testing your soil
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