How are people exposed to lead in the yard and garden?
Here are some things to look for:
Play areas: Children aged 6 months to 72 months are at greatest risk for lead poisoning. Always look carefully at areas where children might play. Bare soil areas carry the highest risk of lead exposure.
Properties adjacent to heavily traveled streets and roadways: Lead exposure might be a problem near older, high traffic streets. Newer streets and subdivisions, as well as less traveled roads, are less likely to be significantly contaminated from lead exhaust emissions.
Planting beds and gardens adjacent to a house, shed or other structure: Lead in soil might come from old paint flaking off the structure. Consider when the house was built; houses built before 1978 probably have a lead contamination problem right next to the house. The older house and/or the more coats of paint that were applied to the house, the higher the likelihood of a contamination problem. Farther from the house, the chances of lead contamination are lower.
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Pets: Pets often dig in the soil. They can carry contaminated dust into the house or onto the hands of people playing with them.
Do fruits and vegetables accumulate lead?
In general, plants do not absorb significant quantities of lead. Studies have shown that lead does not readily accumulate in the edible parts of vegetable and fruit crops (e.g., corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, strawberries, and apples). External lead on unwashed produce is a greater concern. Higher concentrations are more likely to be found on surfaces of leafy vegetables, e.g., lettuce, from lead–laden dust and on the surface of root crops (e.g., carrots, horseradish) if soils are contaminated.
Does washing fruits and vegetables remove lead-laden dust?
To remove dust, remove outer layers of leafy crops, peel root crops, and then wash vegetables in water or water containing vinegar (1 percent). It is especially important to wash produce that has large surface areas that can trap a lot of dust (for example, broccoli, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, radishes, cauliflower, and Swiss chard). Thoroughly rinse the produce with clean water to remove any vinegar or dust residue.
What can I do to decrease lead hazard in the yard and garden?
In general, strategies to minimize lead hazard focus on reducing dust exposure. Good practices include covering bare ground, locating your garden away from contaminated soil, and applying soil amendments as recommended by soil testing.
Covering bare ground: You can protect people (especially children) from exposure to lead in soil and dust by covering the soil surface with a perennial groundcover, dense turf grass cover or heavy organic mulch. Consider planting flowers, fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals that are perennials and do not require frequent digging or tillage. You can minimize bare soil in the vegetable garden by planting transplants and then mulching immediately.
Garden location: Locate gardens that require frequent cultivation (e.g., vegetables and annual flowers as far from busy streets or highways and older buildings as possible.
Soil amendments: You can decrease the bioavailability (toxicity) of lead in the soil by several soil management practices by maintaining a near neutral soil, composts or as fertilizer. In soils with high lead levels, adding organic matter will enhance the formation of organic compounds that bind lead, making it less available in the soil and water reducing its ability to form dust. When adding organic matter, also maintain the soil pH above 6.5. Many organic matter sources can be used.
What other options exist for gardening on sites with high lead concentrations?
For intensive gardening (with a bare soil and frequent tillage), the following options can eliminate or substantially reduce lead hazard:
- Place barriers (e.g., solid plastic covers or geotextile covers) between uncontaminated and underlying contaminated soils to reduce mixing.
- Use raised beds filled with uncontaminated soil.
- Grow plants in containers using uncontaminated soil.
- Replace contaminated soil with uncontaminated soil.
For information on our Voluntary Institutional Controls Program, disturbing and moving soil please feel free to contact our office (573-783-2747) and ask to speak with Becky McFarland or Teresa Rehkop.
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