Food Garden Safety Begins with a Lead Test of the Soil - U of I Extension

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Food Garden Safety Begins with a Lead Test of the Soil

This article was originally published on June 22, 2017 and expired on July 20, 2017. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

The garden season is in full force, and I’m excited to hear about all the food and community gardens happening in our area. As we begin growing food and other plants this summer, please consider some potential health hazards.

A growing concern in urban soils is lead contamination, though suburban and rural soils may be contaminated. I recently partnered with the Peoria City/County Health Department to highlight the importance of avoiding lead contaminated soil during the gardening season.

Some garden soil contains high levels of lead that can pose a serious health risk. The risk can be from contaminated garden soil brought into the house on clothing, shoes, tools, or clinging to vegetable crops. Soil becomes mixed with house dust that is inhaled or ingested, resulting in lead poisoning. Roots crops (carrot, radish) are more likely to contain high lead levels than fruiting (tomato, pepper) and leafy (lettuce, spinach) vegetables. The harmful effects of lead poisoning can cause lifelong problems such as learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lower IQ.

Gardeners can reduce the risk of lead poisoning by following safe gardening recommendations. A good start is with a soil test to determine if the soil is contaminated with harmful lead levels. Garden soils can be contaminated with lead found in old house paint, old lead plumbing pipes, or old leaded automobile fuel. The greatest lead concentration is in the top 1 to 2 inches of soil.

Soil samples should be taken from several areas to determine the location of the contamination. Sample children’s play areas and vegetable gardens separately. With a trowel or shape, take several soil samples from within the chosen area. Combine the samples together, break up clods and mix the f soil thoroughly.

Use about one pint of the soil mixture as a sample to send for testing. Discard the remainder. Send samples to a soil testing lab with a special request for lead testing. Be sure the lab you choose does lead testing.

Gardeners can reduce the risk of lead poisoning from lead contaminated soils by growing food crops in raised beds. Covering ground at the bottom of an eight-inch high raised bed with landscape fabric, then fill with a good potting mix. Avoid using chemical treated lumber.

More information on how to grow food safely in the home vegetable garden is found on the University of Illinois Extension website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/lisr/. In addition to a Lead in Garden Soils factsheet, here is also information on soil testing, soil labs, general gardening, other soil contaminants, and more.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

Pull date: July 20, 2017