Soil Contamination Threatens Public Health

A simple soil test could improve the growth of your vegetables and possibly the health of your children. The Chaney-Mielke soil test will help parents determine if the soil in their yard contains enough lead to threaten the health of their children.

After using leaded gasolines and paints in our society for years, lead particles have settled out of the air and chipped off buildings, contaminating portions of the soil, said Rufus Chaney, a research agronomist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

biosolids and disease

“Automobile exhaust alone has caused the inner-city areas to have high lead content in their soils,” he said. “We’re talking about tens of millions of homes potentially being at risk. And children are the people who need to be protected from high lead contents in the environment because this situation can cause lower IQs and behavioral problems.”

Children five years and younger are especially at risk to lead poisoning due to the rapid neurological development at this phase in their lives. It’s also the age when children tend to put dirt and unsanitary items in their mouth.

One of the biggest lead threats to children may be found in vegetable and flower gardens, Chaney said. The soil in these areas can potentially expose children to dangerous levels of lead.

While lead paint used inside homes is still a greater risk to children, he said lead content in soils also should be considered. Soils near the edges of homes and buildings are often the most hazardous because rain will rinse dust particles containing lead off the walls. Lead-based paint also can chip from older buildings, collecting near exterior walls, he added.

The soil test developed by Chaney and his partner, Howard Mielke, is available for a $10 lab fee from local county extension agents or soil-testing labs at universities. (If these sources are unfamiliar with the test, have them call Chaney at (301) 504-8324.)

All soils will test positive for some amount of lead, Chaney said, but if lead levels prove hazardous, there are corrective steps that can be taken. In some cases, the soil can be made safer by just tilling the top layer under under. In other cases, a sludge compound can be added to the soil to absorb the lead, which also will make the soil more fertile.

Earth Fact: Under the latest standards established by the Centers for Disease Control, millions of children in America have dangerous levels of lead and pesticides in their blood.

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Earth News is a division of Crossbow Communications. Earth News is a syndicated environmental news service. The company covers a variety of health and environmental issues, including biodiversity, chronic wasting disease, climate change, deforestation, endangered species, global warming, neurodegenerative disease, neurotoxins, wildlife conservation and more.