Categories
Gardening Soil and Water

Soil Testing: The First Step in Preparing your Spring Garden

Right about now, visions of gorgeous flowers and a bountiful crop of vegetables are dancing in gardeners’ heads.

It’s almost time to start turning over the garden soil. But have you ever thought about soil testing to be sure your soil is free of lead? Lead in soil is a very common problem, especially if you live in a pre-1978 built home or in a neighborhood of older homes.

So how does lead get in your soil? When your older home’s exterior is painted, the first step is sanding, which spews lead dust through the air, landing on your property. Flaking paint chips can also be ground into the soil, or in some cases, paint can peel right off the home. Also, if the home’s interior is painted and sanded, often windows are left open to disburse the dust. And guess where that lead dust falls? In your yard.

More than 500,000 children are poisoned each year by lead.

There are steps you can take to lessen the dangers of lead poisoning. Most importantly, hire a certified lead inspector to test your garden to see if your soil contains lead. Your garden may be lead free. But then again, it might not be. Is it worth poisoning your children?

Some other steps you can take:

  • Position the garden as far away as possible from any pre-1978 built homes.
  • Consider bed gardening, which raises the garden above soil level. And then fill with clean garden soil.
  • Erect a fence or a hedge to act as a buffer against any blowing lead dust.
  • Keep children away from any lead-tainted soil. Never let children eat the soil.
  • Wear protective clothing when gardening. Remove your clothes before entering your home, and place them in a plastic bag. The next stop is your washing machine. Tracking lead dust into a home is a common way for lead to enter a home.
  • Soils high in organic matter and compost with pH levels between 6.5 and 7.0 do a better job of binding lead in the soil, preventing it from being absorbed by plants.

If the test reveals the levels of lead in your soil are just too high, you may want to consider remediation of the contaminated soil. There are several options, including soil removal, raising pH levels and adding organic matter, or mixing in new soil. A certified lead inspector can tell you which may be the best option for your situation.

Studies have shown that lead does not accumulate in the fruiting part of the vegetable or fruit such as corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, berries, peaches and apples. It’s the leafy vegetables and the surface of root crops such as carrots, beets and potatoes where the higher concentrations of lead are found. A good practice with all produce — whether you grew it yourself or bought it at the market — is to prepare and wash it well. Some tips:

  • Remove outer leaves from leafy crops.
  • Peel all root crops.
  • Wash all produce in mixture of 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed into 1½ quarts water, which washes away most of the lead, in addition to other impurities.

Click here to schedule a lead test of your soil.

 

Categories
Gardening Soil and Water

Part 1: Should I test my water and soil?

Water and soil: Two of Mother Nature’s most magnificent and nurturing gifts. Without either, we couldn’t survive. But how safe is the water you drink and the soil that surrounds your home? Unfortunately, both can contain all manner of environmental hazards, any of which can cause serious health issues.

Here are some answers to our most frequently asked questions about water and soil safety:

Q. Why should I have my water tested?
A.
A comprehensive analysis of your drinking water is important. Heavy metals in pipes, arsenic that naturally occurs in groundwater, radon that is naturally produced when uranium decays in soil and water, and pesticide contamination are just some of the things that can taint the water you are drinking.

Q. How often should my water be tested?
A.
If you have well water, annual testing is preferable since bacteria can enter wells from surface water or from the ground. If you get your water from a municipality, take the time to read the quality report on water, which must be published annually. Unfortunately, even if the report is excellent, that does not mean your pipes are free from harmful lead or bacteria. The only way to know for sure is to have your water tested.

Q. Are there any signs to look for in my water?
A.
In most cases, there are no clues that your water is tainted. But if you notice a change in the color, taste or smell of your water, even if the water was recently tested, it should immediately be tested again.

Q. I test my soil each year to find out if it is lacking nutrients to make my fruits and vegetables grow. But recently I have been thinking I should test for contaminants. Your thoughts?
A.
Yes! Test! Your soil can be harboring a host of contaminants, including PCBs, radon, asbestos and lead. Unfortunately, lead in the soil is very dangerous and far more common than most of us imagine, especially if you live in a pre-1978 built home or in a neighborhood of pre-1978 built homes. In 1978, lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Today, 33 years later, simply opening and closing a window can disturb lead paint, sending lead dust flying through the air, landing in your soil. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a speck of lead dust, as small as a grain of sand, is enough to poison a child. If you live in a pre-1978 built home, or in a neighborhood that has older homes, it’s important to test your soil for lead. But even if your home was built last year, soil testing for PCBs, radon and asbestos just makes sense.

Part 2: How contaminated water and soil affects our health

Categories
Gardening Lead Soil and Water

How Safe is Your Home Garden – Pt. 2

If you had your garden tested by a certified lead inspector and found that you do have elevated lead levels, you may be able to wash most of the airborne lead from your fruits and vegetables.

Studies have shown that lead does not accumulate in the fruiting part of the vegetable or fruit, such as corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, berries, peaches, strawberries, and apples. Higher concentrations are more likely to be found in leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, and on the surface of root crops, like carrots, potatoes and beets.

Cleaning your produce is very important if there is any amount of lead in your garden. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Remove outer leaves from leafy crops.
  • Peel all root crops.
  • Wash all produce in water containing vinegar (1 TBSP vinegar, 1 ½ quarts water) or dish soap (1/2 TBSP dishwashing liquid, 1 ½ quarts water). This will wash away most of the airborne lead.

Lead dust is dangerous to everyone – especially children, pregnant women and pets. They may suffer brain damage, loss of IQ, learning disabilities, hearing loss, slowed growth, headaches, increased tendency to violence, nervous system and kidney damage, attention deficit disorder, poor muscle coordination, decreased muscle and bone growth, speech and language problems, increase delinquent and antisocial behaviors when the children grow older, reduced neonatal weight, reproductive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain. Another major problem associated with lead poisoning is high blood pressure and hypertension, which causes strokes and heart attacks, which can lead to death.

Lead doesn’t have to ruin your homegrown produce – take the proper precautions and enjoy.

 

Categories
Gardening Lead Soil and Water

How Safe is Your Home Garden?

Home-garden crop harvesting is soon upon us. But could your fresh fruit and vegetables make you sick? If your garden has elevated levels of lead in the soil, it sure could.

Test for Lead and Other Heavy Metals

Most people don’t think about testing their garden soil for lead before they plant fruits and vegetables. But lead in soil is a very common problem. Even the White House garden was found to have elevated levels of lead when the First Lady was about to plant vegetables there.

The main sources of lead contamination in soil and gardens are 1) lead-based paint chips and lead dust caused by renovation work in pre-1978 buildings, and 2) lead from auto emissions. The bottom line is whether you are in a big city or small town, you are susceptible to lead exposure. Paint chips can be ground into the soil or peel off of structures, and lead dust can be spread through the air from flaking paint on windows, building demolition, and even minor renovations. The closer a garden is to a street, the higher the risk of airborne lead particles from vehicle emissions.

Lead dust is dangerous to everyone – especially children, pregnant women and pets. They may suffer brain damage, loss of IQ, learning disabilities, slowed growth, headaches, increased tendency to violence, nervous system and kidney damage, attention deficit disorder, poor muscle coordination, speech and language problems, reduced neonatal weight, reproductive problems, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain. Another major problem associated with lead poisoning is high blood pressure and hypertension, which causes strokes and heart attacks and can lead to death.

There are steps you can take to lessen the dangers. First and foremost, hire a certified lead inspector to test your garden to see if your soil contains lead. You may have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if there’s lead contamination, you will be able to remedy that.

Other precautions you can take are:

– Select a site for your garden away from heavily trafficked streets and away from structures built pre-1978 (the year lead paint was banned).
– Erect a fence or hedge to help block movement of lead particles in the air.
– Wear protective gloves when working in soil that contains lead, and wash hands thoroughly when done.
– Keep children away from lead-tainted soil, and be sure they do not eat it.  Lead absorption through the intestines is five times greater in children than adults.
– Contain clothing and shoes in one place when you return to the house so that you do not track lead particles and dust throughout your home. Wash clothing as soon as possible, and keep children away from them, as they have a tendency to touch things and put their hands in their mouth.
– Soils high in organic matter and compost with pH levels between 6.5 and 7.0 do a better job of binding lead in the soil, preventing it from being absorbed by plants.

If the test reveals the levels just too high, you may want to consider remediation of the contaminated soil. There are several options, including soil removal, raising pH levels and adding organic matter, or mixing in new soil. A certified lead inspector can tell you which may be the best option for your situation.

Lead doesn’t have to ruin your fresh fare – just be aware of the potential hazards and know what you can do about it.