The gardener’s gloves are on. The seeds are ready. But are the soil and water are safe and toxin-free? Before you plant those vegetable gardens, you need to find out. Otherwise, you could be eating a harmful harvest in the summer and fall.

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.

The water you use to soak the garden also may contain contaminants from a variety of sources including an aging water distribution system, age and the type of pipes in your home, soil pollution from fertilizer and nitrates, and groundwater elements. Certain chemicals can have devastating effects on our health, even in miniscule concentrations. Contaminated water can cause severe kidney damage; intestinal lesions; sensory, neurological, and respiratory damage; blue-baby syndrome; and shortness of breath.

There are steps you can take to lessen these dangers. Most importantly, hire a certified environmental inspector to test your soil and water for contaminants. You may be free of toxins. But then again, you may find that you have true health hazards.

Some other steps you can take:

  • Position the garden as far away as possible from any pre-1978 built homes.
  • Use a garden hose filter to lessen impurities.
  • 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.

Click here to schedule a test of your soil and water.