According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of exposure for lead in U.S. children. All kids under the age of 6 years old are at risk. Children living at or below the poverty line and those who live in older housing are at great risk.
Why should you, as gardeners, care? While lead may not readily accumulate in fruiting parts of garden crops (e.g., tomatoes, apples, strawberries, beans, corn) lead may be found on leafy vegetables and root crops like carrots. It is through the ingesting of these edibles that we are at most at risk of coming into contacted with contaminated soil or dust.
Houses built prior to 1978 are likely to contain lead-based paint. This paint can chip and peel and deposit in garden soil. Lead dust can travel in the air and accumulate in your garden. Lead from gasoline and other industrial sources is a serious concern for urban gardeners reclaiming vacant lots.
In the U.S., half a million children have blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. According to the CDC, this is the reference level at which they recommends public health actions be initiated. Lead poisoning is the most preventable environmental disease among young children.
As Inside Urban Green points out, discussing the importance of testing garden soil for toxic metals is not high on the list of garden and food advocates. But it should be. If we’re going to advocate for giving children time outdoors and gardening with kids we should ensure that their safety is of the utmost importance.
Many states are offering blood-lead testing and holding various education and awareness events during NLPPW. You can contact your local Extension office for information on testing your garden’s soil for lead and steps you should take after you get your results.