We’re deep into spring now and it’s the perfect time to start or refresh that backyard garden. Home gardening is experiencing a revival across the United States. People are seeing value and positive impacts of growing and eating their own food. Public health professionals and school educators are even encouraging urban gardening as a strategy to stay healthy.
For all the positives in home gardening, it is important to make sure that children are not exposed to lead from gardening. Deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and past use of leaded gasoline can cause garden soil contamination. Although present-day sources of lead have been greatly reduced, past soil contamination is a long-term problem.
For California children, lead poisoning continues to be the most common environmental disease, and the most preventable. Exposure to even small amounts of lead is a serious problem for children because it causes brain damage, behavior problems and other serious health problems.
If you grow food like vegetables, be aware that direct ingestion of soil by children is the biggest risk. Follow these tips to lower the risk:
- Do not locate vegetable gardens next to buildings constructed before 1978
- Purchase an inexpensive lead test kit from a local hardware store to ensure your soil is lead free before growing edible crops.
- Make sure to always wash all produce before eating
- Don’t track dirt inside your home – remove your shoes
- Consider using raised beds with clean soil. Make sure all containers are made from lead-free materials
- When choosing what to grow in your garden, consider the following:
- Below ground crops like potatoes, beets or carrots, stick to the skin of root veggies.
- Leafing crops like lettuce and kale may have lead containing dust on edible leaves.
- Above ground crops like tomatoes, beans, or squash are least likely to accumulate lead.
The University of California has a guide, Home Gardens and Lead, which is available for download at http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8424.pdf.
For more information and additional resources, check out our website: http://smchealth.org/lead.