Do you have lead in your soil?

Published 2:54 pm Saturday, July 14, 2018

Many people are aware that lead can be found in common household items such as old paint, and even toys — but did you know that lead can be found in the soil?
Lead compounds were used as antiknock agents in gasoline until 1989. It is estimated that 4.5 to 5.5 million tons of lead used in gasoline remain in soil and dust. Soils adjacent to heavy traffic volume, areas in cities and busy roadways have the highest concentrations of lead.
The other major source of lead in residential soils is lead-based paint. Homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-based paint. As lead-based paint ages it deteriorates, resulting in lead deposits in the soil near the base of these houses, creating a “halo” of lead contamination.
Although less widespread, airborne lead from industrial sources also may have contaminated some nearby residential soils.
People are exposed to soil lead either from direct contact with contaminated soil or from contact with very fine soil particles carried into houses as airborne dust or on shoes, clothing, or pets. Lead is taken into the body by either ingestion (eating) or inhalation (breathing).
Children 2–3 years of age are at high risk for ingesting lead because they are apt to mouth dirty items such as toys and pacifiers and to suck dirty fingers and hands. (It is estimated that young children consume around 200 mg of soil per day, about the volume of an aspirin tablet.) Some young children exhibit pica, the desire to eat soil, and consume much larger quantities.
Exposure also may result from eating garden produce grown in or near contaminated soil. Lead can be taken up from the soil into plant tissues, or contaminated dust may settle on edible leaves and fruits.
Exposure to lead can cause serious health risks, particularly for children under 6 years of age. It is estimated that between 5.9 and 11.7 million children nationwide potentially are exposed to lead in soil or dust. Low-level, chronic exposure to lead in contaminated residential soil can cause several developmental and behavioral problems in children. Among these are reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, learning disabilities, hearing loss, and insomnia. Once absorbed by the human body, lead is extremely difficult to remove. Prevention is the best cure!
The Sumter County Extension office is collaborating with Georgia Healthy Housing and the Georgia Department of Public Health to provide free lead screening of soil from your home at the Children’s Health Fair on July 21. Bring 2 cups of soil free of rocks, sticks and debris in a quart-size plastic bag with a zip-top closure. Screening will be done on site, limit two sample bags per person.
The Children’s Health Fair is sponsored by Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, and will held from 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, July 21at The Columns at Boone Park, 408 Rucker St.
Contact the Sumter County Extension office if you have any questions about collecting your soil sample at 229-924-4476.