Lead-safe gardening

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An article from Lori Heath of St. John's Safer Soil Recent studies have found elevated lead levels in St. John’s soil, particularly in the downtown area. This is a common issue for older cities, due to the past use of lead paint, leaded gasoline and the burning of coal. Lead exposure above certain levels can have potentially harmful health effects, especially for young children.

Soil can be tested easily and cheaply for lead and other toxins. Take samples from the drip line (area closest to the exterior wall) of your house or other painted surfaces, along road ways, along property borders, and from exposed areas of your yard, especially those where children play or where dirt could be tracked into the home.

Place about two cups of surface soil in a paper bag, label it with your name and address, the location of the sample and the date. Seal again in a plastic bag and mail to Eastern Analytical in Springdale (address: 403 Little Bay Rd, RR 2, PO Box 187, Springdale, NL A0J 1T0, phone: 709-673-3909) Ask for an “ICP 11” which will test for lead and 10 other elements. The test costs less than 10 dollars per sample and they will send you back a bill for your test.

Areas with elevated lead levels should be covered with landscape fabric, new dirt, stone, sod, mulch and/or other landscaping materials, especially if young children frequent these areas.

Many types of fruits and vegetables can be grown even where soil conditions are questionable by doing so in raised vegetable beds which contain new soil and which have a water permeable barrier like landscaping fabric underneath the entire bed. A variety of containers filled with new soil can also be used to grow many types of food.

Keep soil contamination in mind when foraging for wild foods and choose lower risk harvesting sites away from roadways, building drip lines, and where possible away from urban and industrial areas.

St. John’s Safer Soil operates a demonstration garden behind the Gathering Place on Barnes Road in St. John's and conducts garden tours and workshops on lead safe gardening and sustainable urban agriculture during the summer months. To arrange a tour, please call Lori Heath at 738-7542 or email safersoil@gmail.com. Free educational materials are also available on the St. John's Safer Soil website.