Lead and the Garden: Environmental Health Centre
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Lead has been present in the homes and gardens of Port Pirie for a number of decades. It is only in more recent years that we have been aware of the harm that can be caused when this lead is absorbed into our bodies. Young children are most at risk. They are also the group who play in our gardens and outside areas most frequently.
Ways you can reduce your exposure to lead in the garden include:
The easiest and most effective method of reducing lead exposure is to remove the source. Unfortunately this is not always possible. An alternative is to place a “barrier” between the source (in this case, tiny lead particles in the soil) and yourself. In the garden this can be achieved in a number of different ways.
A barrier over contaminated soils can consist of:
Mulch is an excellent barrier when used correctly.
It is important to cover the entire desired surface, and the mulched area should be “topped up” when the material starts to thin out over time.
Natural materials such as lawn clippings or fallen leaves are some of the best types of mulch and can often be obtained at little or no cost.
In general, the rules applied to the general garden can be applied to the vegetable garden and vice versa. See below some additional actions that can be followed when growing vegetables:
Research indicates that some leafy vegetables collect lead-bearing dusts more readily from the environment than other vegetables (lettuce and silver beet for example). Such plants, when grown in Port Pirie gardens, are not recommended for consumption by young children or pregnant women.
Always remember to thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables prior to storage and eating. This removes any surface dirt which may contain lead.
It can be assumed that all soils in Port Pirie contain some level of lead contamination – therefore vegetable beds should be raised and good clean
soil is recommended.
Compost and mulch are excellent natural ways of improving the nutrient content of your vegie beds. They can also be very cheap. Compost provides
organic matter – which helps to reduce the amount of accessible lead in the soil of vegetable beds. Increased soil quality will also promote vegetable growth.
Horse manure should be used with caution as it can often contain lead if collected from the Port Pirie area. This may then contaminate your “clean” soil.
After working in the garden, wash well and change into clean clothes, keeping your “gardening clothes” separate.
It is particularly important that the shoes you have worn are removed or cleaned prior to entering your home, as they can walk lead-bearing dirt onto
your clean floor and into your carpets.
Children who play in the garden should always take their shoes off prior to coming indoors for the same reason. This will also reduce your housework, as less dirt is brought into the home. Their hands will need to be well washed and dried after being in the garden.
Children need safe areas in which to play. Plans for your garden should include:
The importance of washing your hands after being in the garden cannot be
emphasised enough. Dirt from under your nails and ingrained dirt should also be washed off – no quick rinses under a tap!
Children need to accept washing their hands as a normal way of life, particularly after playing or helping outside.
Remember there are a number of germs in all soils.
For further information on lead safe practices, contact the Environmental Health Centre or SA Health's Scientific Services. Additional information on reducing your exposure to lead is also available on the following pages: