By Lauretta James, Medford Energy Committee


lead_spotlight2If you have high concentrations of lead in your yard or garden soil you may be damaging the health of small children, yourself and maybe pets that can lead to lead poisoning.

The lead in your soil can come from previous events (and current ones) that happened on your property or close by that you may not be aware of.  Houses were painted with lead based paints, so those paint chips and that lead dust could be in your soil, especially around the drip line of your house.  Not long ago automobile gasoline had lead in it so a gas spill or lead exhaust from busy roads may have contaminated your soil. Lead contamination can come from old car batteries that leached and from lead arsenate fungicide that was applied on fruit orchard trees 100 years ago. That’s just a few examples of how this happens.

Lead particles in soil do not biodegrade, they last forever. If we think back to 70 – 100 years or more, most of us don’t know what happened on our property. The only way to know if you have a high concentration of lead in your soil is to have it tested.

Why you should have a soil test:

High levels of lead in soil cause neurological disorders and brain damage in young children. Young children are exposed by often putting their hands, toys, pacifiers and other things that come into contact with the ground into their mouth and then ingest the soil.  In addition, green leafy vegetables and root crops take-up the lead from the soil they are planted in, therefore, if you eat vegetables grown in lead contaminated soil, you are eating the lead!  If you are working and playing in soil that has high doses of lead, you can inhale the dust and track the lead dust into your home.  Pets are not immune to lead poisoning either; they lick their paws and can also bring lead dust back into the home.

A routine soil test analysis costs only $15.00 and tests for many things including lead.  You can indicate what use the area of your yard has that you are testing, and analysis of your soil and nutrient recommendations will be specific for that use. You can do many types of use such as a child’s play area, flower or vegetable garden, grape vines and more.

UMass-Extension-logo-colorThe University of Massachusetts Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory performs the analysis. Here is their website for all the information:   It is most important that you carefully follow their directions to collect your soil sample for analysis, in order to get accurate results.

I’ve planted several small beginner gardens and never once thought of performing a soil test to check for lead. Many of my friends and neighbors have planted vegetable gardens. They have small children that play in and eat the vegetables they grow and did not know about this potential health hazard.

I have to thank Ben Barkan of Home Harvest Custom Edible Gardens of Arlington, MA who shared his knowledge about soil testing and how important it is and that gave me the concern to share this with you.  Ben gave a lecture at the Medford Public Library hosted by the Medford Garden Club several months ago. He informed us about the soil tests he has done for his clients and that almost 50% of those tests results have medium to high concentrations of lead and this is on private home property.  And about 10% out of the 50% had extremely high levels of lead. An alarming surprise for those property owners and some of us in the audience.

lead-infographic-healthIt is better to be safe than sorry; get a $15 soil test before planting a garden or if you have small children that will play there to prevent lead poisoning. You don’t know what’s in your soil unless you test it.  If your analysis shows concerning lead levels; you can cover the soil to trap the lead dust and plant vegetables in bottom protected raised beds built up with clean compost and soil.

At the City of Medford, 6th annual, Harvest Your Energy Festival, Saturday, October 3, 2015 from 12 – 3 P.M. (rain or shine) at Riverbend Park  beside the McGlynn School  we will have brochures donated from the UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory that explain their services. In addition; these brochures will be available at the Office of Energy & Environment, Room 205 at Medford City Hall.

Ben Barkan of Home Harvest Custom Edible Gardens can be contacted for consultations, soil testing and design services at


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