Play Safe in the Dirt

April 27, 2019

What is more fun for kids than making a good old-fashioned mud pie? It is priceless! Now that Spring is here, it feels AMAZING to stretch out our legs, get some Vitamin D and YES play in the dirt! Whether you have kids or furry friends running around your yard, that dirt (like it or not) is tracking its way right into your house. You know it, I know it - the sweep/vacuum never stops! We know spending time in nature is so great for our bodies and minds, but what kinds of considerations should we think about when prepping our backyards for Spring fun?  


Well, one thing to consider is the soil right in our own backyard. Some homes may be at risk for contaminated soil including lead. Lead in your soil is one of those things that sticks around a LONG time. Unless you know its there, it will hang out in the top several inches of dirt. That means unfortunately, if you do have lead, that lead is probably being tracked into your house. That's a major risk for exposure for the whole family. Rather than scaring anyone further about the potential harm of having lead in your backyard soil (read more here if you want to know more), I would like to suggest how to move forward and give you confidence when your family steps foot outside.


1. Which properties are at highest risk for lead contamination?

-If your home was built before 1970 and especially if you know it had lead paint.

-Also homes located near "industrial sites, leaded fuels, old lead plumbing pipes, or even old orchard sites in production when lead arsenate was used as a pesticide. " - University of Maryland Extension


2. How do I find out what's in my soil?

-Soil testing is fairly inexpensive and easy to do! Here is a link to purchase a soil testing kit through University of Delaware (although the link here will also offer other options). We tested ours through University of Delaware and it was only $15. The kit had straightforward instructions. Once you collect your sample, you either schedule USPS to pick it up for you online or take it to your post office. That's it! A few scoops of dirt in a little baggy and BOOM! You achieved your first soil sampling. Look at you, you savvy gardener you! It is well worth the peace of mind before you send the kiddos out to make that mud pie or start planting those veggies.


3. What do I do if I do have lead in my soil?

If you have lead in your soil, you aren't alone. You will want to take certain precautions when it comes to tracking dirt into your home right away, and you will need to consider remediation based on the severity of the problem. University of Maryland Extension offers more information on this. The good news is, you can still grow vegetables at home, but you will need to consider using raised beds deep enough for the roots of your veggies to prevent lead contamination. Do ask an expert to make sure that you are planting safely.


Now that you have considered the safety of your soil, enjoy the mess with peace of mind! Happy Spring! Let's grow!




University of Delaware Cooperative Extension - Agriculture and Natural Resources


University of Maryland Extension Home & Garden Information Center.

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