If you have soil that’s been contaminated by lead, you know that it’s probably not safe for vegetable gardening and it can also be a hazard to children and pets who play on your property. Lead can be a serious problem in gardens, ponds and wetlands, in addition to posing health risks for growing kids.
Lead contamination is a common problem for property owners because once lead is in soil, it does not biodegrade and persists for thousands of years. While lead is no longer commonly used in products like paint and gasoline, once properties are contaminated the lead remains in the soil.
The two major sources of lead contamination are from lead-based paint where contamination occurs when paint chips from old buildings mix with the soil and from auto emissions for properties in urban areas, especially near busy streets. Because of this, lead contamination tends to be highest near old houses, outbuildings and streets. Your county extension office can help you test your soil to see if you have contamination.
If tests show that your property has some lead contamination but not high levels, it is generally advised not to grow leafy vegetables or root vegetables in your soil until the lead levels are reduced (fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans and corn absorb less lead). It is also advised to keep children away from the soil and encourage them to play in a raised, covered sandbox away from the heaviest contamination (typically near buildings and driveways).