The Hidden Dangers in Soil

When spring rolls around, many people head out to their gardens to plant flowers and food. The warm sunshine, freshly cut grass, and potential growth draws many of us to the yard with enthusiasm. Many people rarely think about dangers in their own backyard. We often consider this a safe space. It can be easy to get comfortable with your own yard, causing a lack of proper caution. Land today, especially in cities, has often been used for many types of buildings. Prior to becoming a residential area, many lots may have been used for industrial purposes. This can add many contaminants to the soil. Older homes are also culprits of pollutants, such as lead. Before you start forming your dream garden, it can be helpful to test your soil.


Exposure to contaminants in the soil can happen in several ways. Direct contact is the most common way to become a victim of soil pollutants. Children often head out to play in their bare feet and love to feel the dirt between their fingers. Young children may also give it a taste. Contaminants can be absorbed through the skin.

Indirect contact happens when we eat produce grown in contaminated soil. This danger goes far beyond the backyard garden. Pesticides are commonly used on commercially grown produce. Finally you can breathe in the dust when soil is tilled or during regular yard work.


Lead is a common contaminant found in soil that surrounds homes. The use of lead paint on, and in, homes continued until the year 1978. Homes built before this are likely to have issues with the soil around them. Even if the home has been torn down and rebuilt, the lead remains. Paint can easily flake off of the building and find its way into the soils over the course of many years. The lead can then make its way into food grown in the soil.

Disturbing the soil can cause inhalation of the pollutant, as well. Proper gear, such as a mask and gloves, should be worn by gardeners in these areas. Your shoes should also be removed before entering your home to avoid bringing lead into your house. Babies are especially susceptible to the effects of lead, and they crawl on floors. Lead affects the nervous system, and also the brain. The usual tactic for safety is to cover the area with topsoil, as a complete removal is not possible.

Creosote and Asbestos

Asbestos is an insulating material used in older buildings. The majority of it has been abated in modern times. The pollution continues, however, as it can easily present in soil surrounding older buildings, or where buildings used to reside. The fibers from asbestos can puncture the lungs. Creosote is a mix of several chemicals often used in the preservation of wood for use in outdoor areas. These chemicals can seep into the soil over time, from the wood. Blistering, reddening, and peeling of the skin can all occur from exposure to creosote.

Arsenic and Petroleum

These pollutants are mainly concerns for industrial areas and landfills. Many homes, however, are located close to these types of businesses. Arsenic occurs naturally in many things. Seeds of apples and other produce contain minimal amounts of this toxin. Rocks, and some soil, also carry the weight of arsenic. It is also found in groundwater throughout the entire United States. Use of arsenic products for pesticide purposes took place in years past. The effects still linger in farmlands today, even though it has been banned for quite some time. Petroleum hydrocarbons are an issue because they easily get into groundwater that is use in homes. The soil housing these products is unsuitable for farming. The nervous system, kidneys, and blood can be affected by petroleum contamination.

People are showing a higher interest in growing their own food in recent years. These efforts are usually connected to a desire for healthier produce. The efforts are often negated, however, when soil is found to be contaminated near the home. Paint on past homes, former pesticide use, and treatment of wood can all cause an issue with the soil near your home. Even if you are certain that no asbestos or lead paint is present in your home, the soil should be checked. Contamination can persist for many years, even after a residence is torn down.

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