Lead-contaminated soil abounds in playgrounds, parks and backyards. Lead-contaminated soil poses a threat when children play in it and put their hands or other objects covered with this soil into their mouths. There also is a health hazard when people bring this soil into the house on their clothing or shoes and the dust from that soil settles on the floors and other surfaces that people touch.
The greatest source of lead-contaminated soil is leaded gasoline. At one time the auto industry thought of leaded gasoline as a godsend, and it was burned in nearly every automobile. When this fuel burned, lead was released with the exhaust from the automobiles and settled on the ground. Although the federal government eliminated most use of leaded gas in the 1970s, approximately four to five million metric tons of lead once used in gasoline remains in U.S. soil.
Also, leaded paint sandblasted and scraped from buildings and bridges scatter lead chips and dust into the soil. Lead can enter the soil by runoff from the sides of homes and buildings due to chipping or weathering of leaded paint. Surfaces of old, outdoor clothesline poles and playground equipment may have been painted with lead-based paint. Lead-contaminated dust and paint chips from these surfaces can be hazardous when children play on them and then place their hands in their mouths. Leaded dust and paint chips from this equipment also can fall into and contaminate nearby soil.
Additionally, although now banned, pesticides that contained lead were once used in fruit orchards and now contaminates soil. Other industrial pollution, such as exhaust from incinerators burning lead-containing products, contaminates soil with leaded dust.
If you suspect there is lead in your yard or where your children play, have the soil tested. (Your local health department can recommend a lab.) If lead is present, you may have to cover the dirt with sod or grass. Clean or remove shoes before entering the house to avoid tracking in lead dust from soil. Perform regular cleaning with a lead-specific detergent.