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Soil

Young boy holding up dirt covered hand
Department of Health and Human Services

Soil

Lead in soil

Lead naturally exists in the environment. Soil can have lead from natural sources or can be contaminated from:

  • Lead-based paint
  • Lead dust
  • Leaded gasoline
  • Nearby factories or businesses that use lead

How am I exposed to lead in soil?

There are multiple ways you and your household may be exposed to lead in soil.

Lead can get into your body by breathing in or swallowing soil (dirt) that has been contaminated with lead from paint chips, dust, or air pollution. Children may accidentally get soil in their mouth and swallow it when playing outdoors. Lead contaminated soil can be tracked into your home, especially after playing outside or working in the garden. People can also be exposed to lead in soil through fruits and vegetables grown in lead-contaminated soils. It is sometimes difficult to wash fruits and vegetables well enough to be sure you’ve removed all of the contaminated soil. Some plants may even take in some of the lead from the soil as they grow.

How can I protect myself from lead in soil?

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and those in your household from lead in soil. 

  • Cover soil that has lead in it with plants that aren’t going to be eaten – like grass or flowers.
  • Plant grass or small plants near the house to keep lead contaminated soil from being tracked inside.
  • Take your shoes off before entering home or living areas.
  • Place doormats outside and inside all entryways to prevent lead contaminated soil from being tracked in the house.
  • Wash your hands before eating.

Garden safely by:

  • Using raised gardening beds with a barrier, such as landscape fabric or newspaper, on the bottom and fill with at least 12 inches of clean soil.
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Getting rid of the outer leaves of leafy vegetables like heads of lettuce or cabbage. Peeling root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and beets before eating; throw away the peels.
  • Covering the soil in your garden and walking paths with a thick layer of mulch, clean compost, or straw.

Other agency resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Lead in soil

Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD). Working with Soil in Urban Areas educational resource. 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Soil, yards, and playgrounds