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Getting the lead out

Here’s an update on the lead issue.

As you probably remember the main garden plot measured between 500 and 600ppm of lead. If there were only adults involved we would consider growing fruits and above ground veggies and using them (after washing carefully).

But there are small children in both families and we cannot take the risk of exposing them to lead. Plus, we really want a garden where they can participate, and we absolutely can’t have them coming in contact with the soil.

About two weeks ago we decided to test some additional areas in the yard, hoping that those areas would be lower in lead content. We were thinking that the garden site was probably contaminated with paint or debris, so the problem might be localized.

The test results came back and the results from the new areas were almost as high as the first area. The problem is very widespread and likely to involve the entire yard.

We have decided to construct some raised beds with soil imported from elsewhere.

Two questions, though, came up.

First, where did all this lead come from?

We don’t know for sure, but rumor has it that the area was once covered with orchards. Until the late 1940s the pesticide of choice in orchards was Lead Arsenate. Hundreds of thousands of acres in Washington (and other states) are contaminated with both lead and arsenic from this practice.

We are looking into the history of the area to confirm the orchard theory. We could also confirm the theory by testing for Arsenic (the UMass test does not include Arsenic).

Second, can the soil be cleaned up?

The answer is, maybe. There has been quite a bit of research on using plants to extract lead and arsenic. Indian Mustard is capable of absorbing significant amounts of lead and Chinese Brake Fern can absorb arsenic. Its not quick and you have to add chelating agents to the soil, but we are researching the possibility and hope to begin the process next spring. It could take years, but we will have the satisfaction of restoring a part of our earth.

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