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Keeping Kids' Play Safe from Lead Hazards in Soil

Tests of backyard soil in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, found lead levels at or above legal limits for bare soil. (National Wildlife Federation)
Tests of backyard soil in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, found lead levels at or above legal limits for bare soil. (National Wildlife Federation)
August 24, 2018

NEW YORK – A project in Brooklyn has some simple tips for parents to reduce their children's risk of exposure to lead contamination in soil.

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has a long history of industrial pollution as well as residue from lead paint and vehicle exhaust. The soil is contaminated with lead at concentrations high enough to pose a risk of developmental damage if ingested or inhaled.

But Fran Agnone, a sustainability coach with the National Wildlife Federation, points out there are steps parents can take to reduce that risk while still allowing their kids to play in backyards, parks and playgrounds.

"If you have a choice of playing outside in a bare patch of soil versus an area covered with grass, it's much preferable; there's a physical barrier there,” says Agnone. “And also avoiding playing near walls and fences where lead can accumulate."

Ten tips for keeping outdoor play safe from lead in the soil are available in the form of a postcard in English, Spanish and Polish. It's a July 23 news release online at ''

Agnone says the postcard grew out of work they were doing with parents from a local public school and a community garden on how to reduce risks of lead exposure when working in urban gardens.

"However, parents found that they needed a more concise and simple way to take precautions that made things very easy when it came to play, not just gardening," says Agnone.

Though lead is no longer used as an ingredient in paint or gasoline, she notes it may still be present in soil, especially in urban areas.

But Agnone adds that soil in rural and suburban communities could also be contaminated.

"Even in non-industrialized areas, if your house was painted before 1978, the outdoor paint might leave a legacy of lead in the soil, too," says Agnone.

She says outdoor play is an important part of every childhood, and following simple steps can help make it safe for children everywhere.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY