Toxins in GR neighborhood yards a potential health threat

Biochemist Clinton Boyd PhD will teach about soil testing and other gardening topics during free OKT garden workshops March 2 and 9.

Did you know that high levels of toxic lead and arsenic are prevalent in Grand Rapids’ Baxter, SECA/Southtown, Garfield Park and Eastown neighborhoods? Their presence is a legacy issue. These areas once were home to fruit orchards. In those days, farmers sprayed their fruit trees with the pesticide lead arsenate. In addition, older housing stock was painted with lead based paints and, prior to the mandate for lead-free gasoline, vehicle emissions settling on the ground compounded the problem.

Biochemist Clinton Boyd PhD performs the soil testing for Our Kitchen Table’s farmers’ market vendors and yard gardeners involved in its food growing initiative. While agencies like Healthy Home Coalition provide resources for residents of lead contaminated homes to clean up their indoor environments, not much is available to clean up lead and arsenic based soils found in yards.

Boyd sees this as particularly dangerous to families with young children who are gardening. Digging in the dirt puts the hands in contact with the toxins. Even when container gardens are used, kneeling in or walking through the contaminated soil can track it back into the home where it may be ingested.

Lead poisoning causes a wide range of neurological problems especially in children: seizures, learning disabilities, behavior problems and more. Before you or your children dig or play in the dirt, consider having your yard professionally tested for lead and arsenic.