Conditioning soil that may be contaminated by lead

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Q: I live in Victoria, BC, and have some berry bushes planted beside an old fence. The problem is that my neighbour (who has lived here much longer than I have) thinks the fence was painted with a lead-based paint, and it’s flaking off.

Is there any way to condition the soil, or should I just remove all the edibles from beside the fence and try to replace it (or the paint at least)?

You raise a very good question.

This Health Canada fact sheet — on lead-based paints in and around the home suggests getting the paint tested so that you know for sure whether it contains lead.

The fact sheet states, “Another option is to send paint chips to a lab that specializes in analyzing lead in paint. The two organizations that certify labs for this purpose are The Standards Council of Canada and The Canadian Association for Environmental Analytical Laboratories. Be sure to contact the lab first, and follow all directions for gathering and sending the paint chips.”

If there is indeed lead in the paint, the fence could be removed or repainted to seal the lead in (more details on the fact sheet), but growing edibles near the fence is definitely not a good idea. Lead is a heavy metal and cannot be easily neutralized in the soil. Better safe than sorry as lead poisoning is very serious.

If you have eaten from plants near the fence, you may also consider a blood test to determine your own lead levels: “Your family doctor can order a simple blood test to find out your level of lead exposure. For further information, contact your doctor or the Poison Information Centre nearest you.”