Dr. Trevor Bell, professor in the Department of Geography at Memorial University, is leading a forum this weekend titled Safer Soil Community Forum. Organizers will demonstrate how residents can effectively and easily reduce their exposure to lead in soil and garden produce, while enjoying the recreational and gardening benefits of their backyards. The forum will also provide members of the community an opportunity to find out the latest results of the project on Environmental Lead Exposure in St. John’s, and hear about potential health risks and factors that influence the risk of lead exposure.
Environmental Lead Exposure in St. John’s was a city-wide survey of soils completed over several years, with Dr. Bell as the lead investigator, which examined the levels and patterns of lead concentration in 1,231 samples from residential properties. The results indicate that 51 per cent of samples had lead levels that exceeded the recommendations of the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) residential soil lead guideline of 140 ppm (parts per million). For houses built before 1926, which represent much of the downtown core, 98 per cent of the samples exceeded the guideline and two-thirds were at levels of 10 times the guideline.
According to Dr. Bell, soil lead concentrations roughly decrease with distance from the downtown core in St. John’s and that this pattern is seen in other North American cities. He says the high lead levels in downtown St. John’s are due to the larger proportion of older houses with leaded paint in downtown areas, a history of higher traffic and more buildings with which to trap leaded gasoline emissions (prior to lead-free gasoline), as well as coal burning, either for domestic heating, light industrial uses or steamship traffic.
“Residents of St. John’s who live on properties or in neighbourhoods with high lead content should be aware that there is a potential lead exposure risk,” said Dr. Bell. He goes on to say that several factors may contribute to increasing exposure to lead including contact with soil, both outside and indoors (through tracking-in on footwear, etc), and consumption of home-grown produce from gardens with very high soil lead levels.
“Young children are most at risk to the neurological and developmental effects of lead and generally have greater potential exposure to lead in soil because of play activities on the ground and their increased hand-to-mouth behaviours,” he said. “Typically, the amount of lead in blood is used as an indicator of health effects. However, blood lead screening results from a pilot study of children in St. John’s and the province suggests that blood levels in children as a whole are well below levels of concern.”
The Safer Soil Community Forum will be held on Saturday, April 12, 2008, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at The Lantern, 35 Barnes Road, St. John’s.