There’s been a lot in the news lately about lead in drinking water and the danger it presents, especially to children. The lead contamination of Flint, Michigan’s drinking water horrified the country and has left many folks wondering about the safety of their own drinking water. While the problems in Flint were city-wide and due to the bad decision making on the part of city officials, even when the public water supply is safe, elevated lead levels may be found in the tap water coming out of some faucets, usually the result of corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects interior or service pipes. So it’s a good idea to test the water at the outlets that provide drinking water in your school, home, or childcare center and follow your health department’s recommendations if lead levels are elevated.
Get more information on lead in drinking water from the CDC.
But what about the water used to irrigate the garden? Do elevated lead levels in irrigation water also present a health threat? While it’s important to take steps to eliminate the source of lead contamination if the water at the outlet used for irrigating the garden shows elevated lead levels, research done at Michigan State University on soils in Flint gardens can make gardeners who find themselves in this situation rest a little easier. Looking at the soil in Flint’s edible flint demonstration garden, researchers calculated that the amount of lead added by the contaminated water over two seasons was minimal and that it “seems unlikely that lead contaminated irrigation water had any significant impact on Flint garden soils.” They also note that “Residual lead in urban soils themselves is more of a concern than additional lead added from the irrigation water, which is why soil testing - including testing for environmental contaminants such as lead - is recommended for all new food gardens, as well as researching the site’s previous uses.”