Lead Testing in Soil: Assessing Environmental Contamination Risks

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic to humans and negatively affects their brain, kidneys, and other vital organs, causing behavioral issues, learning impairments, and seizures.
  • Lead can contaminate your soil in various ways, including old paint, gasoline residue, and industrial activities.
  • Lead contamination can change an ecosystem’s structure by decreasing biodiversity, stunting the growth and reproduction of plants and animals, and causing neurological consequences on vertebrates.
  • During a lead inspection, a specialist might visually assess the property, gather soil samples, have the samples tested in a lab, or use an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer to gauge lead concentrations.

Gauging Environmental Contamination Risks by Testing Lead in Soil

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can disrupt bodily functions and adversely affect vital organs like the brain, kidneys, and reproductive systems. It should not be touched, inhaled, or ingested, especially by children, pregnant people, or pets, so it is essential to perform lead testing throughout your property to ensure its safety.

Industrial activities, deteriorated particles from lead-based paint, and gasoline residue can all seep into the ground and create lead-contaminated soil. Experienced environmental remediation companies can conduct thorough soil testing at older homes, playgrounds, and gardens to help limit the risk of lead exposure.

A specialist will likely perform several steps while checking for lead contamination, including visually inspecting the property, collecting soil samples, submitting samples for laboratory testing, or using an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. Be proactive and schedule a professional soil test to identify and mitigate lead contamination risks.

What is Lead Contaminated Soil?

When lead, a toxic heavy metal, infiltrates the environment by being deposited in soil, it causes pollution that can harm humans and ecosystems. Some common sources of lead-contaminated soil are:

  • Industrial activities – Mining, smelting, and manufacturing can release lead into the environment, contaminating the air, water, and soil around industrial facilities.
  • Old paint – Before the United States government banned lead-based paint in 1978 due to potential health hazards, it was widely utilized in older homes. Over time, falling paint chips and dust can contaminate soil.
  • Gasoline residues – Leaded petrol has historically been used to enhance engine performance. Even though leaded gasoline has been phased out, old residue has been found in soil and groundwater at roadways and gas stations.

The above sources add to the lead pollution that can harm human health and endanger the area’s ecosystems. Learning about lead can help you assess health and environmental risks.

Health Risks of Soil Lead Exposure

Exposure to lead from polluted soil can pose serious health concerns by disrupting the function of vital organs like the brain and kidneys. Some symptoms adults may experience when exposed to lead are: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Cramping in the stomach
  • Constipation
  • Discomfort in the muscles and joints
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability

Sometimes, adults who are lead-poisoned don’t exhibit symptoms of illness. The following beings are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from contaminated soil.


Children may accidentally play in or track the contaminated soil into the house. In doing so, they may experience the following adverse effects:

  • Difficulties with learning and behavior
  • Physical growth and development impediments
  • Headaches and irritability

To help protect children who occupy your property, contact a trusted environmental remediation company offering lead testing services.


Lead exposure can also cause pet health issues, such as behavioral and physical changes. For example, lead may cause intermittent seizures in cats. Lead can also cause lethargy, anemia, or behavioral changes in pets with lead toxicosis. Checking your pet’s blood lead concentration can help rule out lead poisoning.

Pregnant People

If a pregnant person is exposed to lead-contaminated soil, it can cause widespread harm. Lead poisoning can cause the following effects:

  • Hindrance to the health and development of prenatal babies
  • Increased risk of miscarriages
  • Disruption of the mother’s brain, kidneys, and reproductive system

The consequences vary depending on each individual’s lead exposure duration and amount. To help minimize the above risks, lead testing for homeowners is crucial. In addition to humans, lead-contaminated soil can also hurt nearby ecosystems.

Environmental Impact

Lead contamination significantly impacts plant development, soil health, and the ecosystem as a whole. Lead-contaminated soil affects the environment in the following ways.

Hampering Soil Health

If lead infiltrates a soil bed, it can decrease fertility by altering the pH and restricting nutrient availability, reducing the soil’s suitability for plant growth. It can also poison the soil’s microorganisms that help break down organic matter and facilitate plants’ ability to absorb nutrients.

Obstructing the Growth of Plants

Lead prevents plants from developing correctly by interfering with seed germination, seedling development, root elongation, chlorophyll production, and nutrient uptake. This may result in reduced crop output and stunted growth in agriculture. Some signs plants exposed to elevated lead concentrations may display are:

  • Impaired photosynthesis
  • Necrosis, which is the death of plant tissue
  • Chlorosis, which is the yellowing of leaves

Plants are the foundation of the food chain, so lead-contaminated plants negatively impact decomposers, herbivores, and carnivores that directly or indirectly rely on plant nutrients.

Hindering the Health of Wildlife

When animals eat lead-tainted plants or wallow in lead-contaminated soil, they may change their lifestyle and have worrisome symptoms. Some examples of lead-induced changes that animals may experience are:

  • Signs of central nervous system impairment
  • Reduced grazing
  • Appearing unresponsive and apathetic
  • Walking aimlessly
  • Loss of vision

In more severe cases, lead-poisoned animals may exhibit muscle spasms, tongue paralysis, circling, and a star-gazing posture. You should schedule a professional soil test for your outdoor environment to minimize the risk of lead poisoning your nearby ecosystems.

Expert Support Against The Risks of Lead

From lead paint testing to soil sampling, Alpha Environmental keeps your property safe from potential lead exposure.

Importance of Lead Testing in Outdoor Environments

Certain factors cause lead to be more prominent in specific areas. Knowing the most important places to have soil tested can help you and other inhabitants avoid lead poisoning. It is essential to perform soil testing in the following locations.

Older Homes

Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was authorized to regulate lead-based paint risks in 1978, lead-based paint was commonly used in homes due to its affordability, durability, and easy cleanability. This paint is still present in many homes, but newer layers of paint usually cover it up—if the newer coats deteriorate, lead can still leach into the surrounding ecosystem. So, if you live in a neighborhood with older houses, there may be dust and shavings from lead-based paint on your property. 

Additionally, gasoline formerly contained lead. So, if you live near an old road, leaded gasoline residue may have contaminated your soil. Schedule a soil test to detect and address contamination early.

Playgrounds and Parks

Children under 6 are at higher risk for lead poisoning because their bodies absorb the toxic metal faster than older kids or adults. Plus, children under 2 are more likely to crawl atop lead-contaminated soil and put their hands or objects in their mouths, increasing their risk for lead poisoning. The soil in children’s play areas and parks should be tested for lead frequently to avoid life-changing developmental issues. 

Home Gardens

Gardening requires extensive contact with soil—some gardeners kneel in it or dig their hands into it. If the soil is contaminated with lead, it is easy for gardeners to get exposed. Plus, the plants and food grown in a lead-contaminated garden can harm the people or wildlife that eat them.

Thankfully, there are different ways to check for lead in soil. Contact an environmental professional to read lead concentrations in your garden, playground, or home.

Methods of Testing for Lead in Soil

You can get accurate lead reports if you consult an experienced environmental remediation team that follows an all-encompassing guide to lead inspection. Some examples of steps a specialist might complete during the test are:

  • Visual inspection – An environmental professional may first survey your property for signs of lead exposure. Peeling paint with white residue and the property’s proximity to industrial sites can suggest contamination.
  • Soil sampling – Surface soils can be sampled using a scoop, trowel, or spade. A coring tool may be needed to extract deeper soils. Protective gear is usually required to safeguard the sampler from lead exposure.
  • Laboratory testing – Typically, labs mix a 3-gram air-dried soil sample with 30 milliliters of 1 M nitric acid for one hour. After centrifugation, the liquid floating above the sediment is tested with an inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer to calculate the parts per million of lead in the soil.
  • Portable XRF analyzers – XRF analyzers shoot out X-ray beams that measure lead concentrations and compute energy signatures in paint or soil samples for on-site detection.

Each property may require a unique approach to lead testing, but a reliable environmental remediation team can adapt to your and your property’s needs.

How Alpha Environmental Can Help

Lead-contaminated soil can pose serious health risks, especially in older neighborhoods or near roadways. While lead exposure can affect anyone and disrupt their vital organs, children and prenatal babies are at a greater risk of absorbing the toxic metal and facing developmental hindrances. 

Schedule professional lead testing and remediation services from reliable environmental remediation teams like Alpha Environmental. We have over 21 years of experience testing properties in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, precisely determining lead levels and carrying out the required cleanup procedures. With our expertise, we can help ensure your outdoor area is free from hazardous levels of lead.

Contact Alpha Environmental today for accurate soil testing and reliable remediation.

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