Metals in Soil

How do metals get into soil?

Metals, such as arsenic and lead, occur in soil naturally but can harm your health. The amount and kinds of metals in soil depends on where you live. Products like gasoline, paint, and pesticides often contained metals that were spread throughout our environment-including our yards. Metals may also enter the environment from hazardous waste sites and industrial activities.

How metals in soil cause health effects?

People who come in contact with metals in soil may experience health effects. The type and severity of the health effect depends on how much, how often, and for how long you are exposed to the metal. Even small amounts of some metals, like lead, can be significant. Children are especially at risk because they come into contact with so many substances through crawling, touching, and putting things in their mouth. They are also at a critical developmental age, so exposure can harm their growth and development.

Here are simple steps you can take every day to reduce contact with metals in soil:

Ways to decrease exposure to soil and dust in your home? 

  • Take off shoes to prevent tracking soil inside
  • Place doormats outside and inside to keep from bringing soil into the house
  • Wash fresh fruit and vegetables before eating
  • Clean areas where children play using a wet, not dry, mop
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • Bathe pets often and clean their paws and fur before they come inside
  • Wash hands often – especially before eating, naptime or bedtime
  • Wash children’s toys often

Ways to protect yourself and your family when playing outside? 

  • Cover bare patches of soil with mulch, grass, or other cost friendly ground covers
  • Don't let children ingest dirt- watch them carefully when playing
  • Always wash hands after playing outside-especially before eating and before sleeping

Ways to reduce exposure when gardening? 

  • Always wash hands after handling soil
  • Change dirt-covered clothes when entering the house and wash separately
  • Use raised beds or container and food safe soil for growing
  • Always wash and peel foods grown in your garden before eating

Metals and Your Health

If you have health concerns, talk to your doctor or call the Texas Poison Center Network: 1-800-222-1222.
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Additional Resources

Department of State Health Services

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

  • Cleaning Up Mercury Spills in Your House- English     Spanish
  • Evaluating Mercury Exposure: Information for Health Care Providers- English     Spanish
  • Health Effects of Mercury Exposure- English     Spanish
  • Mercury Quick Facts for School Nurses- English     Spanish
  • ToxFAQsTM- Summaries about multiple hazards substances