Urban Homesteading on the Rise, Lead Issue Gets Attention

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kate Murphy, journalist for the NY Times, wrote "For Urban Gardeners, Lead is a Concern," which was just published today. I'm glad to see more awareness being raised on the lead issue, because it's an issue that affects a lot of people and their backyards, both urban and suburban. As more and more people return to sustainable living practices, lead contamination shouldn't be a showstopper, but an issue to be taken seriously enough in order for precautionary measures to be taken.

In addition to the NY Times article, an article about the rise of chicken keeping was published this morning in the Washington Times. "Hot Chicks: Legal or Not Chickens are the Chic New Backyard Addition" does not address the lead issue when it comes to keeping chickens, but instead focuses on the rise of the urban homesteading movement, which "got a huge symbolic boost this spring when the first family installed a 1,100-square-foot vegetable garden at the White House." I think it's exciting to see these practices on the rise!

Both articles are encouraging to me--more people are growing their own food and keeping chickens! It's really great to see Murphy put a positive spin on the lead issue, too--it's a serious health hazard, but it's fixable and preventable. In our own backyard, we're keeping the chickens in a movable coop away from the perimeter of the house and growing vegetables in raised beds. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to find a way to get our soil tested that doesn't cost hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, the kids will be tested for lead poisoning, an appointment I didn't waste time making after reading a post this week on Urban Mamas from a mama whose 9-month daughter's lead test came back with alarming results:

My daughter just had her lead level tested at her 9month check up and it came back at a 9.3. I am kinda freaked out right now as I have done everything I can to provide my child with what I thought was a non-toxic environment. I live in an older home and am afraid the water and/or possible lead paint may be the culprit. Has anyone else dealt with high lead levels in their infant and the possibility that it is in fact due to the home environment? I am very careful about the toys she plays with and the containers her food and water are in. Does anyone have suggestions for lowering her lead levels? Can anyone recommend a home inspection company/individual to test lead levels in my home? I live in Columbia County about 25 min. from NW Portland.

You can read statistics on the serious effects of lead poisoning on the Oregon Environmental Council's website. Honestly, I wish pediatricians took this issue more seriously. The criteria for testing children for lead is usually whether or not your house was built before 1950, but there are so many other ways in which children could be exposed to lead (toys, other buildings, backyards, the list goes on). We live in a 1941 home, but our daughter Juniper was never tested--didn't come up at all during her well-child checkups. After reading the results of a 2004 survey of healthcare providers in Oregon, I can see why children fall through the cracks and are never tested. Here is a segment from the results from that survey:

Having not received training about lead during residency was significantly associated with not routinely assessing risk in current practice. About 60% of providers reported not providing information about lead poisoning to parents. Less than 5% of providers obtain blood lead tests on children enrolled in Medicaid. Over 70% of providers would like to learn more about lead poisoning.

It's scary to think about contaminates in the environment. I cringe every time I see a neighbor spraying pesticides, weed killers, or other chemicals around their yard--it's difficult not to feel overwhelmed. While I continue to make efforts to grow my own food and buy locally grown, organic produce, I recognize that this means education and awareness. In my opinion, the difference between growing your own food or eating produce shipped up from Chile, is that you can know what's in the soil in your backyard, but you'll never really know what was in the soil or sprayed on the food you eat that's grown elsewhere. Growing your own food might take some time and effort, especially when you take steps to do so safely, but in the end, you'll rest assured knowing at least some of your food is free from lead, pesticides, and other contaminates. There's just no way to know for sure despite what the label says that your produce is really safe otherwise. The price we pay for convenience when it comes to food is too high, I think.


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