Muncie and Lead – What You Need to Know

“Muncie has a history with lead, and it seemed possible that people were coming into contact with lead in Muncie’s dirt. In order to keep people safe, MAP decided this would be our first line of exploration.”

MAP is working to improve the quality of place in our community. In an effort to have gathering places that enhance the quality of life, the people of Muncie are making a concentrated effort to develop pocket parks and community gardens throughout the city. An integral part of MAP is to improve Kindergartenreadiness for the future success of our community. 90% of brain development happens before the age of five. In exploring all the barriers to improving Kindergarten-readiness, we were startled by the impact lead poisoning has on developing brains. As a community in the rust belt, we had to ask—could lead contamination be a factor here?

(left: Jenni Marsh, CEO, United Way of Delaware County and Vick Webb Corporate Health and Safety Manager & Field Coordinator, EnviroForensics, collect soil samples from Grissom Elementary. Photo: John M. Craddock.)

In looking at Delaware County’s testing results for elevated Blood Lead Levels (BLLs), we discovered that, in 2014, 7% of the children tested had elevated BLLs. The national average of children with elevated BLLs of 5 micrograms per deciliter or more is 2.6%. Our community’s average was more than twice that amount. We really wanted to understand this fact better and make sure that elevated BLLs are not one more obstacle hindering children’s success in school and in life.

We also wanted to be sure that, as we are engaging community members in activities that increase children’s contact with soil (through pocket parks and community gardens initiatives), we were not putting families at risk. Like most Rust Belt communities, Muncie has a history with lead, and it seemed possible that people were coming into contact with lead in Muncie’s dirt. In order to keep people safe, we decided this would be our first line of exploration. MAP Board members John M. Craddock, Director Emeritus, Muncie Bureau of Water Quality, Muncie Sanitary District; Jenni Marsh, President & CEO of United Way of Delaware County; Ginny Nilles, Director of The Muncie Public Library; and Terry Whitt Bailey, Director of Community Development City of Muncie, are collaborating in an ongoing effort with Carrie Bale of BY5, Mayor Dennis Tyler of the City of Muncie, and Indra Frank of The Hoosier Environmental Council to explore lead exposure in Delaware County.

Sites were selected throughout every local zip code and at multiple neighborhood schools, pocket parks, and community gardens. Samples were taken in every Center Township zip code. Preliminary results are in and all soil samples came in well below the EPA’s threshold of 400 parts per million. Does this mean lead isn’t a problem? Not necessarily–it’s just not a problem where we tested. It is encouraging that there were no areas of great concern in this preliminary pool of soil samples.

How can families and individuals protect themselves from lead?

If you live in a house constructed prior to 1978, your building may have leadbased paint and lead interior drinking water pipes. The best rule of thumb is to presume your home has leadbased paint and prohibit dangerous practices that create lead dust. Paint that is peeling or chipping could be creating lead dust. Lead dust can cause lead poisoning.

If lead hazards are discovered on your property, property owners must correct them. Home repairs and projects that disturb paint (like repairing/replacing windows, working with walls that cuts through plaster and wall board) must be done by a renovator trained in lead-safe work practices. Be sure to seal off work areas to minimize dust escaping from worksite and minimize dust creation. To protect your family, clean up visible paint chips or painted debris within 48 hours of home repairs.

Children under the age of six are most at-risk for lead poisoning because lead in blood can enter their brains and cause permanent damage that can lead to problems with learning and behavior. Pregnant women also can pass lead to their unborn children.

The good news is Lead Poisoning is the #1 preventable illness in children.

Keep painted surfaces in good shape.
If your home is older and has lead pipes or lead soldered joints, use cold water from the tap and let the water run for 2 minutes before using the water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula. Hot water may cause more lead to leach into your water supply.
Regularly clean floors, window sills, stairs, and railings with a wet mop or cloth to control dust that may contain lead.
Frequently wash your children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys.
Avoid exposure to lead from makeup that may contain kohl and costume jewelry that may contain lead.
Do not treat your child with traditional remedies (like Arzacon or Greta) that may contain lead.
Do not let your child chew on items that may be dirty or contain lead paint (like window sills and batteries).
Place doormats at entrances that collect dirt from visitors’ shoes. Avoid wearing shoes through the house.
For children six and under, talk with your child’s doctor or caregiver about lead and ask to check his/her Blood Lead Levels.
To minimize potential exposure to lead in soil, reduce exposure to bare dirt. Keep your yard planted with grass.
Wash children’s hands after playing outside.

Resources for Urban Gardeners

If you grow vegetables, have your soil tested. In an effort to promote sustainable and safe urban gardening, the Center for Urban Health at IUPUI has become a resource for testing garden soils. In return for this free service, the Center is able to use urban gardeners as partners in their research and in their expanding database of soil lead values in urban communities.

Testing your garden soil is easy and only requires the following:

Ziploc bags (3-quart sized or less and 1-gallon sized bag)
Permanent Marker
Trowel or scoop

  1. Identify and take samples from 3 areas either where your beds are now or where you plan to plant (Site 1).
  2. Identify one site in the front yard or near the street (Site 2).
  3. Identify one site near your house, preferably below the dripline of your gutter (Site 3).
  4. At each site, use the trowel or scoop to scrape up soil down to a depth of about 5 inches.
  5. Put this soil sample in a Ziploc bag and seal it. Don’t worry about grass, sticks, or rocks—the lab will remove these.
  6. Label the bags with permanent marker (like a Sharpie), starting with your street address and zip code. Additionally, label the street sample bag “street,” the house sample bag as “house,” and the garden sample as “garden”—or in a way that makes sense to you to keep track of Site 1, Site 2, and Site 3 samples.
  7. Place all sealed sample bags in 1- gallon Ziploc bag, or you could use a plastic grocery bag and tie it shut.
  8. Place in a mailing container and drop off or mail to (you will have to pay postage to mail samples):

Gabriel Filippelli
Department of Earth Sciences
Indiana University-Purdue University
Indianapolis 723 W Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202

What they will do:

The lab will log your samples, sieve to remove debris, and analyze the sample for lead content. They will return the results to you, along with a recommendation table focused on your garden soils. Questions can be directed to gfilippe@iupui.edu.

What if lead is found where you wish to plant a garden? If lead is less than 200 parts per million, you are good to go. If it is higher, use raised beds filled with new, clean soil and follow the directions in this urban gardening guide.

Related Post