Contaminated soils can leach toxic chemicals into nearby ground or surface waters, where these materials can be taken up by plants and animals, contaminate a human drinking water supply, or volatilize and contaminate the indoor air in overlying buildings.
The most common concern for humans comes from lead-based paint. It was used extensively in the ’40s through the ’60s. It was a very durable and easy to apply paint. When it deteriorates it can easily be ingested. The persons that are at greatest danger are small children in their developmental stage. See Lead Health Risks. Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including burning fossil fuels, mining, and manufacturing. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
Lead may enter the environment from these past and current uses. Lead can also be emitted into the environment from industrial sources and contaminated sites, such as former lead smelters. While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.
When lead is released to the air from industrial sources or vehicles, it may travel long distances before settling to the ground, where it usually sticks to soil particles. Lead may move from soil into ground water depending on the type of lead compound and the characteristics of the soil.
Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings.