What is soil contamination?

Soil contamination occurs when hazardous chemicals are buried or spilled or have migrated into uncontaminated soil. Contamination can take place during improper disposal of hazardous chemicals, during the application of pesticides and fertilizers, or through chemical and industrial processes. Additionally, these substances may be deposited if contaminated water washes through an area or if particles from industrial smokestacks fall from the air and combine with the soil.

How can I be exposed to contaminants in soil?

People can be exposed by breathing contaminated dust, swallowing or touching contaminated soil, and eating food grown in contaminated soil. Children who live and play in a contaminated area are at an increased risk of exposure. Preschool-age children are more likely to be exposed because of their frequent hand-to-mouth activity. Dust from contaminated soil can be tracked into the house on shoes and can end up on indoor surfaces and toys.

What can I do to reduce or prevent exposure to contaminants in soil?

If there is contaminated soil around your home, you should take the following measures to protect your family from exposure:

1) Practice good personal hygiene habits.

  • Wash children’s hands and faces often, especially before eating and bed time. Keep their fingernails short and clean. Adults should wash their hands before feeding their children, smoking, eating or drinking. Discourage children from placing fingers and non-food items in their mouths.
  • Keep toys or objects that children put in their mouths clean.

2) Practice good housekeeping techniques.

  • Remove shoes upon entering your home to prevent tracking contaminated soil inside. Store outdoor shoes at entryways.
  • Vacuum carpeting, rugs and upholstery often. Regular vacuuming will keep dust from building up.
  • Wet mop and wet wipe surfaces where children may play.

3) Create barriers to contaminated soil.

  • Maintaining good grass coverage, removing debris, turning the soil over, sodding, covering with plastic or cement, or excavating and disposing of contaminated soil will reduce exposure. If working with contaminated soil, keep the area moist to reduce dust from forming. Ensure that new soil is not contaminated. Do not disturb contaminated soil on windy days or when children or pregnant women are present.
  • Keep windows closed on windy days. This will help to keep dust from being blown inside. Fences, bushes and grass help reduce movement of contaminated soil.

4) Minimize potential exposure during outdoor activities.

  • Build a sandbox with a bottom and fill with clean sand to provide children with a safe play area. Keep the sand box securely covered when not in use to prevent contaminated soil from blowing in.
  • Wear gardening gloves if digging in contaminated soils and store outside to prevent introducing contaminants into the home.
  • Thoroughly wash garden vegetables before eating them.
  • Keep pets away from contaminated soil to avoid tracking soil into your home.

Where can I get more information?

Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield , IL 62761
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466

This fact sheet was supported in part by funds from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act Trust Fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

idph online home
Environmental Health Home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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