High lead levels an issue for backyard chickens, soil
By Mary Flaherty, http://www.berkeleyside.com
Last month a local veterinarian had a Berkeley client bring in a very sick chicken.
“It was almost dead,” said Dr. Lee Prutton, of the Abbey Pet Hospital in El Cerrito. Prutton said he put the chicken to sleep and, wondering if it had a contagious disease, sent the body to the state lab for testing. The results: heavy metal poisoning, mainly lead.
The vet is now concerned that people are raising chickens in lead-contaminated urban soils, unaware that the lead can enter the chickens’ eggs that we eat.
Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, miscarriage, high blood pressure and learning and behavior problems, and is especially problematic for growing children, according to the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department.
Last October, the New York Times reported that “…a New York State Health Department study show(ed) that more than half the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike store-bought counterparts.”
A study in the 2003 Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation confirms the transmission of lead from a chicken to its eggs. According to ‘Lead Contamination of Chicken Eggs and Tissues from a Small Farm Flock,’ “The data show a strong positive correlation between (chickens’) blood lead and the concentration of lead in the yolk of eggs… Eggs and chicken tissues containing significant concentrations of lead are a potential human health hazard, especially to young children.”
In Berkeley, backyard chicken keeping is on the rise, but how many chickens are out there is unknown, since licenses are not required. At the Urban Farm Store at BioFuel Oasis on Sacramento and Ashby, a clerk says they sell about 20 bags of chicken feed a day. She estimated at least 500 households in town are raising chickens.
So lead in the soil is something those chicken owners need to know about. It’s also a concern for backyard gardeners, of course.
But Daniel Miller, executive director of Spiral Gardens, the community garden on Sacramento Street, cautioned about being too worried. “It is something we need to be educated and concerned about, but not something to be alarmist about.”
Lead, more than the low, naturally occurring amounts, is all around us in an urban setting, Miller said. The question, he said, is, how much, and how to remediate it.
- Chickens get the lead out (respublica.typepad.com)