Commissioner’s Column: soilSHOP events help residents learn about lead exposure

Date: May 06, 2024

Understanding how our environment impacts our health is critical to the overall success of communities in New Hampshire. At NHDES, the Environmental Health Program (EHP) is tasked with evaluating how chemicals in the environment, whether naturally occurring or introduced by humans, affect our health. Together, risk assessors, toxicologists and public health specialists in EHP characterize the risk from exposure to chemicals in the air we breathe, water we drink, and the lands on which we live. When risk is high, EHP makes recommendations to reduce those risks using outreach through technical documents and educational resources. EHP is also a recipient of a multi-year grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which enters cooperative agreements with individual states across the country. Known as ATSDR’s Partnership to Promote Local Efforts to Reduce Environmental Exposures (APPLETREE), this cooperative agreement affords NHDES the opportunity to interface directly with communities that have environmental health concerns. As a result, the APPLETREE program members can often be seen out meeting the public as they have been this spring. 

To celebrate Earth Day 2024, APPLETREE and NHDES offered community members free soil screening for lead from their gardens or outdoor play areas during soilSHOP events in Concord and Nashua. soilSHOP is short for: soil Screening, Health, Outreach and Partnership. ATSDR developed soilSHOP events to help people learn about potential exposures to lead in soil, and how to reduce those exposures. soilSHOP events are an important piece of the overall federal blueprint for reducing lead exposure in the nation. The APPLETREE program at NHDES hosted the events in cooperation with EPA Region 1, who support as partners for analysis. 

Why should we care about lead? In urban areas and homes built before 1978, increased levels of lead in the soil are especially common due to deposits from leaded gasoline, exterior lead-based paint, and industry sources. With a continued rise in community and urban gardening it is important to protect individuals and their communities from contaminants that may be found in soil, like lead. Lead exposure, particularly in children, can cause irreversible and life-long health effects. No safe blood lead level has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect children’s IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. Although children are more susceptible to lead exposure, adults are not immune. Long-term and/or high levels of exposure can lead to high blood pressure or kidney damage in adults. The only way to know if there is lead in soil is to get it tested. 

Building from a successful soilSHOP sampling event in 2023, the NHDES APPLETREE program used a variety of events to educate specific populations about the risk of lead exposure this year. The recent soilSHOP events took place at the Abbot-Downing School and Discover Wild NH Day in Concord, and at the Nashua Public Library’s Sustainability Fair in Nashua. At the Abbot-Downing School, NHDES staff played Earth and Arbor Day trivia with the elementary school students and provided parents and educators with information about how to keep children safe and healthy outdoors. At Discover Wild NH Day and at the Nashua Sustainability Fair, we similarly engaged both families and urban gardeners. Community members had the opportunity to drop off soil samples at each event, or take-home instruction packets and return samples to a drop box location the following week. Drop boxes were available at NHDES in Concord and Nashua’s Division of Public Health & Community Services. soilSHOP participants receive the results of their soil screening anonymously on the NHDES APPLETREE website along with recreation guidance and gardening and plant choice recommendations based on their results. Curious how the results turned out? Stay tuned for an update in a future Environmental News newsletter.  

Are you interested in having the NHDES APPLETREE program host a soilSHOP event in your community? Contact Robert Thistle at to start planning today.