2018 Winnipeg Lead in Soil Survey

What has the most recent soil study found?

Soil studies conducted in Winnipeg at the same sites in the 1980s, in 2007/2008 and in 2018 show lower concentrations of lead in soil over time. In the most recent (2018) survey, some soil samples collected remain above the human health soil quality guidelines set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME).  These soil samples came from the Weston School field, a City of Winnipeg park and parts of Point Douglas.

What does it mean if the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) guideline is exceeded?

There are two types of guidelines developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). There are guidelines that protect the environment and ones that protect human health. Soil quality guidelines for human health identify concentrations of soil contaminants that may cause an increased risk to health. These guidelines are very conservative and consider the most sensitive user of the land, usually a toddler with year round exposure to the soil. In winter in Manitoba, there is little to no exposure when the ground is frozen or covered in snow.

Soil quality guidelines for Residential / Parkland land use category apply to areas where the main activity is residential or recreational activity. This category includes home gardens. The guidelines represent lead concentrations where further assessment of the risk is required to determine if action is needed.

How do I know if there is lead in soil on my property or in the areas that my children play?

Lead is common in soil in older urban areas. However, the main sources of lead exposure are declining as the historical causes of lead contamination such as lead in paint and leaded gasoline have been reduced.  In addition, Winnipeg no longer has any lead smelters.

If you live in older parts of the city, there will likely be some lead in the soil on your property. Homes built before 1990 could have lead in the soil near fences and the house due to previous use of lead paint.  The older the home, the greater the risk of lead concentrations in the soil. In addition, homes built along older streets with heavy traffic or near airports may have lead in the soil due to use of leaded gasoline. Homes in the City of Winnipeg near industrial sources of lead can also have higher levels of lead in the soil.

What is the risk of lead in soil to my health?

The health risk of lead in soil is considered to be low. Lead enters the body if soil is inhaled as dust, or is swallowed by not washing garden vegetables or your hands before eating.  When contaminated soil is covered with sod, concrete, asphalt, etc., the exposure is greatly reduced.  In winter, there is little to no exposure when the ground is frozen or covered in snow.

Data from other cities in Canada show that exposure to lead in soil increases lead in the blood only slightly. However, lead exposures should be reduced as much as possible. This is particularly important for children. See the provincial lead fact sheet www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/lead/ for other sources of lead exposure. 

What steps can I take to reduce the risk of being exposed to lead in soil?

If you use your soil for gardening, lead in soil can be managed by taking some precautions when gardening. The gardening and contaminants fact sheet provides advice on how to assess your garden site for potential contaminants, ways to manage soil contamination and general gardening safety tips: www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/environmentalhealth/home_gardens.html

Children and adults can take precautions to avoid exposure to lead in soil by washing their hands after playing or working outside, in particular before snacks and meals. Do not allow toddlers to play in the mud or eat soil. Cover bare soil to prevent blowing dust.

What actions will be taken to address lead in soil?

When soil quality guidelines for human health are exceeded, further assessments can be conducted to determine the next steps.

To assist in determining the next steps in Winnipeg, Manitoba Health has prepared a Request for Proposal to hire a consultant to provide guidance on the risk to human health and how to identify and manage areas with increased lead concentrations in soil. The consultant report will provide guidance on the appropriate next steps, including any further studies, to address the lead in soil findings.

What should I do if I am concerned about my health?

If you have concerns about your own or your child’s exposure to lead, contact Health Links–Info Santé : 788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257 (toll-free) or speak with your health care provider.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on lead, please see the provincial lead fact sheet

You can also view the gardening and soil contaminants fact sheet.

Public Health | Environmental Health
Manitoba Health

4th Floor - 300 Carlton St.
Winnipeg MB  R3B 3M9
Phone: 204-788-6735
Fax: 204-948-2040