LEAD & ARSENIC: Explaining the concerns with Geneva Foundry soil contamination

by David L. Shaw, originally posted on October 28, 2016


GENEVA — Soil testing has identified varying levels of lead and arsenic on properties surrounding the old Geneva Foundry.

Understandably, those affected are concerned about the impact on human health.

State officials say lead levels above 400 parts per million are considered elevated. For arsenic, anything above 16 parts per million is cause for precautionary measures.

The Foundry operated from 1868 to 1988 at 43 Jackson St. It emitted lead and arsenic particles from its smokestacks. Those substances settled at the Foundry site and in neighborhoods surrounding the plant.

The state Department of Health said the levels of lead in the vicinity of the Foundry could result in an increased possibility for lead exposure — “but any such exposure is likely to be small.” A preliminary review of available data for the area has uncovered no unusual patterns, health department officials noted.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing a cleanup plan that involves removal of soil to a depth of one foot on residential properties and two feet at the Foundry site.

Here is pertinent information provided by the state health department and other sources:


Inorganic lead is a malleable, blue-gray heavy metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It can be used as pure metal, combined with another metal to form an alloy, or used as a chemical compound.

Lead enters the body primarily through inhalation and ingestion. It passes through the lungs on its way into the blood, where it can harm many of the body’s organs.

In the general population, lead may be present in small but hazardous concentrations in food, water and air. Children younger than 6 are at risk of developing cognitive health effects even at very low blood lead levels. Pregnant women or those who might become pregnant must avoid lead exposure because it is toxic to the fetus.

Ingestion of lead can increase blood lead levels. In children, elevated levels before or after birth causes or are associated with adverse effects in the developing nervous system, cognitive ability and learning ability.

State officials say any exposure to lead should be monitored to the extent practicable.


The World Health Organization lists arsenic is a natural component of the earth’s crust that is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water and land. It is highly toxic in its inorganic form.

People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water; using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops; industrial processes; eating contaminated food; and smoking tobacco.

Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning, with skin lesions and skin cancer the most common problems. Long-term exposure to arsenic may also cause cancer of the bladder and lungs, developmental effects, neurotoxicity, diabetes, pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease.

Arsenic can also cause problems with pregnancies and infant mortality, with some evidence of negative impacts on cognitive development in children.

High levels of exposure to arsenic also can cause non-cancer health effects like stomach irritation and defects in the nervous system, heart, blood vessels and skin.


State officials recommend several steps to reduce exposure to contaminated soil:

• Maintain grass or mulch cover to prevent direct contact with soil.

• Avoid unnecessary digging in the dirt.

• Wash hands after outdoor activities.

• Use doormats and periodically mop floors to reduce exposure to outdoor soil that might be tracked indoors.

• Minimize children’s direct contact with bare soil by laying down wood chips or maintaining grass cover, especially if soil contains visible fill material with ash, cinders, bricks or slag.

• Plant vegetable gardens in raised wooden beds with at least 10 inches of soil. Use untreated wood to make the beds.

• Brush off soil from clothes and remove shoes and gloves before entering a home.


Documents related to the Geneva Foundry project are available for public inspection in the Geneva Public Library at 244 Main St.

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