Despite years of negative publicity surrounding the contamination of soil at Barber’s Orchard, the actual health risk posed by the soil is miniscule, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The only health hazard comes from eating the soil, not just once or twice accidentally, but on a regular basis for 30 years.
“It’s 30 years of eating two grams of dirt per day,” said Jon Bornholm with the Environmental Protection Agency. “Kids were the main concerns because they are the ones more likely to eat some dirt.”
Consuming Barber’s Orchard dirt at that rate would increase the risk of getting cancer by one in 10,000, or by .01 percent.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 30 percent of adults will get cancer. Eating dirt daily from Barber’s Orchard for 30 years would bump a person up from a 30 percent to a 30.01 percent chance of getting cancer.
There is no risk from touching the dirt, inhaling the dirt, eating vegetables grown in the dirt or eating livestock that grazed on the site — but only from direct and repeated digestion.
Monkeys to the rescue
Pollution in the soil varies from higher concentrations to none at all. Figuring out how much was too much was not easy. Could soil with only the slightest trace amounts be left where it is, or did it all have to go?
To answer that question researchers bagged up soil from Barber’s Orchard and sent it off to a lab where it was fed to monkeys. The monkeys were then studied to determine how much arsenic from the soil was actually absorbed into their blood stream. Pigs were also fed doses of the Barber’s Orchard soil.
The study equaled good news for taxpayers’ wallets. It turned out the absorption of arsenic from eating the soil was less than originally thought. The threshold for acceptable arsenic level was lowered from 40 parts per million to 80 parts per million.
That in turn downwardly revised how much soil had to be removed, from 117 acres to only 88 acres. And the price tag on the project fell from an estimated $24 million to $15 million.