Potting soil is a mixture of soil, peat moss, fertilizer and other ingredients used to grow plants in container gardens. There are a variety of potting soils designed to get the right balance of drainage, water retention and nutrition for various types of plants. Although potting soil has a variety of benefits for growing plants, it also has certain risks and dangers that gardeners should be aware of.
Legionnaires' disease is a potentially serious disease caused from bacteria in the genus Legionella. It is usually caused by inhaled aerosols and is particularly dangerous to elderly patients or those with weak or damaged immune systems. Legionella longbeachae, one type of legionnaires bacteria, is sometimes found in potting soil, and people occasionally catch the illness from the soil. According to the Government of Western Australia Department of Health, you can minimize your risks by wearing gloves and a face mask when handling the soil and dampening potting soil before working with it to avoid spreading dust. Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly each time you use potting soil or compost. You can also minimize your risk by knowing the symptoms of legionnaires' disease such as a high temperature and chills, shortness of breath or dry coughing, head and muscle aches, stomach pain and diarrhea.
Vermiculite Asbestos Contamination
Vermiculite is a natural mineral added to potting soil as a soil conditioner. Vermiculite holds water, making more moisture available to the roots of plants grown in potting soil. Unfortunately, vermiculite can also be dangerous. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, some vermiculite is contaminated with a naturally occurring asbestos called tremolite-actinolite. When asbestos is breathed in, it can pose serious risks to respiratory health. Fortunately, according to the EPA, the risks from the vermiculite are quite low. Soil contains little vermiculite and, even if the vermiculite in a particular potting soil were contaminated, the chances of someone breathing in the asbestos fibers from it would be small. If you wish to minimize your risks , however, buy potting soil without vermiculite in it.
Potting soil does not only endanger the consumer; it may pose dangers to the plant itself. According to Horticulture Help, "there are no uniform standards for packaged potting soil." Whatever the individual soils claim, they may have any number of different ingredients in them. Most have too much fertilizer, which can actually damage your plants. In addition, if potting soils are not labeled "sterilized," they may have weeds or insects in them which can pose problems for your own plants. If you are fortunate enough to have good topsoil where you live ,consider using your own topsoil instead of potting soil from an unknown sourced. After all, it is free and you will know exactly what you are getting ahead of time.