Stucco cottage insides on our vegetables
July 21, 2016 7:41 PM   Subscribe

There's dust from a wall cut all over our vegetables and their soil. Is this a garden ruiner or just an extra scrub of the veggies?

The garden is in a very narrow space between our house and the next. A "handyman", an electrician and two gas heating unit installers have been working in this space on the other cottage. The electrician covered everything nicely with plastic before he worked. No dust.

The other three were cutting through the stucco into the lathe from outside, and covered the whole area with house gut dust. The cottages were built in the early 1920's.

The garden is my husband's baby and he's very upset. I'm looking for hope that it's salvageable, but I doubt there is much hope.

Ought we remove all the soil and chuck the plants? Or just give an extra rinse to the food? Or something in between?
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
Hose off everything when you can. You should be washing your vegetables well before eating them anyway, because stucco dust is nothing compared to the petroleum particulates and e.coli!
posted by Lyn Never at 7:58 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Stucco is man made limestone , calcium carbonate, spray everything with water no worries .
posted by hortense at 8:20 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

The cottages were built in the early 1920's.

I found a page (run by a mesothelioma attorney) which implies that asbestos was very commonly used in stucco at least into the mid-70s:
Stucco and Asbestos

Requiring heat and water resistance, as well as strength and flexibility, stucco is a material that must meet a wide range of requirements on a consistent basis in order to be suitable for the exterior applications for which it is primarily used.

To meet those requirements prior to the mid-1970s, manufacturers turned to asbestos. This silica-based mineral was widely mined beginning in the mid-1800s, offering manufacturers a cheap and readily available additive that offered strength and durability, as well as flexibility, insulation, heat resistance and resistance to corrosion. Occurring as tiny fibers, it was easily incorporated into many materials, and could be formed into virtually any shape wihto0ut losing strength.
posted by jamjam at 9:42 PM on July 21, 2016

I'd test for lead in the soil given the age of construction. If you are in the US, most white paint before the 70's was full of it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:16 AM on July 22, 2016

If most of the dust is from drilling and sawing, I wouldn't worry about lead; the amount of lead you'd get from a surface patch the size of a few drill holes and saw cuts would be very small. If the dust was from having all the paint sandblasted off the walls, that would be quite different and lead would certainly be something you'd want to test for.

Asbestos will fuck you over if you breathe it in. If there's any doubt in your mind about asbestos in your stucco, you'd want to mist-spray the area where the dust has gone; you don't want your spraying to splash puffs of dry asbestos into the air, you want it to drip into the soil and become bound up there.

Obviously having a bit of asbestos in your garden soil isn't ideal, but again this is about relative risk. If there actually is asbestos in your stucco, you've likely been exposed to much more of it due to weathering of your houses' exteriors than you're going to get from a bit of dampened asbestos-laden stucco dust incorporated in your garden soil. And earthworms don't live long enough to get mesothelioma.

For what it's worth, unless your contractors were wearing respirator masks while turning your stucco into dust, they've exposed themselves to way more of everything that was in it than you're ever likely to pick up after damping down the dust they've left behind.

If you're worried about asbestos, break off a little chunk of stucco from somewhere inconspicuous and have it tested.

Other than those possibilities, there's nothing in stucco dust that's going to hurt you or your garden once it's washed into the soil. Bit of extra calcium will probably do it good.
posted by flabdablet at 2:06 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Upsetting, but certainly not a garden-ruiner. I would just scrub the veggies extra-well to get the dust off of them before eating, and then after the growing season is over, go ahead and scrape off a top layer of soil and replace it to alleviate any anxiety.

If it's just regular stucco, there's really absolutely no reason to do anything but wash your veggies and carry on. Even in the absolute worst case scenario -- say, both asbestos AND lead in the dust -- it's continuous exposure over the long term that's a health problem. The relatively tiny amount from a one-time fine coating of dust...meh.
posted by desuetude at 9:59 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just hose down the garden and let the dust work its way into the soil. Wash your veggies. There's nothing particularly toxic in stucco. Even asbestos and lead, while they may be present, are only dangerous in small quantities if you're repeatedly exposed to them. The amount of lead that could be present in the dust is pretty small given that we're only talking about a few cuts and drill holes. Asbestos is more of an inhalation hazard than an ingestion hazard.

However, you could certainly talk to your neighbor who should then complain to her contractor(s). At my company, covering a neighbor's garden in construction dust because you were too lazy or bad at planning to put up some plastic sheets would be unacceptable. At very least they should have noticed partway through that dust was landing on your veggies and covered things at that point. You're not going to get reparations or anything (I mean, you could try small claims court but good luck with that) but they might at least learn to be more careful next time. If the construction is ongoing, "next time" might be you.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:57 AM on July 22, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! The end of yet another successful edition of Can I Eat This?
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 9:22 PM on July 24, 2016

« Older What does the Braille on this restroom sign say?   |   Roses in Art (For a Friend) Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.