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This common cat litter ingredient can help keep dangerous lead from poisoning people's yards: 'It's 20 minutes of work'

"It's a lifetime of lead remediation for a person's backyard."

Zeolite mineral

Photo Credit: iStock

Zeolite, a super-absorbent mineral common in cat litter, can also sop up lead contamination in your backyard.

While lead contamination isn't a typical concern for most people, a curious case in Los Angeles County, California, documented by Phys.org, highlights how heavy metals in our soil can be a big problem — and how the flour-like mineral zeolite can help. 

Yards in southeast LA were contaminated with lead during the past several decades, thanks to a nearby battery recycling plant that is now closed and was abandoned in 2020. The effort to remove more than a century of lead pollution from the area — which Phys.org reported could include 10,000 properties — has started.

Enter zeolite, an ancient mineral formed with magma, heat, time, and pressure, according to the National Library of Medicine. 

"It's 20 minutes of work, and it's a lifetime of lead remediation for a person's backyard," Aaron Celestian, the mineral sciences curator with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told Phys.org about zeolite dust and how it's being studied as part of a lead remediation plan. 

The mineral is porous and has high absorbent abilities. When it comes to the lead problem in LA, experts are finding that zeolite prevents the heavy metal from resurfacing and interacting with humans and animals. The mineral, when dusted in a yard, essentially absorbs and traps the lead. 

Lead poisoning can be serious. The Mayo Clinic has a laundry list of symptoms, including weight loss, abdominal pain, seizures, and vomiting. In LA, lead levels in some yards that were near the plant are significantly higher than what the state deems to be safe, according to Phys.org. 

"I've known that my community has been exposed to environmental injustices for so long in our soil, water, and air," resident Michelle Jimenez, who lives near the battery plant, told Phys.org. "I'm so desensitized."

So far, zeolite has been dusted in about 15 yards as part of a trial run to test effectiveness, Phys.org reported. When applied, it looks like a yellow cloud before settling in the ground. 

"The hope is that this will be a mode that can be adopted by the county. Even if it isn't the final strategy for lead remediation, it's a way to keep lead out of people's bodies," Celestian told Phys.org.

Lead was long used in water pipes, paints, and other common products that are now regulated by the government. You can check levels at home by using information provided by The Environmental Protection Agency. 

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