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The Toxic Truth About Cinder Blocks Every Homesteader Should Know

The Toxic Truth About Cinder Blocks Every Homesteader Should Know

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Planning to add some raised beds to your homestead this year? Raised beds are excellent for those who need more compact gardens or those who have back or knee pain, as they eliminate the necessity of bending down to weed the rows.

Natural rock can be used to create raised beds. Think of the stone fences frequently seen throughout the countryside. Most of these barriers were constructed out of rocks gathered from the adjacent fields. Although you may not be able to gather enough rocks from your homestead alone, visiting with a local building contractor may allow you the opportunity to glean rocks from new construction sites for the amount needed for your project.

Of course, raised gardens also can be constructed out of lumber. Cedar is a popular choice, since it is resistant to wood rot and deters termites. Avoid using treated lumber of any kind. Treated lumber can harbor toxic chemicals that will leach into the soil, contaminating both the soil and plants grown in the affected soil. The same can be said for railroad ties and other scrap lumber of unknown origins.

In an effort to save time and money, many homesteaders have turned to using cinder blocks, new and reclaimed, to build raised beds on their property. Although cinder blocks are relatively easy to obtain, are simple to work with and last for years with very little maintenance, there are a few safety concerns that should be addressed.

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First, you must determine if you are working with true cinder blocks or cement blocks, as there is a difference in their composition. Cement blocks are made with Portland cement and aggregates. They are heavier and costlier on average, while cinder blocks are made with Portland cement and fly ash, a byproduct of the coal industry, and they are lighter in weight and most often cheaper to purchase.

The Toxic Truth About Cinder Blocks Every Homesteader Should KnowThe addition of fly ash to the Portland cement is the cause of concern. Fly ash is a byproduct of coal-burning electric plants. The ash is trapped and collected, then used as a partial substitute for Portland cement. While it is true that this process creates what is now considered a green building material, questions remain about how safe fly ash truly is. The coal itself contains many heavy metals and other substances known to be toxic. A considerable amount of these metals and substances remain in the ash and are subsequently found in the cinder blocks that are created from it.

Garden beds, framed with cinder block, may be fine for flowers and other nonedible plants, but be wary of using them to frame gardens that will be home to edible plants and medicinal herbs. There is the potential for toxic materials to leach from the cinder blocks into the soil. These materials have been known to affect cognitive ability, cause nervous disorders, contribute to increased cancer risks and have given rise to many general health complaints.

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There are some ways to safeguard yourself and your raised beds if you are concerned about the increased health risks from using cinder blocks.

1. Plant only in the actual garden space created by the cinder blocks. Do not plant edibles in the hollow chambers of the blocks. The roots of these plants are completely surrounded by the block and may absorb the higher amounts of toxic material leached into the soil from the fly ash.

2. If building a new bed, seal the blocks with a waterproof sealant on all surfaces. This may lessen the amount of leaching that occurs over time from watering and natural rainfall.

3. For a few seasons, grow cleansing plants, such as sunflowers. Some species of plants clean the soil by removing toxic materials from the soil, or at the very least neutralize them. At the end of the growing season it is best to destroy the plants. Adding the contaminated plant to the compost pile will only spread the toxic materials to a new location.

Do you garden with cinder blocks? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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10 comments

  1. Actually, you are a little off on some of your statements. Standard block made of cement, rock and sand is known as Normal Weight. “Cinder” block is made the same way with the exception that cinder a lighter aggregate is substituted for some of the rock to reduce weight. This cinder version is known as Medium weight and typically more expensive due to the addition of cinder. In both cases fly ash can be used as a partial cement substitution. Typically there is no cost difference when fly ash is used.

  2. I consider it misleading to title an article “The … Truth About. ..” and then write about mere possibilities with no data, not a single study, to substantiate the claim(s).

    Are you getting paid each time someone reads the article?
    Do you want to spread needless fear and misinformation?

    I would be interested in knowing the truth about cinder blocks, but the truth is not included in this article.

    In conclusion, this article nether proves nor disproves the possibility of contamination from cinder blocks. It is merely the author wondering out loud.

    I’m disappointed.

  3. With no verifiable studies indicating that the statements in the article above, it is just fear-mongering and as commentator Vicky states, it is a misleading article (at the least). I prefer real facts and not just opinions when I am determining what is safe and effective to use around my homestead.

  4. Well I have to agree with the article. after working as a hod carrier for 10 years +. I have seen the leaching action that is mentioned in the article. (look at the sides of a stone, brick or block building and look for white to grey colored stains coming for the walls. almost all of them have it, leaching action in effect) Mixes for block and brick as well as the mortar mix have high amounts of lime and of coarse the fly ash. Do some research on fly ash and you wont be so quick to discard this article.

    from ‘preventdisease.com’

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has little power to restrict any chemical, but they’ve been investigating whether or not to label Fly Ash as a Hazardous Waste due to the high levels of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc, leaving some “Industry Folk” to refer to concrete as the “New Asbestos” or the “New Lead Paint”.

    If you want to use that . its your health!!!

    • ” Fly Ash as a Hazardous Waste due to the high levels of heavy metals including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium and selenium, as well as aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, boron, chlorine, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, thallium, vanadium, and zinc, leaving some “Industry Folk” to refer to concrete as the “New Asbestos” or the “New Lead Paint”. ”

      That is reason enough for me and my family not to use it.
      There’s too many other options(wood,logs,stones,rocks etc) I can use than to take that chance.
      I think most of our food is “poisoned” enough.
      If we are trying to grow it to help ourselves/families then its best to avoid all the bad stuff and be as natural and organic as we can.
      Thanks for sharing that info with us.

  5. Wow another really great article on your site. I check your site often because you have very valuable news to share. Thank you for taking your personal time to help other people learn more about the decisions we need to me to protect ourselves and our families. I know you put a lot into this website and I for one truly appreciate you and all Your Contributions

  6. Its not as simple as this description, I do use Construction Block, and the brand I use, from Menards does not contain fly ash, but even if it did, I would not be very concerned.

    http://www.greenbuildermedia.com/buildingscience/the-truth-about-fly-ash

    • Thanks for the comment and the link. The writer is not arguing that the blocks should not be used in construction. Her argument is that homesteaders should consider not using them in the garden, where leakage can occur on foods we consume.

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