Potting Mix Killed the Gardener

Potting Mix can KillA much needed and common product that most gardeners have on hand, and use regularly, is various types of potting mix and composts.

A must have product for the keen gardener.

Most potting mix and compost soils come in bags that can be easily lifted around the garden to the spot where needed.

Spring and summer are the most common times of the year for extra use of these soils.

Most gardeners are eager to get their planting underway, and simply rip open the bag of potting mix and scatter/apply the mix where needed.

This Very Task – Has Proved Fatal for Many Gardeners

Soils and potting mixes contain organisms that can be harmful to people if safety measures are not adhered to.

One such organism that can be found in soils is various strains of Legionella bacteria, a bacteria that has caused Legionnaires disease in a few people, resulting in death for some.


Keen Gardener Contracted Fatal Disease

From Potting Mix

A New Zealand family of a keen gardener (Mrs Velenski (in her sixties) who died after using potting mix), hopes her death raises the dangers of using the potentially lethal soil.

Coroner Richard McElrea found that Mrs Velenski enjoyed gardening and used potting mix as a part of her gardening activities daily.

On Friday, December 23 in 2011, Mrs Velenski went to her general practitioner in Christchurch and was diagnosed with a lung infection, for which she was prescribed antibiotics. Two days later on the afternoon of  Christmas day she still felt unwell and went to bed.

The following morning, Mrs Velenski was found to be dead with a towel next to her, apparently used for sweat absorption.

A post-mortem examination by Dr Martin Sage confirmed Mrs Velenski’s death was due to infection with Legionella longbeachae (Commonly known as Legionnaire’s disease), and attributed the source of the infection to compost.



Safety Tips When Using Various Potting & Compost Soils

Although most suppliers of these various soils put warning labels on the packaging, many gardeners are still very much unaware of the potential risks.

Whether these labels are in the fine print or written with eye catching colors, most people don’t read them, or can’t be bothered going by the warnings, often with the belief…

“It Won’t Happen To Me”

Anyone can contract Legionella bacteria (Legionnaires disease) from inhaling the tiny dust particles from contaminated potting mixes, compost mixes (including the compost heap at home) and soil in general.

Legionella bacteria thrives in warm, moist conditions, making various soils an excellent source to grow in.

7 Simple Steps – When Handling Various Soils:

  • Wear a dust or disposable mask that fits over your nose and mouth when handling soils.
  • Wear  gloves. If the gloves are not disposable ones – Rinse well after gardening.
  • Don’t just rip the bag open – Use scissors to carefully cut the bag open.  This helps to avoid a puff of fine soil going in/on the facial area.
  • Use the potting mix in a ventilated area – Preferably outside.
  • Dampen down or sprinkle water on the potting mix to help stop any bacteria from becoming airborne.
  • Wash you hands thoroughly after using potting/compost mix.
  • Store any left over potting mix in a secure place, and away from children.


The Symptoms of Legionnaires Disease

Anyone can catch Legionnaires disease, but some are more susceptible than others.  If you have a low immune system, a long term illness, have lung disease, smoke or are over the age of fifty you are at a greater risk.  The Symptoms include…

  • Dry coughing
  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness

NOTE: Legionnaire’s disease is a lung infection caused by the Legionella bacteria, and is not contagious.  This bacteria is not only found in soils.  It can also be found in creeks, ponds and unhygienic swimming areas (including spa pools).

Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their health care provider immediately, and let them know if you have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Article written by Wen Dee

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