Garden Safety – Handling Potting Mix

Coming into Spring you’ll all be getting out in the garden and prepping your summer veggie plots or updating your flowerbeds… whatever the case, you need to understand the risks associated with using potting or compost mix, and what to do to protect yourself when handling these materials.

Gloves are no-brainer. Not just because the potting mix gets under your nails and can stain your hands, but you also don’t want to be touching your face or rubbing your eyes after handling potting mix with bare hands, Wearing gloves reduces this risk of the potting mix making contact with your face.

Masks are especially important, particularly when you first open a new bag of compost/potting mix. Most people stand over the top of the bag when they open it, leaving the built up fumes and bacteria to go straight up their nose. A P2 dust mask is generally enough protection for the amount of contact you have with potting mix in your home garden. Commercial landscapers and gardeners that are handling bigger volumes of mix more regularly should invest in decent half face respirator with replaceable filters and cartridges.

So, why do you need a mask and gloves?

The ingredients and dampness of potting mix make it an ideal breeding ground of the Legionella Longbeachae bacteria, one of the causes of Legionnaires disease. Most people who accidentally inhale Legionella bacteria (from potting or compost mix) will not get sick, but the risk increases for older people, smokers, and those with a weakened immune system.

What is Legionnaires Disease?

Legionnaires disease is a type of lung infection, like pneumonia, which must be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include:

  • quick onset fever
  • muscle aches
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • breathlessness
  • chest pain
  • dry cough leading to pneumonia
  • nausea, vomiting and disorientation are less common but may develop and worsen over several days.

Best Practice When Handling Potting Mix:

  • Wear gloves and a suitable mask that covers the mouth and nose
  • Open the bag slowly and away from your face – do not stand or lean directly over the bag as you open it.
  • Open the bag and work in a well ventilated area – if you’re using potting mix for indoor plants, make sure you fill your pots outside in the fresh air and take your plants inside once finished.
  • Lightly dampening the soil can help reduce dust when using potting mix
  • Water gardens gently with a low pressure hose.
  • Remove your gloves and wash your hands, THEN remove your mask with clean hands.
  • If you develop a fever soon after handling potting mix, visit your doctor!

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