LEE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is advising many residents in the community of Pullman to take precautions after soil tests showed elevated levels of arsenic on the land of a former orchard.

A spokesperson for EGLE confirmed the first tests were done by the Mystic View Apartments.

“The apartment complex was doing a renovation and they were using some state grants or loans,” EGLE spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid Jr., told News 8. “As part of the strings attached to those loans, they were required to do soil testing and those soil tests came back with high arsenic levels.”

The property in question is between 50 and 60 acres and once was used as an orchard that shuttered decades ago. The property extends from 56th Street to halfway between Second Street and Third Street. North Avenue is the southern boundary and Mathuala Avenue is the northern boundary.

This Lee Township property in Allegan County is being investigated by EGLE for elevated levels of arsenic found in the soil. (Courtesy EGLE)

In addition to the apartment complex, several residences now sit on the property as well as nonprofit “People Helping People of Pullman” and the Lee Township Police Department.

McDiarmid stressed that the apartment complex has nothing to do with the arsenic contamination and that it was extremely likely that it was in pesticides used on the orchard by previous landowners.

“They refer to it as a lead-arsonate pesticide that also contains lead. So we will be testing for lead out there, too. That was a pretty common practice,” McDiarmid said.

EGLE plans to expand testing in the spring or early summer to take samples from all across the former orchard site to see how widespread the arsenic may be.

“To take a precautionary approach, we have to assume that the entire orchard has similar soil contamination. So that’s what we are going to do next,” the spokesperson said.

The department will also be looking at groundwater to see if the arsenic has spread there. McDiarmid noted that the apartment complex has its own water filtration system that is regularly tested. EGLE reviewed those records, and they did not show any signs of arsenic.

EGLE started its outreach mission last month, talking to local officials with the Allegan County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Several staffers have gone door-to-door in the area to pass out flyers and tell residents about the additional testing and what to do to reduce exposure.

EGLE is telling people to take “sensible precautions” until they get a better idea of the severity of the contamination.

“These levels aren’t alarming enough that we don’t want anybody to touch the soil. We just want them to take common sense precautions,” McDiarmid said. “Some of those including limiting direct contact with the soil and repeated contact with the soil. Try to wear gloves when you’re gardening in the soil. Children have a tendency to play in the dirt and also eat dirt. … Do a good job of cleaning off your shoes and wiping down floors and mopping. Keeping the house clean is also important because one of the pathways that you can be exposed to it is you track dirt inside; the dirt turns into dust and you inhale the dust.”

Just like your kids, keep an eye on your pets, too. Wipe off their paws to make sure they aren’t ingesting dirt or tracking it through the house.

MDHHS said gardening can still be done safely. Vegetables grown in arsenic-contaminated dirt can actually help pull some of the chemical out. The state recommended adding mulch to cut down on the amount of dust kicked up from the gardens and to consider using raised beds if you can. Gardeners should also make a special point to wear gloves and to wash their hands after working in the garden. Also, make sure to wash your garden vegetables before eating them.

Arsenic poisoning is something that usually builds up in the body over time, but some of the key symptoms to look out for are darkened skin and small growths on your body, particularly palms and soles of feet, and cardiovascular issues. MDHHS says extended exposure to arsenic can also raise your risk of skin, liver, bladder and lung cancer.