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Published on May 19, 2016
In urban locations across the globe, individuals and community organizations have been converting abandoned lots into urban gardens. These urban gardens provide fresh fruits and vegetables while removing urban blight, but in some instances these gardens could contain high levels of lead and other hazardous materials.
While lead is a naturally occurring element, in many urban environments it can be found in high concentrations in the soil. This is primarily due to its past use in lead-based paints that degraded over time and settled into the surrounding soil. Lead was also used in gasoline and as auto emissions settling, it too could increase soil lead levels. Although the use of lead has been dramatically reduced in the past several decades, the lead contamination that did occur persists in many areas.
Urban gardeners are primarily at risk of lead exposure through the ingestion of contaminated soil and from breathing lead-tainted dust. Some fruits and vegetables can accumulate more lead than others, so eating some produce from these gardens could also be a concern.
Lead is not the only potential health risk in urban gardens. Other heavy metals could also be present as well as chemical contaminants depending on past industrial uses of the land. Some urban gardens have also created raised planting beds to grow crops that utilize old pressure treated lumber as borders. Wood treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) contains chromium, copper and arsenic that can leach into the surrounding soil.
For those hoping to establish an urban garden or already have one, having the soil tested for lead, other heavy metals and other potential contaminants depending on the past use of the land is a good idea. If contamination is found the soil could be removed and replaced or there are other gardening methods available to help reduce human exposure risks to lead and other hazardous materials.
These are just a few things to know about urban gardening and lead exposure concerns. To learn more about this or other environmental, health, safety, indoor air quality, occupational or property issues, please visit the websites shown below.