Is city soil safe?

For decades toxic materials have seeped into city soil. The risk to you in your yard, community garden or tree bed may be very real. Gardening is often a great way to rehabilitate a section of toxic soil, however, the appropriate actions need to be taken

Stay safe, shop for gloves and tools that will help you garden safe!

Know your soil

Always use gloves when working in tree beds or unknown soil

Get your soil tested. Learn more.

Use raised beds or containers for food crops, if there is ANY risk of toxins. Learn more.

Apply compost, compost helps dilute toxins, and for many heavy metals creates conditions that allow them to move out of soil

Learn more about remediating your soil here

Most common toxin: Lead

Lead is the most common toxin found in gardens because unlike other heavy metals it stays in place, this is different than most heavy metals which drift through soil over time

Lead is around buildings that were painted before the late 1970’s when it was contained in paint

Lead is also often found near streets

Lead levels above 400 parts per million are dangerous to adults and remediation is needed

Lead levels above 300 part per million are considered hazardous to children

How likely is contaminated soil?

All cities have issues with toxic soil, the percentage of contaminated soil ranges depending on the industrial and developmental history of an area.

In Brooklyn NY for example, 90% of tested yards have come back testing positive for soil contamination, this number is likely skewed as the overwhelming trend is to test questionable sites.

Toxins can be taken up by plants, fruits and vegetables, they also become airborne when dry contaminated soil is being worked.

Gardeners should pause before digging in.

What’s the risk?

Low levels of exposure do not pose a major risk to adults, but children can be at risk from mild levels of exposure because their bodies can easily absorb toxins.

The effects of toxins can be catastrophic and vary depending on length of exposure and type of toxin.

Hundreds of diseases ranging from cancer to dementia have been linked to long term exposure to toxins.

Short term exposure can also cause numerous health problems ranging from mild nausea to blindness.

Where do heavy metals come from?

Car and train brake pads which produce heavy metal dust when used

Garbage which was at one point likely dumped, buried, or burned on your land

Gasoline and paint which both used to have lead in them

Industry ranging from dry cleaners to chemical manufactures, and heavy industries

Heavy metals that may have found their way into your garden

 Lead cadmium, arsenic, chromium, copper, mercury, nickel and zinc

Toxic soil does not mean you can never garden; it’s another reason to garden.

Gardening is one of the most effective tools of soil remediation. Learn more about soil remediation here.