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Re: lead/arsenic in soil

  • Subject: Re: [cg] lead/arsenic in soil
  • From: "Wendy McClure" Wendy.McClure@ci.seattle.wa.us
  • Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 10:18:48 -0800
  • Content-disposition: inline

Hi Jen,
Here in Seattle, we have rarely had problems with high lead levels in
the soil.  But a couple years ago the program acquired a property in a
high garden demand neighborhood, that had a house on it, in poor
condition.  The neighbors in the area brought the site to our attention.
 We evaluated it for access, sun light, demand, and other feasibiltiy
factors. The neighborhood worked very hard to convince the Housing
Authority to make the house available for sale to the City as open
space.  At that time, there was neighborhood development funding
available to buy the site to meet neighborhood planning goals.  The
Housing  Authority agreed to take the house off the market so that the
City could marshall the funds to buy it.

Subsequently we discovered relatively high lead levels, particularly in
the perimeter area of the house.  We researched various lead remediation
options including using plants, which turns out to be a very slow
process. We learned that keeping organic matter levels high in leaded
soil is important to reduce the uptake in plants.

We determined with help from the Washington Toxics Coalition and from
City "haz mat" staff that our best option was to demolish the house and
remove 3-6 inches of topsoil from the site, and replace 3-6 inches of
soil with clean soil. We retested the soil after the clean up and it was
good. Then the gardeners developed 18" raised beds for food gardening. 
Areas that could not be scraped clean due to tree roots will not be
planted with food plants and will be kept covered in nonedible plants
that will prevent kids from getting exposed to the soil.  

We learned that the real risk is not so much from eating plants that
have taken up lead, but from direct exposure. The risk is highest for
young children, who might put soil in their mouths or play in the dirt
and then suck their thumbs or eat soil.  Their bodies are small and more
vulnerable to lead toxification.

We considered the option of bringing in topsoil to cap the area and
then using raised beds, but thought in the long run that it was more
responsible to remove the lead soil and dispose of it properly.

The cost of doing so is high, both in time and dollars, so if you can
avoid parcels of land with high lead levels, and use parcels with low
lead I think it is much better prospect for healthful gardening and
affordable gardens.   I am happy to say that the garden is now being
used by the community and is about 3/4 completed, but it was a long
process!

Good luck.

Wendy McClure
P-Patch Program
Dept of Neighborhoods
(206) 615-1787
NOTE new email address:  wendy.mcclure@seattle.gov

>>> Jen Dodd <jkdodd@juno.com> 12/10/02 07:24AM >>>
i'm fairly new as community garden coordinator and trying to build a
program for our county.

most urban garden sites have previously had homes on site.
anyone know of a good process for dealing with lead/arsenic in the
garden soil?
our soil is very SANDY.
tests reveal that some areas in the gardens are near 'danger' levels of
lead/arsenic.

i don't want to encourage some sort of 'fear of soil' , or of 'growing
food'  among gardeners.
i suppose a wise process would be to build raised beds and bring in the
compost?

who out there has a good process of dealing with this issue?
are there any horror stories relating to this issue, in the history of
urban gardening?


thanks a lot.

jen dodd
americorps/neighborhood nutrition network/gainesville, florida






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