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Reality of Community Gardening in Inner Cities With Lead

  • Subject: [cg] Reality of Community Gardening in Inner Cities With Lead
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 12 May 2005 11:46:12 -0400

 The first thing we have to do as community gardeners is to do no harm.  We love kids in our community gardens, we believe we are renewing the earth, and feel really good when we see green lushness in the midst or urban decay. 
 
But we have a responsibility to the families and children that enter these oases that they are not ingesting poison. 
 
As Maria said, often the governmental authorities are have a don't ask, don't tell attitude towards pollution and heavy metals in the soils of communities of color.  Quite frankly it's environmental racism - and most of the municipalities, especially in the North East/Rust Belt states are broke. So even with the best will in the world, unless it's a potential superfund site, most city adminstrators will look the other way - there are more pressing problems with wheels that squeek loudly that have to get their immediate attention. 
 
So, what is someone who want to community garden with their kids do in the midst of all of this? 
 
If the PPM in some areas is too high, you don't have the ability or economic wherewithal to dig up the polluted soil, then pave it over, and set up large enclosed planters with adequate drainage. If there's demoltion going on around the garden, test the soil in the planters, periodically, have adequate signage in the languages of the community posted, with the proviso that they really need to get those hands washed. The follow up is the killer, and you have to have people who care engaged in safety. 
 
In the CCG, in Manhattan, we test, using UMASS's lab, put our raised beds for food in the rear of the garden ( away from the street, and where the cars used to have lead emissions, where the back yards of the demolished tenements were) have piped in water, where Moms and kids can wash their hands ( with the proviso that they should wash their hands with soap and water when they get home). We still suggest tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, and "aerated" veggies be raised, but strongly suggest that root vegetables like carrots and beets never be fed to the kids from our gardens to be safe. 
 
We have a deep dug Children's bed up front, that was the site of soil amendment deliveries for over 20 years. And we continually test it to see that its clean. Over the last 20 odd years, our front garden, lawn area has been buried in close to three feet in new soil amendments. We soil test, down to two feet, and are "clean," so we are good with kids walking barefoot in the grass. 
 
Fortunately, our original PPM levels were quite low.  But we've worked very, very hard at importing soil amendments, and when the garden was at safe gardening lead levels, started to engage in serious composting about 12 years ago. 
 
Regular soil testing, soil amendments, continual education of new gardeners is a hard thing for volunteers to keep organized.  So, if you have space with dangerous PPM levels, amend it, pave it over, use raised beds and planters, restrict usage to adults if necessary, but consider, please, safety for the kids.  
 
Just because the place is beautiful, doesn't mean that its safe. If the lead levels are midrange, then I see decorative viewing gardens as the option, with the proviso that kids only garden in a separate, clean soil box where the dirt that enters their mouths and noses is clean. 
 
Everbest, 
Adam Honigman
Volunteer
Clinton Community Garden
NYC
 
 
Adam Honigman
Volunteer
Clinton Community Garden
NYC. 
 
 
 
 
-----Original Message-----
From: Maria B. Pellerano <pellerma@umdnj.edu>
To: Mike McGrath <MikeMcG@PTD.net>; community_garden@mallorn.com
Sent: Thu, 12 May 2005 07:45:46 -0400
Subject: Re: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil


Hi Mike,

I absolutely agree with you that hauling the soil away is the safest 
solution but unfortunately in cities where lead is everywhere it is not 
practical and perhaps just a stop gap measure.  There are no other clean 
spaces in cities like mine if they have ever had buildings on them.

In communities like Dorchester (Boston, MA) and New Brunswick (NJ) the lead 
is everywhere.  Dorchester had a lot of testing done as part of the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) Lead Safe Yards program and every 
yard had high levels of lead.  We have been doing a lot of testing in New 
Brunswick as part of the Rutgers Urban Ecology Program and we are finding 
similar patterns as Dorchester but our levels aren't quite as high.  The 
reason the lead is everywhere is because of the old housing stock and the 
use of lead paint, continuous deterioration and renovation.  When we learned 
we had high levels of lead (BTW the garden had been in use for a time) we 
looked at all our options and money for doing it.  According to a lead 
specialist at our local school of public health you might have to take out 
eighteen inches of soil.  They found this to be true in other N.J. cities 
when they tested the soil at different levels.  After you put in new soil 
you could have recontamination from the old house next door or when someone 
sands the exterior of house close by.  There should be laws against all of 
this but there aren't any and in poor neighborhoods people welcome it when 
houses are being fixed up.

As far as government money goes there is very little available and 
homeowners don't have an ability to apply for any of it.  The little money 
that is available for lead remediation for homeowners is put into fixing up 
housing interiors particularly replacing old windows.  So that leaves 
homeowners and community gardeners in a quandary.  BTW when you remove one 
window from a home you can put dust inside and outside the home that has 
20,000 ppm (parts per million) of lead.

We opted for following the prescriptions of the USEPA Lead Safe Yard Program 
because with a bit of fundraising we were able to get the money needed for 
putting down multiple layers of agricultural cloth, building raised beds, 
bringing in new soil, putting in foundation plantings, and mulching paths 
and making a safe play area for children.  We are also getting the city to 
give us a water connection and free access to water.  This is probably most 
important because we can get children to wash their hands.  In the end 
education has been our most important weapon against fighting lead poisoning 
of children (we have higher than average state levels but not as high as 
some N.J. cities).  These children get lead from inside their homes, soil, 
and foods they eat.  Yes we still use lead in consumer products in this and 
other countries.  Most lead in food is from the pots that it is cooked in 
(candy for example) not from the original ingredients.

For a long time I held out for removing the soil because I am a masters of 
public health student and because I believed it was the most precautionary 
option.  I met with Pat Hynes, the woman at Boston University's School of 
Public Health and a great community garden advocate (she wrote Patches of 
Eden).  She was the primary researcher for EPA's Lead Safe Yard Program.  I 
spoke to people at Isles in Trenton who run a large community gardening 
program and I talked to countless medical folks in New Brunswick about the 
whole lead problem in the city.

The thing that convinced me was when I started to see soil lead as just a 
small part of the exposure to an average child in New Brunswick.  Many of 
our children are poisoned before they are one year of age.  When I asked 
several of the parents where their kids played, most of them said indoors. 
Sadly the insides of our houses have a lot of contamination.  So do some of 
our foods that are cooked in lead kettles.  Getting parents to make sure 
they wet clean their homes, give their children have enough calcium and 
iron, and have their children regularly wash their hands have been most 
important in our fight against lead poisoning.  Children who have low 
calcium and iron levels take up a lot more lead than children with high 
calcium and iron levels.

I leave you with two realities of poor inner cities.

When I went to the city council with the data on high lead levels in yard 
after yard in our city and asked them if they ever tested the public parks 
and recreation fields they said no we don't know and we doubt we would give 
permission to test them now.  When I went to a statewide meeting about soil 
contamination I learned that the don't ask, don't tell policy was in place 
in most inner cities in N.J.  It is only the wealthier communities like 
Maplewood that are taking proactive steps to reduce lead contamination. 
Maplewood has strong exterior renovation laws to stop the contamination from 
old lead paint.

When I was at the same statewide meeting two communities were discussing the 
cleanup of contaminated sites in their communities.  These plants were 
similarly contaminated (old coal gasification sites) and owned by different 
companies.  One described having 2 feet of soil removed, a cap installed, 
and 2 feet of new soil put on top of the cap.  The other described having 20 
feet of soil removed (I am not wrong on that number) of soil removed, a cap 
installed, and twenty feet of new soil placed on top of the cap.  One was in 
white, upper class Princeton and the other is in a low income, 
African-American community in West Long Branch.  Can you guess who got 
twenty feet of contamination removed and clean soil replaced?

Mike, it is hard for me to disagree with you as you are one of my organic 
gardening heroes and I have loved how you have taken a hard line on 
pesticides.  But when you live in the reality of a poor inner city (I am one 
of the few occupant homeowners in our community -- we mostly have landlord 
owners) you learn that there are compromises that have to be made if you 
ever want a child to be outdoors.  We also know that parental education is 
our most important tool.

-- Maria

Volunteer
Suydam Street Community Garden
New Brunswick, N.J.






----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mike McGrath" <MikeMcG@PTD.net>
To: <community_garden@mallorn.com>
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 10:54 AM
Subject: Fw: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mike McGrath" <MikeMcG@PTD.net>
To: "Jack Hale" <jackh@knoxparks.org>
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 10:18 AM
Subject: Re: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil


> Jack:
>    My understanding is that some of the biggest dangers here involve kids
> (and adults) inhaling airborne lead whenever the soil is worked--and, of
> course, kids putting lead tainted soil in their mouths. Compost can't
> magically make this metal inert (or worse).
>    And as Adam mentioned a short bit back, the effects of lead on kids can
> be visibly heartbreaking. Lots more are often invisible; the kids simply
> don't grow up as smart as they would have otherwise.
>    If an adult wants to take that risk alone in their own garden, that's
> their business--just like choosing to smoke cigarettes. Making that
> decision for perhaps hundreds of other people is something else entirely.
>    I understand the desire to continue with a plan, but what's the point
> of creating a garden if it has a strong potential to harm people? Yes, its
> a pain, but have the soil hauled away and replaced--the EPA or some other
> arm of the gov't may even be able to help in some way--if those levels are
> high enough, the site may even qualify for some minor-league 'superfund'
> type status.  Or walk away from this area and test the soil in nearby
> spots till you find one that's safer from the start.
>    As with my life-long stand against garden chemicals, I personally
> always prefer to err on the side of caution. If I'm wrong about my
> ceaseless preaching of organics for instance, some people have spent a bit
> more money for food and done a bit more physical work in their gardens. If
> the other side is wrong, people are dying long before they should,
> suffering a horrible quality of life at the end, and on a larger scale,
> our very survival as a planet is threatened.
>    For me, it's a no-brainer. The risk if they're wrong is just too great.
> I feel the same about this issue.
>
> Judy: Best of luck with your decisions.
>
>                                ---Mike McG
>
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "Jack Hale" <jackh@knoxparks.org>
> To: <community_garden@mallorn.com>
> Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 9:30 AM
> Subject: RE: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil
>
>
>>I don't want to jump on anybody in the list serve, and I acknowledge that
>>my
>> point of view is somewhat more liberal than others here, but I'd like to
>> add
>> a couple of points.
>> 1. My understanding has always been that compost does not always or
>> typically affect soil pH and that adding organic matter to soil helps to
>> tie
>> up soil lead.  I'm not a chemist so all this stuff seems a bit magical,
>> but
>> that's what I have heard.  Regardless, Karen's statement - Compost should
>> not be used in gardens with high amounts of lead, compost increases the
>> pH
>> and lead is absorbed more by plants under conditions of low pH. - is
>> actually self-contradictory.  Maybe a little more research is required
>> before we express too much certainty.
>> 2. My understanding of the vocabulary is that lead is toxic and too much
>> of
>> it in the wrong place is hazardous.  Part of the issue is deciding what
>> constitutes hazard.  EPA has different soil lead levels for different
>> uses.
>> I don't have that information handy, but suffice it to say that from
>> their
>> point of view you can tolerate higher levels of lead under a parking lot
>> than in a garden.  I don't know what is behind the Quebec standards, but
>> they are certainly more conservative than EPA's.  Regardless, both are
>> based
>> on some idea of tolerable exposure.  In other words, both assume that
>> some
>> exposure to lead should be considered acceptable.  Both also recognize
>> that
>> it is probably not possible or practical to remove all lead from the
>> environment.  So, if we accept those connected assumptions, we can look
>> at a
>> garden and decide on acceptable exposure and practical management.  For
>> instance, if we have generally good quality soil on a site and lead
>> levels
>> just over the standard we want to work with, we may decide that dilution
>> is
>> better (it is certainly cheaper) than trying to find all the lead and
>> remove
>> it.  Soil of good tilth is increasingly rare in cities.  We may want to
>> hang
>> onto it and try to fix its problems rather than sending it off to become
>> landfill cover or something.  The image of throwing the baby out with the
>> bathwater comes to mind.
>> Anyway, those of us who want healthier cities are in a battle on lots of
>> fronts.  Here's to finding good strategies that work well in our
>> situations.
>> JH
>>
>> Jack N. Hale
>> Executive Director
>> Knox Parks Foundation
>> 75 Laurel Street
>> Hartford, CT 06106
>> 860/951-7694
>> f860/951-7244
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: community_garden-admin@mallorn.com
>> [mailto:community_garden-admin@mallorn.com]On Behalf Of Mike McGrath
>> Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2005 8:40 PM
>> To: Deborah Mills; adam36055@aol.com; community_garden@mallorn.com
>> Subject: Re: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil
>>
>> Yes, please; the only sure way to make lead safe is to cart it away.
>>                                    ---McG
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Deborah Mills" <deborah@greencure.org>
>> To: <adam36055@aol.com>; <community_garden@mallorn.com>
>> Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2005 7:57 PM
>> Subject: Re: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil
>>
>>
>>>I totally agree with Karen Jones and Adam's words.
>>>
>>> Deborah
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: <adam36055@aol.com>
>>> To: <community_garden@mallorn.com>
>>> Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2005 3:51 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil
>>>
>>>
>>>> Again, friends, lead is bad news, and unless you have really careful
>>> gardeners who really, really REALLY watch their kids, you have a
>>> dangerous
>>> situation to deal with. I mean how can you tell a kid not to take a
>>> sunflower home to Mommy,  even though it's filled with and has to be
>>> disposed as toxic waste because of the lead it has soaked up?  Do you
>>> have
>>> to paint a "Death's Head," on its face?
>>>>
>>>> I love this list, and the ingenuitiy of many of the gardeners, but when
>>>> it
>>> comes to kids and a really nasty environmental poison, caution and the
>>> most
>>> prudent practices have to be followed.  Karen Jones is really right
>>> about
>>> lead - please listen to her.
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> Everbest,
>>>> Adam Honigman
>>>> Volunteer
>>>> Clinton Community Garden
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: Karen Jones <k.jones@uwinnipeg.ca>
>>>> To: community_garden@mallorn.com
>>>> Sent: Tue, 10 May 2005 12:42:29 -0500
>>>> Subject: [cg] Heavy Metals in Garden Soil
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> We got our urban garden tested for heavy metals last year and found
>>>> lead
>>>> 119 ppm, the standards we used werethose of  the government of Quebec,
>>>> which has the strictest standards in Canada.They consider land to be
>>>> toxic at 130 ppm.  Lead will accumulate in leaves (not petioles) and
>>>> roots. If you peel carrots they are safe to eat because the lead
>>>> accumulates near the epidermis. Rhubarb is safe to eat. Lettuces,
>>>> Spinach, Cabage etc. is not safe to eat. All fruits are safe to eat,
>>>> because plants somehow do not let heavy metals into the seeds. Canola
>>>> and Sunflowers are good for remediation, but they then must be treated
>>>> as toxic waste. Compost should not be used in gardens with hight
>>>> amounts
>>>> of lead,  compost increases the pH and lead is absorbed more by plants
>>>> under conditions of low  pH. Children under two should not be permitted
>>>> into these gardens at all, apparently 25% of young children eat soil
>>>> (pica) and children  accumulate heavy metals at faster rates than
>>>> adults. You may accumulate lead all your life and then when some
>>>> tramautic physical event occurs the lead will leach out of your bones
>>>> and you begin to lose your way in life. Please remember that no levels
>>>> of lead are safe. You have to have a really educated group of gardeners
>>>> to be able to garden safely where heavy metals are concerned. Raised
>>>> beds, are they sustainable? I don't think so. The David Suzuki
>>>> Foundation helped us to interpret the results.   Karen
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> ______________________________________________________
>>>> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
>>> ACGA's
>>>> services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to
>>>> find
>>> out
>>>> how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
>>>>
>>>> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:
>>> https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> ______________________________________________________
>>>> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
>>> ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and
>>> to
>>> find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
>>>>
>>>> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:
>>> https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden
>>>
>>>
>>> ______________________________________________________
>>> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
>>> ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and
>>> to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
>>>
>>>
>>> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
>>>
>>> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:
>>> https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden
>>
>>
>> ______________________________________________________
>> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
>> ACGA's
>> services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find
>> out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
>>
>>
>> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
>>
>> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:
>> https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden
>>
>>
>> ______________________________________________________
>> The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of
>> ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and
>> to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org
>>
>>
>> To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com
>>
>> To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:
>> https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden


______________________________________________________
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's 
services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find 
out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org


To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription: 
https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden



______________________________________________________
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's 
services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out 
how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org


To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:  https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden


______________________________________________________
The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org


To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

To subscribe, unsubscribe or change your subscription:  https://secure.mallorn.com/mailman/listinfo/community_garden





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