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RE: soils testing on urban lots

  • Subject: RE: [cg] soils testing on urban lots
  • From: "Jack Hale" jackh@knoxparks.org
  • Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2002 10:11:26 -0400
  • Importance: Normal

Hi all-

The UMass service is oriented toward commercial agriculture, so they don't
normally test for pesticides or volatiles (like gasoline or dry cleaning
fluid or solvents) that cause lots of problems on urban sites.  My sense is
that that's where the costs come in (see their online brochure).  They also
recommend only testing the root zone of the crops you intend to grow and
basing your sampling on visible differences in soils on a site.
Contamination often runs deeper than 6 inches, particularly if the source is
liquid/leachable or if the soil has been seriously disturbed during
demolition or grading.  Here in Hartford on a vacant lot, you can sometimes
make assumptions about where a frame house stood and therefore where likely
lead contamination would be found (from paint chipping off the structure),
but there may be no visible indicators, and who knows where soil may have
been pushed during demolition.  You may find a dark, smelly patch near the
rear of a property where resident "shade tree mechanics" dumped motor oil
and other automotive products.  Sometimes we find a pile of coal ash buried
near what was once the back door of a house or used for fill when a new
concrete walkway was poured.  Here in New England, "civilization" has been
around for over 350 years, so you really can't make assumptions about
historic uses of a property.  A property near the historic city center may
have had half a dozen different uses, none of which have left any visible
trace.

Lots of questions:
1. What is safe?  The ppm discussion is interesting, but it's not obvious
how deeply soil must be clean for it to "count."  EPA standards don't really
apply to gardening use.  Is gardening more like farming or a home, or what?
2. What constitutes adequate screening?  Contamination can be highly
localized (in 3 dimensions).  We had one site with a hot spot of around
8,000 ppm lead near the back door of what had once been a paint store.  We
could have missed it entirely, and sometimes I wish we had.  We need a rough
screening process that will give us a sense of whether we need to go
"deeper."  I envision some research on urban lands that would come up with
results like, for instance, "if you do one 6-inch deep sample for every ??
square feet and any sample has lead levels above ?? parts per million or the
aggregate is above ?? parts per million, then chances are ??% that some part
of the site has lead levels above the EPA residential standard."
3. What is adequate remediation?  Replacement of surface soil?  Removal of
all contaminants? Raised beds and covering of soil in pathways?  Dilution?
Phytoremediation (using plants to reduce contamination in their root zone)?
Running for cover and pretending you never knew anything about it?

Fact is, we've pretty much dirtied up the place and now we have to figure
out what to do about it.  I don't have the time or expertise to follow the
science, but my sense is that we're pretty far from figuring this out.  The
brownfields folks have some ideas about how to handle industrial sites that
are slated for development, but it's really expensive and it leads to
"disposal" of huge amounts of pretty good soil with some pretty bad stuff in
it.  Someday soon we need to get a whole crowd together to talk about this.
We need chemists, soil scientists, public health people, politicians,
gardeners, neighborhood activists, planners, and maybe some poets.  Somehow
they all need to sit at the same table and talk about what the standards
should be, how to reach them, how to pay for it, how to avoid destroying
communities in the process, etc.  I keep suggesting this to academic and
government types, but so far nobody has jumped on it.

End of sermon.  We're in the soil business and we have a long way to go.
Good luck to us all.

Jack


-----Original Message-----
From: community_garden-admin@mallorn.com
[mailto:community_garden-admin@mallorn.com]On Behalf Of Honigman, Adam
Sent: Wednesday, October 02, 2002 4:58 PM
To: 'Bill Maynard'
Cc: 'community_garden@mallorn.com'
Subject: RE: [cg] soils testing on urban lots

Bill,

$700 seems a trifle too dear...

Here is the website for the Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory at
theUniversity of Massachussets - Amherst. They do a great US $ 8.00 soil
test (per sample) which includes all heavy metals. They also do a very
complex test for every nutrient known to man for  $12 a sample.  Garden
coordinators from all over the midwest and northeastern US use them for
price, speed and accuracy. If you have something particularly tricky, I'm
sure that they do it, and for less that $700 a sample.

http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/


-----Original Message-----
From: Bill Maynard [mailto:bMaynard@WoodRodgers.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 02, 2002 4:39 PM
To: 'community_garden@mallorn.com'
Subject: [cg] soils testing on urban lots


What you don't know ...might hurt you....

As our 30 year old Mandella com garden site in sacramento has recently found
out:

"some areas with higher than acceptable levels of Lead, DDT, and
PAH'S(polyaromatic Hydrocarbons left from the incomplete burning of gas,
coal, etc) were found."
The levels of lead that sacramento county deems acceptable is under 200
parts per million (some professionals say 80 is the highest lead should
be)... this site had 500 to 1300 parts per million....plus other toxins

the site had older homes from the 1860's on it before it was torn down back
in the 1960's  the garden started in the 1970's....apparently no testing was
done....

As I understand it...the complete palette of soil tests (lead, heavy metals,
PCB's, PAH's, etc, etc) costs $700 per sample (many sites would require 12
or more samples....

Question 1:
are there any places that will do all these tests for free or low cost for
us community gardeners?

Question 2:
How many urban gardens have had their soil tested for lead and other toxins?
and what levels did they find?

this will be a big issue in the sacramento area and will be the first HIGH
hurdle for each new com garden in the area. (we have approx 6 CG's proposed
in various stages in the long approval process)

In the mean time....

Each garden should ask itself: was the lot built on before?

Answer: Your local USDA office will have old aerial photos of your area back
to the 1930's and other photos taken every 10 years or so to the present...

Article was in oct 2 issue of the sacramento bee

http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/4631378p-5649671c.html

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out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org


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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


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