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Somerville, MA: Soil Testing Near School Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] Somerville, MA: Soil Testing Near School Community Garden
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 4 Oct 2004 09:04:36 EDT

Somerville Journal - Somerville,MA,United States

Report: Capuano soil safe for gardening
By Auditi Guha/ Journal Staff
Thursday, September 23, 2004

Soil samples of the community gardens around the Capuano School indicate low lead levels, and experts say it is safe to garden there, even if the soil may not be top quality.

     New tests were conducted after parents and residents recently expressed concern about the lead levels and quality of soil in which they garden. Digging in the three community gardens around the Michael E. Capuano Early Childhood Center, many gardeners say they have unearthed more debris than actual soil. One resident claims to have found a piece of lead as big as her hand.

     A meeting called a month ago with city employees led to new soil tests. The results were made available earlier this week by the contractor, McPhail Associates. Samples from three separate garden areas indicate total lead concentrations of 18 to 67 mg/kg.

     According to the United States Department of Agriculture, acceptable lead levels in gardening soil can be as high as 100-500 mg/kg.

     Mayor Joe Curtatone said he is happy with the results. "There were concerns raised. We responded to them immediately. We hope any fears have been allayed," he said.

     The most recent test results show a slight increase in lead levels, a concern to Tufts University biologist George Ellmore. When the Capuano School soil was tested a year ago, the lead levels ranged from 7.8 to 23 mg/kg.

     "I wonder what's being added and from where. There shouldn't be lead coming out of the sky," he said of the sudden increase in lead levels since last year. He said the soil should be rechecked again in a year to be safe.

     However, the levels are good enough for gardeners to grow vegetable and fruits without risk, he added, noting that plants take up very little lead. If residents are still concerned, the safest things to grow would be vegetables such as tomatoes, basil and zucchini rather than root crops like carrots, Ellmore said.

     "At this lead-content level, one can grow anything," he assured.

     The McPhail Associates report released this week showed the gardening soil to be dark brown, fine to medium sand with traces of organics and gravel.

     Ellmore said this texture is not ideal. Good garden soil is a mixture of sand, silt and clay. Gardeners can remedy this by adding compost and lime. A longtime gardener in the state, Ellmore suggested using 40 pounds of compost and five pounds of lime per 100 square feet this fall. "This will make the soil much more productive and bring the organic content up," he said.

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