For Immediate Release: Response to the New York Post March 16, 2014 article
“Lead Found in Community Gardens’ Soil, May Affect Produce” by Gary Buiso
In response to the recent Post article, it is both harmful to our communities and inaccurate to state that the local produce grown in our community gardens is potentially hazardous due to soil contaminants. One might just ask where is the lead originating from and how do we remediate those sources.
The article referenced a Cornell research project, Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities, a Project Team that has been partnering with NYS Dept. of Health, GreenThumb, and others to help gardeners address soil contamination in NYC community gardens. The Healthy Soils research article that the Post based its article on has nothing to do with garden vegetables. The subject of the study was only garden soils. Therefore the Post’s discussion about contaminants in garden vegetables is unsupported by the study.
As the Healthy Soils research article states: “the nature and extent of community garden soil contamination in many urban areas remain poorly defined. Tests for chemical contaminants can be prohibitively expensive for gardeners with limited resources, often preventing them from learning whether their garden soil contains elevated levels of contaminants”.
The results discussed in the Post article were previously shared with gardeners after testing was completed; several years ago garden contacts received results for their own garden, along with a summary of overall results from all gardens. GreenThumb, a reputable city program with the NYC Parks Department supports gardens by providing technical and programmatic assistance and took proper measures to remedy these findings.
The Healthy Soils research tested over 500 soil samples. They learned some important things about NYC community garden soils. For instance, in general, levels of lead and other metals in the NYC community gardens were lower than those reported in other published studies of urban garden soils. Although most gardens in the study had at least one sample exceeding a health-based guidance value (most often for lead or barium), overall, fewer than a quarter of the samples tested exceeded any guidance values. Garden beds had lower levels of lead and other metals than non-growing areas, and raised beds had lower levels than beds planted directly in the ground. This means many gardeners are already doing things – such as planting in raised beds and adding clean soil and compost to garden beds – that have a real benefit in reducing exposure to lead and other metals. We and the Healthy Soils team urge all urban gardeners to consider using raised beds, and to adopt other healthy gardening practices.
Mr. Buiso assumed an alarmist point of view in the Post article. There are also risks from eating conventional carrots grown on a rural farm that uses pesticides. High levels of exposure to some pesticides have been associated with adverse health outcomes. That is the real story you should be reporting.
We see this report as a call to action — this is an issue citywide. Landlords need to be held accountable to tenants because there are toxic heavy metals in our backyards. Gardeners, GreenThumb, Cornell, and DOH are already engaged in mitigating the issue in community gardens, not in any way concealing it. The Healthy Soils project has helped bring attention to this important issue, and we support their continued efforts to provide science-based information that helps urban gardeners understand potential risks associated with soil contamination, and implementation strategies to reduce those risks.
Everyone involved in the study has been available to answer questions about soil contaminants and urban gardening. NYCCGC has a long history of supporting community gardeners, and we strongly believe that our elected officials and the smear-hungry press should highlight the dedicated and nourishing work happening in urban gardens across our communities.
That would be far more productive than using scare tactics, targeting and portraying our community gardens on a negative front.
Contact: Aziz Dehkan, Executive Director, New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC) — 973-222-5413 firstname.lastname@example.org