Urban farms are becoming increasingly affected by toxic soil. This is largely because the sites utilized by urban gardeners were once identified as Superfund areas as recently as two decades ago. These Superfund areas were determined to have high levels of pollution.
This has led to some people questioning the safety of eating fruits and vegetables that are produced in these areas today. However, experts are insisting that it is possible to grow safe food in previously polluted areas, as long as the growers plan carefully.
Unfortunately, not every urban gardener is a careful planner, as many do not take the necessary precautions, leading to health problems for both the gardener and the consumers of their products.
Gardeners who want to operate in such areas have to perform an extensive clean-up before a safe urban farm can be established. Contaminated soil must be completely separated, often using concrete, in order to avoid exposure to crops. Additionally, new soil must be brought in and be tested regularly.
As long as these actions are taken, experts say that urban grown food is safe for human consumption. That being said, the actual process of working in the garden could be risky.
According to experts, soil samples have been shown to contain lead, zinc, and arsenic, among other dangerous chemicals. Long term exposure to these chemicals can prove to be disastrous.
Experts say that the danger of being exposed to lead-contaminated soil is much greater than the risks of consuming crops grown in such soil. Still, neither activity is worth the risk. The process of removing and isolating soil that is heavily contained with these chemicals can be a serious health hazard. Lead is considered to be the most dangerous of them.
There have been many causes for the high levels of dangerous chemicals in urban soil. Some of these causes include car exhaust from when lead was used in gasoline, industrial pollution and paint on exterior structures that were built before 1978, the year that the United States government banned lead paint.
Toxic soils have been said to be particularly big problems in the cities of Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Urban gardeners in these cities are joining associations, such as the American Community Gardening Association, in order to receive assistance in planting their gardens to ensure that they are safe.
Still, many urban gardeners are not taking necessary precautions. According to a study from 2013, while 99% of all urban gardeners that were surveyed stated that it was important to understand the history of the land used for their garden, only 7% of the gardeners said that they actually requested such information from an appropriate government agency.
Other gardeners said that they skipped the process of soil testing because it was confusing and expensive. There was also the false perception among gardeners that eating crops grown in lead-contaminated soil was worse than working in the lead-contaminated gardens.
For now, associations like the American Community Gardening Association are trying to spread the word about dangerous soil. By increasing the education of gardeners more action will be taken to help prevent toxic exposures.