Remediating Toxins in Community Garden Plots

Today’s NY Post has an article about toxic lead levels in community gardens. Some important things to remember when reading reporting like this:

First, they are describing a report on seven PLOTS tested. Five of these seven plots had higher than acceptable levels of lead in the soil samples. Although the author makes a big deal about submitting a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to obtain the test results, he does not provide a link to or even the title of the report.

He references another report done by the state a year ago in which 55 gardens were tested (out of 600 citywide), and about half were found to have higher than federally recommended levels of lead and 70% had some type of toxins. This is certainly a problem, but the reasons these gardens were selected and the methodology used is not explained nor is there a link or full citation of the report.

All that said, I am sure gardeners are aware that root vegetables will have higher levels of any toxins than vegetables that grow above the soil. Also, there are certain plants, known as “phytoremidiators,” that draw toxins out of the soil which may be of interest, including sunflowers, mustard greens, and pennycress.

Details on exactly where the contaminated gardens are, what the city is doing to help gardens meet safe soil health guidelines as well as tips on doing your own testing and remediation would have made for a better and more informative article.

So before you read a sensational piece of news reporting (and why doesn’t the NY Post let me comment, I wonder?), keep these things in perspective and have a safe garden season.


Fast Company: Mapping New York’s Vacant Lots to Make a More Vibrant City

Fast Company, November 10, 2014: reviews an online Tool, Urban Reviewer, created by 596 acres to view the history of urban renewal plans in New York City. Local community groups hope to use the tool to identify lots to convert to community gardens, playgrounds, and other uses.

596 Acres is a grassroots community land access nonprofit.