Lead contamination, often acute, is common in New York City’s urban garden soil, according to a new study from the City University of New York. Published in the journal Soil Science last week, the study evaluated 1,652 soil samples, volunteered from 904 home and community gardens, for contamination by a number of trace metals. It says the city’s soil contains higher average concentrations of lead than a number of other metropolitan areas, including Hong Kong, Beijing, London, Bangkok, Berlin and Baltimore.
Fewer than 3-percent of the sites tested would qualify as safe for “unrestricted” use, based on the Soil Cleanup Objective (SCO) criteria set by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. An “Unrestricted” level of contamination is one in which no further soil remediation is necessary to protect groundwater or public health. The remaining 97 percent of the samples fall into the “restricted” use category and, depending on the level of contamination, would need some amount of chemical, biological or engineered remediation. (The paper also notes that though researchers applied SCO standards to assess contaminant levels, these criteria were developed for New York’s rural soil, so they may not be entirely appropriate for urban soils, which tend to be much more widely contaminated. There are currently no specific guidelines to regulate soil contaminant levels of the city’s gardens.) — (December 2015) by Erica Berry for the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN).