Any gardener worth their salt will tell you that soil composition is crucial to the success of the garden, but in urban environments soil contamination must be considered part of the composition.
In Detroit, Indianapolis, and Boston, for example, remnants of lead paint, gasoline and other industrial chemicals have found their way into the soil. Elsewhere in urban gardens, arsenic and hydrocarbons used in lumber production and the burning of oil, coal, trash, and wood have been identified. And while most plants won’t absorb such dangerous chemicals, they can find their way into our homes by way of an unwashed fruit or a tread of a sneaker.
Nicholas Basta, a soil and environmental chemistry professor out of Ohio State, believes the way to control such detrimental elements is to be aware of them. Urban gardeners should test their soil each year and consider mulching. They might also bring soil in from another location and create raised beds to avoid contaminated areas. Gardeners should also wash their hands after gardening and be careful not to track soil into their homes. Everything that’s grown fresh should also be carefully washed before consumption.
Experts agree that all potential areas for fresh food should be used, but will continue to call for research that helps urban gardeners understand their soil and grow safe, bountiful harvests.