Urban Gardening and Soil Testing

If you live in an urban area and are considering growing your own garden, you may want to consider testing your soil for lead. According to research conducted at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, by geochemist Gabriel Filippelli, Ph.D., professor of earth sciences, abandoned urban lots are sometimes contaminated with lead.

While it’s utterly wonderful that many urban downtown city spaces are being revitalized, it’s those aged manufacturing facilities, neglected buildings with lead paint, freeways, and streets that are the most likely to harbor lead below the ground.

What’s the problem with lead? If children are exposed to high levels of lead, health effects can range from hyperactivity, inattentiveness, learning problems to brain and nervous system damage to sluggish growth. Adults exposed to high levels of lead can cause gastrointestinal and neurological health effects.

Testing your urban garden soil for lead is a pre-cautionary step to take before starting a garden. Check with your local health department to see if they do lead testing. According to Filippelli, if test results indicate less than 200 parts per million (ppm) gardens can indeed be planted and may benefit from high phosphate fertilizer which immobilizes lead. If your soil is tested at 200-500 parts per million of lead, Filippelli recommends covering all exposed soil with at least three inches of mulch and planting in raised beds that contain clean topsoil.

With caution and care, urban gardening can result in healthy food that is safe. Part of living in the city and growing your own food means being aware of the environment in which you live.

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