While gardening, particularly organic gardening, is a wonderful pastime that brings fresh, delicious produce directly to your table, it can carry some risks.
You may have purchased organic seeds, carefully worked your own compost into the ground, and pulled weeds by hand. But all your hard work could still be undermined, and not just by gophers, mildew or beetles. As the Boston Globe points out, decades of use of lead in gasoline and paint have left a toxic legacy in the ground in many areas, and the heavy metal may be entering your hard-earned produce.
Lead persists in soil for hundreds of years, and the effects when children ingest it can be devastating, especially when it comes to brain damage. In adults, lead can raise blood pressure and cause loss of fertility and memory. Plants do absorb lead from the soil, and food is a pathway for the toxin to enter the human body.
This issue is beginning to receive more attention, as more and more people plant vegetables, in response to a weak economy and growing interest in good health and nutrition (not to mention organics).
How significant is the risk? The Food Project tested more than 125 home plots in Massachusetts in recent years, and found 83 percent of them contaminated with lead 1,000 parts per million on average (anything above 400 ppm is considered toxic by the EPA). According to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab, roughly 10% of home samples tested show unsafe levels of lead.
How do you minimize risk? According to the Globe, these measures help:
For most people, the benefits of home gardening vastly outweigh the risks. However, for many it also makes sense to be informed of potential risks from lead, and to take a few steps to minimize possible harm. You don't want to eschew conventional agriculture only to be injured by pollution from your own backyard!
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