In just a few months, community gardens throughout New York City will once again become bountiful sources of fresh local produce for residents: ripe, red tomatoes, lush salad greens, crunchy radishes.

Unfortunately as it turns out, many of those same gardens are also rich sources of lead, arsenic, and other pollutants.

According to an article in the NY Post,

The data come from a first-of-its-kind soil-contaminant study by scientists from the state Center for Environmental Health published in the journal Environmental Pollution earlier this year.

Scientists found lead levels above federal guidelines at 24 of 54 city gardens, or 44 percent of the total. And overall, they found toxic soil at 38 gardens — 70 percent of the total. But the study did not reveal the locations or names of the gardens, and officials were mum, prompting The Post’s March FOIL request.

The worst single soil sample was found in The Bronx at Bryant Hill Garden — where lead was detected at 1531 ppm, new documents revealed.

The federal threshold for lead and arsenic is 400ppm and 16ppm, respectively.

Lead in soil is not just a legacy of lead paint, though gardens located near any structure built before 1978 (when lead-based paint was taken off the market) or near a demolition site are particularly at risk.

Leaded gasoline, plumbing, and pesticides have also contributed to high levels of the toxin in our soil, and while those are now outlawed, batteries and automotive parts still contain lead today.

Urban or rural, there are very few places that are immune.

What to Do?

The first step in making sure the fruits of your garden are healthy and safe is to test your soil! There are easy, affordable, and very accessible ways to go about this. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a great tip sheet that outlines exactly how to sample your soil and where to send it. For what it’s worth, NYER has had a good experience with Brooklyn College.

Once you know your levels, you can determine how to proceed. Maybe you can get right to planting, or perhaps soil remediation or replacement is required. Building raised beds is also an option for avoiding tainted soil altogether!

And as for the NYC gardens that showed high levels of lead? City Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson said those gardens received clean soil after the study.