New York’s Community Gardens Are Sort of Toxic to Your Health [Updated]

And they may kinda give you cancer.

Toxic. (Photo: Richard B. Levine)
Toxic. (Photo: Richard B. Levine)

Bad news for people who like to support their local community gardens when shopping for their vegetables. Good news for people who love ingesting arsenic and lead with their vegetables.

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The New York Post reports that a study on soil contamination by the state Center for Environmental Health found toxic soil at 70 percent of New York’s gardens. A shocking 44 percent of the total gardens had lead levels above federal guidelines.

A Freedom of Information Law request by the Post revealed the exact names and locations those gardens most contaminated. Brooklyn did not come out looking so hot.

The Sterling Community Group Garden in Crown Heights was tested at a lead sample of 1,251 parts per million and an arsenic sample of 93.23 PPM. To put that in perspective, the federal guidelines for lead and arsenic are 400 PPM and 16 PPM, respectively.

Workers at Sterling sounded just as surprised as we were. “No one has ever gotten sick that we know of,” Sterling gardener Annie Faulk told the Post.

“They didn’t tell us to change the soil,” Catherine Bryant, another gardener, also said.

Exposure to lead and arsenic, even at levels lower than those found in the study, can lead to a host of health problems, including cancer.

“That’s a good plot to avoid,” Dr. Paul Mushak, a toxicologist and human risk-assessment expert, told the Post. “In the case of any cancer-causing agent, you really don’t want any sizable exposure.”

For those looking for any good news, a Parks Department spokesman said that gardens with high levels of contaminants received new soil after the study.

[UPDATE] Good news, everyone! (Maybe). The New York Parks Department reached out to let us know they at least tried to get some cleaner soil after the survey results were published. Below is the details on their Healthy Soils/Healthy Communities Project.

NYC Parks GreenThumb joined Cornell University, NYS Dept. of Health, and other partners in 2009 to create the Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities project in order to provide gardeners with science-based information and strategies to address contamination in urban gardens….following the conclusion of testing several years ago, the Healthy Soils project sent letters to contacts in each of the 54 gardens with test results from their garden and recommendations to mitigate exposure of contaminants…after letters were sent, GreenThumb moved quickly to ensure that clean soil was brought into gardens that were identified with high levels of contaminants, in coordination with garden groups. GreenThumb regularly issues clean soil to its gardens.


New York’s Community Gardens Are Sort of Toxic to Your Health [Updated]