7 Ways to Reduce Toxic Soil Substances in Urban Gardens
But as an article in this month's Environmental Health Perspectives from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences points out, urban soils are often heavily contaminated with metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other contaminants, prompting questions about the health consequences of urban gardening and providing some new solutions.
Exposure to pollutants while gardening comes mainly from accidentally ingesting soil or inhaling contaminated dust, either while gardening or after tracking it home on clothing, shoes and tools, according to interim guidelines for safe urban gardening from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The risk is greatest for small children, who not only are most vulnerable to toxicants but also gleefully put dirty fingers directly into their mouths.
Produce itself tends to be relatively safe, provided it wasn’t grown in heavily contaminated soil and is washed before eating. Most food crops tend not to absorb contaminants and what little they do absorb generally stays in the roots. One notable exception is rice, which absorbs arsenic unusually well.
The article outlines the problem facing urban gardeners. No regulations in the U.S. specifically govern contaminants in soils used for food production and testing for them can be prohibitively expensive. Experts disagree on the severity of the problem, jurisdictional standards conflict and advice about how to remedy or work around urban soils has been fragmented and confusing.
And while alternative growing methods such as rooftop gardens and hydroponics avoid soil contamination issues, they tend to be more expensive and are unlikely to replace gardening in the ground any time soon.
Here are seven ways that urban gardeners can reduce the amount of contaminants in their soil, courtesy of the U.S. EPA:
- Build your garden away from existing roads and railways, or build a hedge or fence to reduce windblown contamination from mobile sources and busy streets.
- Cover existing soil and walkways with mulch, landscape fabric, stones or bricks.
- Use mulch in your garden beds to reduce dust and soil splash, reduce weed establishment, regulate soil temperature and moisture and add organic matter.
- Use soil amendments to maintain neutral pH, add organic matter and improve soil structure.
- Add topsoil or clean fill from certified soil sources. Your state or local environmental program, extension service or nursery may be able to recommended safe sources for soil and fill.
- Build raised beds or container gardens. Raised beds can be made by simply mounding soil into windrows or by building containers. Sided beds can be made from wood, synthetic wood, stone, concrete block, brick or naturally rot-resistant woods such as cedar and redwood.
- Your state or local city agency may recommend using a water-permeable fabric cover or geotextile as the bottom layer of your raised beds to further reduce exposure to soils of concern.
The article also advises practicing good gardening habits:
- Wear gloves and wash hands after gardening and before eating.
- Take care not to track dirt from the garden into the house.
- Wash produce before storing or eating and teach kids to do so, too.
- Peel root crops and remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.