269103 Lead contaminated soils: Are urban gardeners being exposed? A pilot study

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Michael Schmeltz, MS, DrPH Candidate , Public Health - DPH, CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, New York, NY
Background: Urban gardening has become popular in the past few years. Evidence suggests that growing and consuming fruits and vegetables has health and social benefits. While urban gardening has been promoted to the public as exemplified by the First Lady's own garden at the White House, urban soils pose a risk to health due to contamination from heavy metals, in particular, lead. Much of the soil in urban areas has been contaminated by the historic use of lead-based paints, leaded gasoline, and other industrial activities. This pilot study investigates the relationship between lead concentrations in urban garden soils and the behaviors of urban gardeners in New York City. Methods: Soil was collected from 18 gardens and analyzed for soil lead concentration using a field portable X-ray fluorescence. A survey was administered to individuals who tended the gardens to assess their gardening habits. Results: The average concentration for lead in soil among the samples was 373ppm. The lowest concentration was 109ppm and the highest was 1317ppm. Seventy-two percent of gardeners did not wear any PPE and half stated that they ate or drank while gardening. The majority of respondents indicated that they just “brushed off” and washed their hands when finished gardening. Locations of gardens were near homes with peeling paint, or homes currently and recently renovated. Other gardens were previously waste collection areas or covered in concrete. Discussion: The findings indicate that these participants continue to work, grow and consume produce from their gardens without taking precautions or knowledge that their soil may be contaminated. A more in-depth study should assess blood lead levels in addition to collecting information on soil lead concentrations and gardening behaviors. Lead contaminated soil may not be a significant source of lead but it does add to the lead exposure from other urban sources.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs

Learning Objectives:
List and discuss the benefits and disadvantages to urban gardening. Describe a suitable cost-effective plan to test and remediate lead-contaminated soils for individual urban gardeners.

Keywords: Environmental Exposures, Risk Behavior

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a 3rd year student in a public health doctoral program with over 5 years of experience working on risk analysis of toxic chemicals and environmental contaminants for private industry and the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.