Friday, May 15, 2009

Not Even Localvores are Safe

Just when you thought it was safe to eat food grown in your own backyard, this article comes out in the New York Times. Beware: lead contaminated soil. Apparently, food grown in soil contaminated with high levels of lead isn’t safe to eat. Go figure.

Of course those who shoulder the major risk burden also happen to be those who did not create the problem:

"Fetuses and small children, because of their rapidly developing nervous systems, are more sensitive to and suffer the most harm from lead exposure. Adverse effects include damage to the brain and nervous system, lower I.Q., behavior problems and slow growth. Adults may suffer cognitive decline, hypertension, nerve disorders, muscle pain and reproductive problems."

But wait. How can this be? Lead was eliminated from paint and gasoline back in the 1970s. How can we still be paying the price several decades later? Unfortunately for us, lead is persistent in the environment. How does soil become contaminated with lead? Though use of leaded gasoline was a big source back in the day, the problem persists with the improper disposal of lead batteries, automotive parts and the demolition of properties/structures containing lead (just to name few). So, those greedy buggers who recently tore down the neighborhood eyesore in favor of the McMansion may have contributed to this threat to their (and/or your) personal food supply. At least we can say this potential risk “knows no socioeconomic boundaries”.

But there is hope.

"…some experts advise planting greens, specifically Indian mustard and spinach, for a couple of seasons as phytoremediation, or plant-based mitigation, before growing crops intended for food. By growing spinach for three months, researchers at the University of Southern Maine lowered the lead count in one garden by 200 p.p.m."

Great news, right? Not so fast.... “Of course, the lead-leaching crop cannot be eaten or composted and must be disposed of as toxic waste.” (emphasis mine)


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