Cecily Moyer ’09
This summer, I will be testing the soil and vegetables of community gardens in Philadelphia for lead (Pb) and other heavy metals. I will be working on this project with my friend Ari Briski, a Bryn Mawr College ’09 Cities major. Across the country, a popular movement for organic food has developed in response to the use of pesticides on industrial farms, soil degradation by monoculture, and other poor farming practices. As a result, urban gardens have become increasingly prevalent in American cities, especially as potential solutions to food security problems in low-income minority communities. Alarmingly, however, the health safety of urban gardens has yet to be seriously assessed. Soils in cities are polluted with heavy metals, chiefly Pb, from many years of leaded gasoline usage, paint, emissions from factories, and insecticides. Although many of these substances are banned today, Pb remains in the ecosystem and is cycled through the air, soil, and crops. In urban gardens in particular, Pb can enter the human body through one of two ways— skin-to-soil contact when gardening and through the consumption of vegetables that have absorbed lead. The presence of Pb-contaminated soil in urban gardens is especially problematic because people from under-served communities often work in these gardens. Children are especially at risk because Pb is harmful to their growth. In inner-city Philadelphia where nutritional food is harder to find, people grow their own healthy food. By gardening, community members also improve their health and build active social lives. Soil samples will be collected to analyze the amount of Pb content and bio-accessible Pb. Root, leaf, and fruit vegetables will be tested for Pb and these values will be compared to those vegetables available in grocery stores. We will share details of our findings, and advice will be given on which types of vegetables are safer to grow and consume than others.