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Reducing Exposures to Soil Contaminants from Urban Gardening

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

NIEHS Grant: R21ES017921

Community-Academic Partners
Cornell Waste Management Institute and Department of Crop and Soil Sciences,
Cornell University, Ithaca: Murray B. McBride, Ph.D :
http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/soilquality.htm 
New York State Health Department: www.health.state.ny.us/ 
GreenThumb: www.greenthumbnyc.org/ 
Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City: http://nyc.cce.cornell.edu/Pages/home.aspx 

A community garden in Brooklyn
A community garden in Brooklyn that had been a vacant lot with illegal dumping. Top soil was brought in to cover the contaminated site.
(Photo courtesy of Urban Environment Program, Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City)

The need for affordable, healthy foods, including organic and locally-grown produce, has increased public interest in home, school and community gardens. While urban gardens provide numerous public health and quality of life benefits, the extent of soil contamination in many communities throughout the United States may represent a significant route of contaminant exposure to gardeners. Inner-city communities are often exposed to higher levels of some contaminants (e.g. lead) as compared to other areas. In urban soils, some contaminants are commonly present due to factors such as the historic use of lead paint, leaded gasoline, lumber treated with chromated copper arsenate, and the application of lead-arsenate pesticides in some areas. Many inner-city gardens are located in communities of lower economic status, often on vacant lots and abandoned properties where the extent of soil contamination is uncertain.

Researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca are collaborating with the New York City office of Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York State Department of Health, and the community-based organization GreenThumb to improve public health by increasing awareness about both the benefits and risks of urban gardening.

This collaborative community-research partnership will:

  • Quantify soil and vegetable contaminant levels.
  • Assess human exposures through urban gardening, focusing on community gardens, including those in areas with economic disparities, associated health disparities and potentially disproportionate environmental impacts.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies in addressing and mitigating associated health risks.

The partnership will translate the findings into effective education and public health action strategies to reduce exposures to soil contaminants. An evaluation will determine the success of education and outreach programs.

This partnership aims to reduce exposures of urban gardeners to soil contaminants by empowering communities to implement effective, community-based exposure mitigation strategies.

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