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Your Environment. Your Health.

Community-engaged Research Leads to Soil Cleanup

Partnerships for Environmental Public Education (PEPH)

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Saikawa and Hernandez collect soil samples from the yards of community members living in Westside Atlanta

Community-engaged Research Leads to Soil Cleanup

April 13, 2022

Interviewees: Eri Saikawa, Ph.D., and Rosario Hernandez

In this episode, we’ll hear from Eri Saikawa, Ph.D., from Emory University and Rosario Hernandez, executive director of Historic Westside Gardens. They work with residents living in Atlanta’s Westside community to test their soil for lead and other contaminants and raise awareness of children’s health risks associated with exposure. Results from their urban gardening study led to the removal of lead-contaminated soil in Atlanta neighborhoods.

(Photo: Saikawa and Hernandez collect soil samples from the yards of community members living in Westside Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Jack Kearse/Emory University)

Community-engaged Research Leads to Soil Cleanup

Gardening can provide many health benefits, like access to fresh produce and an enjoyable form of exercise, but there are some risks to consider – particularly if you’re gardening in an urban area. Urban soils may contain heavy metals and other contaminants that can harm health. And, because children often play directly in soil and put dirt in their mouths, their exposure to soil contaminants may be higher than adults.

In this podcast, we’ll hear from Eri Saikawa, Ph.D., from Emory University and Rosario Hernandez, executive director of Historic Westside Gardens. They work with residents living in Atlanta’s Westside community to test their soil for lead and other contaminants and raise awareness of children’s health risks associated with exposure. Results from their urban gardening study led to the removal of lead-contaminated soil in Atlanta neighborhoods.

Interviewees:

Eri Saikawa

Eri Saikawa, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory University and a member of the NIEHS-funded HERCULES Exposome Research Center. Her research focuses on how air pollution, ozone depletion, and climate change affect human health and society. More recently, Saikawa has expanded her research to examine heavy metals and other chemical contamination in soil in Westside Atlanta and ways to reduce children’s exposures.

Rosario Hernandez

Rosario Hernandez is the executive director of Historic Westside Gardens (HWG), a community nonprofit organization based in Atlanta. HWG is dedicated to advancing the wellness of the Westside Atlanta community through home food gardens, wellness education, health advocacy, and economic empowerment.


Resources:

  • If you’re thinking about starting your own urban garden, check out these safe urban gardening resources, developed by NIEHS-grantees:
    • The Gardening Safely video series discusses where soil contaminants come from, how they can get into gardens, ways we can be exposed, and simple actions to limit exposure.
    • This factsheet, available in English and Spanish, provides information on soil contaminants, routes of exposure, and ways to reduce contaminants in gardens.
    • This collection of factsheets digs deeper into a range of soil contaminants, including arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and more.
    • This infographic describes results from a study examining community gardeners’ behavior related to soil contamination.
    • Follow these 10 healthy habits to reduce exposure to soil contaminants.
    • This webpage also offers healthy gardening tips.
  • Check out the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s “soilSHOP” toolkit, which can help people learn if their soil is contaminated with lead and how to reduce exposures to contaminated soil and produce.
  • Visit the Atlanta soil contamination study website to learn more about Saikawa’s community-engaged research and to find resources on lead exposure, urban gardening, and more.
  • Learn more about Saikawa’s soil research in this article about her pilot study and this follow-up story describing her expanded project, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Learn about other NIEHS-funded urban gardening projects in this 2013 PEPH podcast and this 2016 PEPH webinar.

References:

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