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Your Environment. Your Health.

Urban Gardening

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

May 26, 2016

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A growing trend in communities across the United States has been the establishment of urban gardens as a way to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into our diets, to promote sustainable food production, and to address the problem of food deserts. However, urban gardening can present its own challenges as garden soils may contain contaminants from the surrounding environment. The speakers in this webinar highlighted some of the possible environmental exposures facing urban gardeners and outlined steps for reducing or preventing those exposures.



Henry Spliethoff

Henry Spliethoff, M.S., has a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he currently is a Research Scientist in the Center for Environmental Health at the New York State Department of Health. His professional interests include human health risk assessment, chemical fate and transport, health and energy use and production, urban agriculture, and environmental exposure research. Earlier this year, his article titled “Estimated lead (Pb) exposures for a population of urban community gardeners” was published in Environmental Geochemistry and Health.  

Wendy Heiger-Barnays

Wendy Heiger-Bernays, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University. Her interests center on understanding how environmental hazards adversely affect people’s health and how risks associated with these exposures can be quantified and decreased. As part of the Research Translation Core of BU’s Superfund Research Program, she works with the project leads and environmental and health organizations to use science to inform policy and practice. She collaborates with other researchers to understand patterns of migration of contaminants in municipal compost and soils in urban gardens and risks associated with these agents, with the objective of translating this research into cost-effective best practices. Wendy also serves on technical advisory committees for toxicological and environmental health issues at both the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and as Chair of her local board of health

Keith Pezzoli

Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., is Director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of California, San Diego and, since 2000, has been leading the Community Engagement Core and the Research Translation Core of UCSD’s Superfund Research Center. His contribution to the Center includes new methodologies for gauging health risks posed by pollution and assessing health effects, innovative detection and monitoring systems for toxicity, ecotoxicology, and novel models for bioremediation. He currently is engaged in collaborative studies examining the food-water-climate nexus, integrated regional watershed management, urban-ecological restoration in the U.S.-Mexico border region, and urban agriculture and food disparities.


Paul Watson, Jr., M.S.H.S., is Executive Director of the Global Action Research Center, a nonprofit that supports communities and organizations in the areas of civic engagement and civically engaged research. He has over 35 years of experience in nonprofit administration, management, and service delivery and has successfully completed contracts relating to Community Youth Development in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Brazil, and Jamaica.

For More Information

GreenThumb provides programming and material support to over 600 community gardens in New York City. See also: History of the Community Garden Movement

Healthy Gardening (New York State Department of Health)
Tips and resources for gardeners

Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities
This project helps urban gardeners and other community members to understand potential risks associated with soil contamination and to implement healthy gardening practices. See also: Estimated Lead Exposures for a Population of Urban Community Gardeners

Healthy Urban Gardens: Your Soil Health and You (Collaborative on Health and the Environment)
Experts on this call reviewed best practices for locally grown food initiatives, including measuring soil health, replacing contaminated soils, safe composting, which plants take up what toxicants, and alternative growing methods. Communication of findings and use of the findings for decision making by gardeners, gardening organizations, health departments, and regulatory authorities also were addressed.

Science Gardener Collaborative (Boston University)
This website is a resource for safer growing in soils. It is a cooperative effort of public health practitioners, scientists, educators, policymakers, and gardeners.

Urban Agriculture (City of Boston)
In December 2013, Boston passed Article 89, a city-wide zoning article that allows for commercial urban agriculture.

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