Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tacoma Smelter Plume: Eating from your garden

By Hannah Aoyagi, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

Growing your own fruits and veggies can be rewarding and healthy...even if you may have arsenic and lead in your soil. Many gardeners in the Tacoma Smelter Plume have asked us whether they can still eat from their gardens.

The answer is yes, but you should still take precautions.

Most plants don't take up much arsenic and lead into their edible parts.

One exception is spinach and other leafy greens. They can take up small amounts of arsenic and lead. If you know or suspect your soil is contaminated, build a raised bed for growing leafy greens.

The greater risk is from eating dirt or dust stuck to the outside of your produce.

It's always a good idea to wash your fruits and vegetables carefully. Peel root vegetables to be sure you aren't eating any dirt. You can also grow vegetables in raised beds.

Know your materials when you build garden beds.

Do not use arsenic treated ("CCA") wood because it can release arsenic into your soil. We also recommend avoiding old railroad ties because they can contain creosote, which is also a toxin.

Put a weed barrier fabric (or "geotextile") at the bottom of the bed and put the clean soil on top. This will let you know when soil in the box is getting low. It will also keep plants from growing their roots into soil that might be contaminated.

Ask your soil supplier about their soil quality before buying.

The state does not regulate soil sellers. However, many suppliers will test for metals, petroleum, and other contaminants. Ask them for their test results to make sure you aren't bringing contamination into your yard.

Use gardening gloves and wash your hands after working outside.

This helps prevent accidentally eating contaminated soil stuck to your hands and under your fingernails. Don't worry about touching soil because arsenic and lead don't absorb well through the skin.

For more information, King County has a gardening brochure with other resources. You can find gardening tips from natural yard care programs King County and Pierce County.

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