How to know if there are toxins in local soil

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

in Soil Testing

How to Test Your Soil with This Soil Contamination Testing Guide

Soil contamination is one of the leading causes of environmental pollution. It is often caused by human activities, such as depositing hazardous materials, petroleum leaks from vehicles and machinery, use of pesticides, and heating oil tank leak. The contaminants thus released in the soil include petroleum products, pesticides, heavy metals (such as lead and mercury), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Often, the only way to ascertain whether the soil under observation is contaminated or not is to carry out soil contamination testing. Here is a step by step guide on how to test your soil.

Step 1: Conduct site history

The first step in soil contamination testing is to know the history of the property and the neighboring area. Talk to the previous owner(s) of the property and visit the city archives to learn whether the site was previously an infill area, industrial area, load reduction zone, or landfill. Also, make sure to find out whether it had a history of contamination and what soil remediation techniques were used.

Step 2: Collect soil samples

You will need to collect soil samples from several different areas of the site for soil testing. You can either get a soil ph test kit or assemble your own home soil test kit consisting of the following:

  • shovel
  • trowel
  • plastic buckets
  • re-sealable bags
  • boots
  • work gloves
  • paper and pencil

Walk around the site and mark the spots you want to collect samples from. At each spot, remove the turf or vegetation and dig a hole 16 inches deep into the soil using a shovel. Take some soil and put it in a bucket. Remove stones and debris if there are any. Note the presence of debris, garbage, odor, and stains. Refill the hole with the remaining soil and replace the turf.

Create a composite of the soil samples by mixing them together. Transfer the composite to a re-sealable plastic bag. Label the bag with the following: name and address of the site, sample number, sampling date, and the name of the person doing the sampling.

Step 3: Soil sample analysis

Analysis of the soil sample is done in a laboratory. Find a reputable soil test lab from friends, colleagues, and internet research, and other sources. You can search the internet by typing ‘soil testing near me.’

Ask them if they are accredited by the right federal or state government agency and what tests they conduct for heavy metals, PCBs and PAHs. You have probably done some personal research on how to test ph of soil. Let them know that you are not a complete novice.

Find out the price and turnaround time. Ask for instructions on how to deliver the samples to the laboratory and what information they need. Download the soil sample information form from the lab’s website and fill out the required information. Make sure that you have taken the samples according to the instructions given in the form. Deliver a soil test kit along with the completed form to the laboratory according to the instructions provided by the lab.

The result of your soil contamination test will confirm whether your site is contaminated or not. It will also inform you of the extent of the contamination and the names of contaminants along with their values. While you may not know how to interpret the values, the lab will advise you what actions you need to take.

At All American Environmental, we hope you have learned an easy way to see if your soil is contaminated by reading our How to Test Your Soil Guide. If you are looking for a reputable soil testing NJ laboratory, don’t hesitate to call All American Environmental in NJ. We are a full-service environmental company who can test, investigate, assess, & remediate your soil.

If you’re just getting into urban gardening, you’re undoubtedly excited to break out the fancy tools and get your hands dirty. You’ve selected those heirloom seeds with care, plotted out the beds, and stocked up on organic fertilizer. Now all that’s left to do is plot your urban oasis, right?

Not so fast. It’s important for city-dweller’s to be mindful of the contaminants that often lace urban soil—a problem that has plagued urban gardening initiatives for decades. Centuries of mining, manufacturing, and the use and accumulation of manmade toxins (from pesticides, paints, batteries, sludge, and more) have led to higher-than-normal concentrations of heavy metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic in most urban soils.

The excess accumulation of heavy metals in most urban soil is dangerous to humans and other animals, largely because it is so chronic; these metals don’t leave the bloodstream of the plant or animal that ingests them, and they will remain prevalent in whichever food chain they pollute. When plants attempt to grow in contaminated soil, they inevitably take up these hazardous compounds through their roots, which ultimately cycle back into the human population through consumption. (Meaning: if the plants you eat are contaminated, you will be, too.)

Contamination will affect everything in a garden, from plants to the wildlife that comes to feast upon them. People who live in or near homes built before 1978 (when lead-based paint was taken off the market) or near roadways (a source for a streaky stream of harmful particles) are at an even greater risk.

Bioaccumulation of toxins is prevalent in greens like spinach or collards, but is for the most part absent in fruits (e.g. your tomatoes are safe). Nevertheless, gardeners with high concentrations of lead or other compounds in their soil should reconsider planting until they’ve tested (and treated) the soil (more on that below.)

Some plants are capable of stabilizing or removing metals from surrounding areas through their roots, thus decontaminating groundwater.

Contaminated soil can be excavated from the ground and treated in a lab, or a large plastic cover can be placed over the contaminated soil to prevent runoff or direct contact with other plants and organisms. High temperature treatments (which produce a granular soil that won’t leach minerals) are among the most commonly used methods to treat soil, as are solidifying agents (which cement the soil,) and soil washing.

These treatments are expensive, however, so an expert will probably suggest a course of action that involves raising the pH of the soil, draining wetlands, applying phosphates, and choosing plants that are less susceptible to toxic uptake (which means planting fruits and seeds over leafy vegetables).

Some plants are capable of stabilizing or removing metals from surrounding areas through their roots, thus decontaminating groundwater (after the Chernobyl disaster, scientists planted sunflowers in contaminated areas for this very purpose).

So why should you pay someone to test the dirt in your yard? For one thing, decontamination helps identify the pH and nutrient levels of your soil, which clues the gardener in to any deficiencies that may be compromising their crops. The process also helps identify potential planting hotspots, especially when tested in conjunction with major nutrients like Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium.

Knowing this will be useful if you ever decide to purchase fertilizer with soil amendments (like added phosphate, limid, or dolomite) or if you combine soil with other additives that are already enriched.

Here’s How To Test Your Soil

  1. Using a spade or trowel, take small samples of soil from three to ten random spots in your garden. The Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College recommends sampling 6 to 8 inches deep for vegetables.
  2. Thoroughly mix the soil in the container, taking care to remove any pebbles, leaves, or roots you might find. Then, transfer at least one cup of the soil mixture into a plastic bag and seal it (don’t fill the bag; it’ll be flattened if you mail it in an envelope and you don’t want dirt spilling out). Make sure the sample is dry; do not dry soil on a stove or radiator as this may affect the readings.
  3. Mail the bag to your preferred testing site. Many of the colleges and universities who operate soil testing programs offer testing services at a low cost (most tests cost between $10-20: be sure to ask for heavy metal testing in addition to the standard panel). If you live in the East or South, try the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Folks in the Midwest should try Midwest Laboratories (a nationally-renowned testing center), or the K-State Soil Testing Lab at Kansas State University. West-Coasters should check out Perry Laboratory and Wallace Laboratory, two California-based greats who work specifically with farmers and gardeners. New Englanders need look no further than the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory, which boasts a 3-6 day turnaround time for most samples.
  4. Follow-up with whoever conducts your soil test on how to proceed with your gardening plans. This video from the University of Delaware’s Soil Testing Program offers a nice introduction on how to decipher the numbers that will come back with your results.

Written by Amir Tajer

Posted on September 20 2019

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

What Does it Mean if Your Soil is Contaminated?

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

If your soil is contaminated, there’s a chance that the toxic materials can be absorbed into the plants you’re growing.

These chemicals are detrimental to soil health and could damage, or even kill, the plants you’re growing.

If you’re growing fruit or vegetables, it might be best not to eat them and dispose of your plants if the chemical content of your soil is too high.

This is because contaminated soil is most harmful when ingested or inhaled — most likely with root vegetables such as carrots and yams.

What Chemicals are Typically Present in Contaminated Soils?

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

The most common types of chemicals found in contaminated soils are:

  • Arsenic
  • Solvents
  • Pesticides
  • Lead
  • Other Heavy Metals

How Does Soil Become Contaminated?

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

There are a number of ways that soil becomes dangerously contaminated:

Industrial Waste: Liquid and solid waste released into the environment is the biggest contributing factor to soil contamination.

Deforestation: Trees being cut down leaves the soil exposed to the elements, which in turn leaves it more susceptible to contaminants.

Overuse of Fertilizers and Pesticides in Agriculture: Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides release toxins into the soil of the field they’re applied to, and in surrounding fields if they’re applied too liberally.

Garbage Pollution: Litter that is disposed of carelessly not only pollutes the land, but can take hundreds, or even thousands, of years to decompose.

Previous Buildings on the Land: If there have ever been wooden structures on your land that were built before the late 1970s, there’s a higher risk for lead and arsenic to be present in the soil, as arsenic was widely-used to preserve wood.

How Can You Find Out if Your Soil is Contaminated?

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

Once you’ve decided if the likelihood of contamination justifies testing your soil , you can begin to look at having it tested to see if there are dangerous levels of toxic chemicals present.

There are a number of situations that could cause your soil to be contaminated, including:

  • If it has or has had pesticides or synthetic fertilizers used on it regularly in recent years.
  • If it’s on or near a current or former industrial site where hazardous materials were handled.
  • Is near a high-traffic roadway that existed before leaded gasoline was banned.

There are many other reasons that could cause your soil to be contaminated, so if you’re worried about it, you should definitely look into getting it tested.

What Can You Do if Your Soil is Contaminated?

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

While it’s impossible to truly clean contaminated soil, you can reduce the toxicity of it considerably. Adjusting the pH of your soil to as close to neutral as you can will help.

Shifting your focus to organic gardening and adding rich organic matter to the soil will also help negate the impact of the toxic chemicals and protect your plants.

Make sure to thoroughly wash fruit or veg before you eat them. Taking these steps will lead to a healthy garden for many years to come.

Shop some of our organic fertilizers below and nurture your soil back to health.

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

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After our report on a study giving insights into how to minimize the risk of toxic vegetables from urban gardens, TreeHugger reader Craig wrote to ask:

I’m researching soil test kits – for pollution, not nutrition. I want to test soil, water, and food itself. Care to recommend any test kits?

Craig wants to test the soils on high ground and compare the results with the tests of soils in the valley that channels runoff from roads — where the wild blackberries may be less brain food than drain fruit. It sounds like a great project!

Although our answer may not be what Craig wanted to hear, we hope that sharing it can help TH readers save money on tests that are not reliable.

Gold Standard for Soil Testing

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a test kit available on the consumer market will reliably and accurately test soil contamination. The “gold standard” for testing metals in soil is to extract the metals and analyze the extract by atomic absorption or atomic emission spectrometers. These instruments (which are sufficiently expensive that only well-equipped laboratories can justify them) can detect the “fingerprint” of individual atoms: each atom absorbs or emits light at specific wavelengths that are unique to that atom. Alternatively, the even more expensive and highly sensitive ICP-mass spectrometer can identify individual metal ions by their atomic weights.

Another technique that has recently been gaining attention is XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometers), because certain consumer organizations have started to scan products for the presence of toxic materials by XRF. These devices also need to be used only by highly trained personnel, as much due to the safety of the use of x-ray sources as for the accuracy of the technique. Generally, the cheaper the device, the less able it is to distinguish between various metals in a complex sample like soil.

Although there are reliably certified lead test kits on the market (certified not to produce more than 5% false negatives), these kits are intended to operate in the range of 5000 ppm, well above the level of interest for contaminants in soil.

Soil Test Kit Downfalls

Soil is notoriously hard to test, because the contaminant absorbed to the soil must be extracted into a liquid carrier in order to be available for feeding into a spectrometer or for reacting with a reagent that can indicate the presence of the contaminant by color change, one of the most common tricks of test kits.

This extraction process significantly affects the test results. Soil composition and pH, the presence of multiple contaminants, and other factors can all influence the completeness of the extraction. It is necessary for a repeatably consistent percentage to be extracted in order to quantify how much contaminant exists in the amount of soil used for the test or no numerical estimate of contamination can be reached.

Since some lead is typically present in soil (up to 20ppm may be considered “natural”). Also, lead is not necessarily hazardous even when present as a low-level contaminant: levels up to 100 ppm in soil are considered safe by most everyone, while up to 400 ppm lead in soil is safe for a child’s play area, even considering that the child will eat some soil, according to the EPA. Therefore, a test that merely indicates “yes” or “no” is not meaningful. The test must give a quantitative result; the importance of the extraction step cannot be neglected.

Small sample sizes — which are typically necessary to keep the costs down in consumer test kits — further complicate the testing, because it is very difficult to get a “homogenous sample” of soil (a sample which would give the same results no matter where you pull out the little bit that will actually get tested).

Finally, the colorimetric testing common to test kits relies on the contaminant reacting with another chemical which changes color. These tests are susceptible to false positives — indicating the presence of a contaminant when there is really some other, often benign, chemical in the soil that can also react with the color-changing reagent — as well as false negatives — indicating no contaminant, most often because the contaminant was insufficiently extracted from the soil or because the contaminant is part of a larger molecule that fails to react with the color changing agent.

Constructive Advice on Testing Soils

We cannot leave the topic on such a negative note. To be a bit more constructive for anyone out there with a potentially interesting hypothesis about soil contamination to test: we would suggest networking a bit with local universities. See if anyone in the chemistry department would be interested in teaming up on such a project. Grant money can be available to help finance such studies, and of course the university chemistry lab is likely to be well equipped to pursue such questions.

This kind of project is a great way for students to learn about the methods, techniques, and limitations of chemical analysis. The scope of the study might even integrate the question of test kits. Doing the analysis by one or more “gold standard” methods and comparing results from consumer test kits would probably demonstrate what other studies have demonstrated: A low correlation of results.

Share Your Experience

If any one reading this has had positive (or negative) experiences with test kits for toxic contaminants, let us know in the comments; If you believe you got good results, did you have your test results confirmed by a laboratory? If a test kit let you down, let us know.

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

The key to growing a healthy garden is clean, healthy soil. Contaminants in soil can quickly lead to an array of problems, so determining possible causes of soil contamination beforehand and learning how to clean contaminated soils is very important.

What is Soil Contamination?

Before you begin to plan and construct your garden, it’s always wise to have a soil sample analyzed. The quality of soil can be affected by many things. It is important to determine what nearby land was used for in the past and assess the impact of any nearby industry.

Oftentimes, the causes of soil contamination result from dangerous chemicals that find their way into the soil and disrupt the soil structure. Contaminants in soil that is taken up by plants or comes in contact with garden fruits and vegetables can cause health problems. Soil test results will indicate the quality of the soil and the causes of soil contamination, if any.

Possible Contaminants in Soil

Urban dwellers should be particularly concerned with a number of possible soil contaminants including lead, which has been used in paint and as an additive to gasoline; cadmium, which results from burning coal and garbage; arsenic, which is used in wood preservatives, weed killers, pesticides, and fertilizers.

If you live close to an industrial or commercial site, it’s wise to have your soil checked for metals and cyanides, benzene, toluene, and other chemicals associated with gas station leaks. Rural residents should also check for past and present industries and pesticides.

How to Clean Contaminated Soils

While cleaning contaminated soil is not “literally” possible, some things can be done to reduce the toxic impact. Adjusting the soil pH to as close to neutral as possible will help reduce the negative impact of contaminants.

Contaminated soil treatment also includes adding plenty of rich organic matter to the soil and a healthy top-dress of peat moss, compost, or aged manure. This practice will help protect plants from damage.

Always be sure to wash any fruits or vegetables before you eat them. If contaminants are a problem, you can also plant in raised beds made with untreated lumber. This will allow you to add your own healthy soil.

Taking appropriate measures for cleaning contaminated soil beforehand can lead to a healthy garden for you and your family.

Soil in urban areas is more likely to be sullied by contaminates like lead and arsenic. Here’s how to test for and deal with those issues.

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

Urban Areas Are More Likely To Have Contaminated Soil

Urban soils are particularly prone to contamination. 50 years ago, your yard could have belonged to a farmer, who, perhaps not knowing any better, disposed of old bottles of anti-freeze or contaminated diesel in a hole out behind the tractor garage. Or perhaps the remains of a fallen down outbuilding, long ago coated in lead-based paint, was buried on your property buy a lazy contractor when your subdivision was built.

For those wanting to garden on non-residential urban property – school yards, church grounds, parks, commercial areas, vacant lots – the likelihood of contamination is even higher. There is no telling what sort of past activities took place there, all visible signs of which have disappeared. Prior the 1970s, environmental rules were very lax, and it was not uncommon for all sorts of hazardous chemicals to be dumped at any location where they were used. Many such chemicals persist in the soil for decades, if not longer.

The good news is that if the property was redeveloped (any significant new construction, demolition, or change of use) since environmental laws tightened, it would have had to go through a strict assessment to determine if contamination was present. If anything unacceptable was found, the owner would have been forced to remediate the soil before starting construction. However, if the property has remained more or less as-is since the 1970s (or earlier), it is unlikely that anyone has ever investigated what might be lurking in the soil.

What Are the Dangers of Contaminated Soil?

Anyone working in close contact with contaminated soil, as gardeners do, is at risk of chemical exposure through skin absorption, as well as through inhalation of soil particles. Plants absorb chemicals from the soil – and not just in their roots, but in their shoots, leaves, fruits, and seeds, too – passing on the toxicity to people who eat the produce.

Depending on the contaminant, low level exposures may result in nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and rashes; exposure at higher levels can result in neurological conditions, reproductive disorders, birth defects, and an increase risk of cancer.

Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with compromised health are especially vulnerable. Gardens are a wonderful opportunity for kids of all ages to learn and play, but small children are prone to sucking on dirty fingers, or even consuming soil directly, which poses a much more acute health risk than simply touching contaminated soil or even eating produce grown in it.

Common Urban Soil Contaminants

Lead is by far the most common urban soil contaminant in residential areas, largely because most exterior paint contained lead before it was outlawed in 1978. If the paint on an old house, barn, or pile of scrap lumber was left to disintegrate, the adjacent soil will be full of little paint flakes, creating a health risk. Lead doesn’t leach through the soil very far from its point of origin, so if you think painted surfaces on your property may contain paint of that age, one simple solution is to avoid growing food, or any doing any sort of digging, within 10 feet of the surface.

Arsenic is also common residential areas, as it was the predominant type of wood preservative from the mid-1900s until 2004, when it was outlawed. Any “pressure treated wood” from that time period likely contains arsenic. Like lead, arsenic doesn’t travel far from its point of origin, though one never knows where there might have been a wooden structure that is no longer standing. Arsenic, as well as copper, have long been used for various agricultural applications, so they may also be present in areas that were previously farmed – which most urban areas were at some point.

A variety of other heavy metals, as well as industrial chemicals like PCBs and PAHs, are occasionally found in urban areas, though not usually in residential areas. Wherever past industrial uses are suspected, however, these substances should be tested for as well.

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

It’s important to make sure the soil in which you’re growing your food is safe. Here’s what to look for, how to test your soil, and what to do if you get worrisome results. PHOTO: By amenic181 /

How to Test for Contaminated Soil

The EPA considers lead to be a hazard for food gardens at levels above 400 parts per million.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to test soil for toxicity, especially common culprits like lead and arsenic. Many public universities offer mail-in soil testing services, as do private companies. These labs usually also test for nutrients and organic matter, which is also good information to have.

Testing for heavy metals typically incurs a small additional fee, though the total is typically less than $100, even at a private facility. Here is a list of soil labs, including several that offer heavy metal tests. The lab will provide instructions on how to collect soil samples properly, though you can check out Modern Farmer’s soil testing guide.

Note: Many municipalities may require more in-depth testing for for school and community gardens, and urban farms. This usually requires the help of an environmental engineer, who will first do an historical assessment of the property to determine the likelihood that contaminants are present based on past uses. If there is reason to believe the site is at risk, the expert will conduct a thorough soil analysis and recommend steps for remediation.

Interpreting Soil Test Results

For heavy metal tests, the lab will typically help you interpret the results. There are no national regulations that restrict urban food production based on soil contamination, though the EPA and many local government agencies have established guidelines, especially for lead. The EPA considers lead to be a hazard for food gardens at levels above 400 parts per million. At levels between 100 and 400 parts per million, the EPA still suggests taking precautions to minimize exposure. The State of California has published guidelines that recommend taking precautions at levels down to 80 parts per million.

What to Do if Your Soil Is Contaminated

If contaminants are identified only in certain areas of the site, one option is to simply avoid gardening in those areas and plant grass or ornamental species that are not intended for consumption. Where low levels of contamination are detected, such as lead between 80 and 400 parts per million, the EPA recommends tilling deeply and mixing large quantities of compost with the soil to dilute the level of contamination, and to avoid planting crops where the root or foliage are consumed. Fruits and seeds do not accumulate heavy metals as readily, so vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers, along with fruit trees and berry bushes, are less of a risk.

Where more acute toxicity is present, one option is to hire a professional to safely remove the contaminated soil and replace it with clean soil. This is very costly, however. The less expensive and often more practical option is to build raised beds for planting food crops. In this case, lay a sheet landscape fabric (also known as weed cloth), on the bottom of the bed before adding topsoil. The fabric is designed to let moisture through, but prevents the roots from contacting the contaminated soil below.

Learn why and how to check for lead contamination in soil and how to garden safely when it’s present.

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

Related To:

How to know if there are toxins in local soil

Photo by: Shutterstock/Mike Dotta

Even though it was banned nearly 40 years ago, lead is still one of the most dangerous pollutants out there because it does not break down and vanish naturally. Paint manufactured prior to 1978 is one of the biggest causes of lead poisoning. You’ve probably heard horror stories of children eating paint chips and becoming seriously ill. It wasn’t just in paint: decades ago, lead was in gasoline, plumbing pipes and pesticides. And the danger is not just from ingestion, but also inhalation and absorption through the skin. Abatement measures can be taken to make a home’s interior safe, but what about the exterior and surrounding property? There’s really no way of knowing if exterior paint chips or particles are in the soil around your home. If you plan on edible gardening on the site of an older home, it’s definitely something to consider. But the good news is, there are ways around it, and you can still garden.

I live in a new home that was built on a site where an older home was torn down. So, when my builder told me that the topsoil around my house — where I planned on putting my garden — was from the foundation of an old house that once stood on the site, I knew immediately that I needed to get the soil tested for lead. What I didn’t expect was that the test results, which indicated elevated lead, would set me on a year-long search for straight talk on what to do with my soil.

Online resources and authorities varied when it came to interpretations of risk, as well as advice on how to mitigate the problem. Wanting clear answers, I consulted the directors of two state soil testing labs. They helped, but not completely.

Ultimately, I contacted soil chemistry scientist Michael Essington of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Through Essington, I met professor Nicholas Basta of The Ohio State University. Basta is regarded as one of the nation’s top authorities on assessing, cleaning up and reusing soil that’s been contaminated with lead and other pollutants. These experts provided the answers I needed to use my garden beds.

  • How to know if there are toxins in local soil
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  • How to know if there are toxins in local soil
  • Permaculture. picking the lock back to Eden since 1978.
    Pics of my Forest Garden

  • How to know if there are toxins in local soil
  • Greg, that makes a lot of sense. I didn’t explain this in the original post for the sake of keeping at simple as possible, but I am doing modified hugelculture, burying about 6-8” of wood as I turn the soil a shovels depth below the raised beds.

    Does anyone know if people who rip out asphalt and plant gardens underneath worry about toxins from the asphalt?

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil How to know if there are toxins in local soilHow to know if there are toxins in local soil How to know if there are toxins in local soilHow to know if there are toxins in local soil How to know if there are toxins in local soil How to know if there are toxins in local soilHow to know if there are toxins in local soil

  • How to know if there are toxins in local soil
  • I tried to find if there is significant risk of leaching contamination, and most articles and studies seemed to indicate the leaching of toxins is below dangerous levels. That doesn’t mean no toxins are leached, and “acceptable levels” also may depend on how much other exposure you get to other toxic hydrocarbons. Personally I don’t like it in our environment – we “inherited” the neighbors’ old asphalt driveway when they made it into a dam in the creek which blew out, spreading asphalt chunks down the entire length of our creek (!)

    If I had asphalt chunks to garden on, I would want to create an environment high in fungal activity. Not edible mushrooms, but fungi which will tie up the toxins and possibly render them inert. Buried wood beds, hugelkultur, etc, will create these conditions.

  • How to know if there are toxins in local soil
  • Whoa there! An hour after I posted the message below, I realized that the page I linked to was funded by the Asphalt Education Partnership, which is a BIAS SOURCE! I revoke my statements below!

    I skimmed this study titled “Leaching Characteristics of Asphalt Road Waste” and found out that the leaching hydrocarbons are actually less of a concern than Lead, although lead wasn’t very common either. Older roads that were used while lead was still a gasoline additive were shown to have higher levels of Lead. This means the heavy metals came from the vehicles and the older the road, the more likely it is to contain heavy metals.

    Given that I know the road where this asphalt came from is a rural, quiet country road with very little traffic, I am not very concerned about it’s lead content. I still dont like that this is the soil at the bottom of the raised beds, but I will continue to use it as planned. I’ll sift out the larger chunks as I cover the wood in the bottom of the raised beds and then top it with another 10″ of nice topsoil mixed with composted manure.

    Just because a laboratory test finds toxic chemicals in soil, it doesn’t mean the dirt poses a risk to living things. That is the counterintuitive conclusion of a new study of what happens to many poisonous materials dumped or spilled onto the ground.

    This is because, with time, the toxins can become so tightly bound to soil particles that no natural process can free them to let the toxicity work. But analytic equipment in a chemical laboratory can still detect the chemicals.

    “The chemical tests lead you to think the soil poses a big risk, but biologically, the risks are really less than we used to think,” said Martin Alexander, a Cornell soil scientist who published his findings in this month’s issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

    The phenomenon came to light when scientists were studying a process called bioremediation, which encourages natural, pollution-eating soil bacteria to multiply and feed on toxic substances, digesting them into harmless constituents. The researchers noticed that bioremediation often slows and stops even though there are toxins in the soil and plenty of microbes to eat them. Some unknown process, the researchers concluded, was “locking up” toxin molecules so that even though they could be detected in the laboratory, bacteria could no longer get at them.

    “In time, the chemical is hidden and becomes unavailable within the soil structure where it may no longer present a problem,” Alexander said.

    His research shows that water cannot wash the toxic molecules loose, roots cannot absorb them and organisms that feed on soil cannot digest them.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Plants that clean contaminated soil are under study and actually being used already in some places. Instead of a massive cleanup that removes soil, plants can absorb and safely store those toxins for us.

    Phytoremediation – Clean Up Soil with Plants

    Plants absorb and use nutrients from soil. This extends to the uptake of toxins in the soil, providing us with a useful, natural way to clean contaminated land. Pollution from toxic metals to mine runoff and petrochemicals makes soil harmful and even unusable.

    One way to deal with the problem is by brute force – simply remove the soil and put it somewhere else. Obviously, this has serious limitations, including cost and space. Where should the contaminated soil go?

    Another solution is to use plants. Plants that can absorb certain toxins may be placed in areas of contamination. Once the toxins are locked in, the plants they can be burned. The resulting ash is light, small, and easy to store. This works well for toxic metals, which are not burned away when the plant is turned to ash.

    How Can Plants Clean Soil?

    How plants do this may vary depending on the species and toxin, but researchers have figured out how at least one plant absorbs a toxin without damage. Researchers in Australia worked with a plant in the mustard family, thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), and found a strain susceptible to poisoning by cadmium in soil.

    From that strain with mutated DNA, they figured out that the plants without the mutation were able to safely absorb the toxic metal. The plants take it up from the soil and attach it to a peptide, a small protein. They then store it in vacuoles, open spaces inside cells. There it’s innocuous.

    Specific Plants for Contaminated Soil

    Researchers have figured out specific plants that can clean up certain toxins. Some of these include:

    • Sunflowers have been used to absorb radiation on the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
    • Mustard greens can absorb lead and have been used on playgrounds in Boston to keep kids safe.
    • Willow trees are excellent absorbers and store heavy metals in their roots.
    • Poplars absorb a lot of water and with it can take in hydrocarbons from petrochemical pollution.
    • Alpine pennycress, researchers have discovered, can absorb several heavy metals when soil pH is adjusted to be more acidic.
    • Several aquatic plants take heavy metals out of the soil, including water ferns and water hyacinth.

    If you have toxic compounds in your soil, contact an expert for advice. For any gardener though, having some of these plants in the yard could be beneficial.

    Courtesy of the East Chicago Public Library

    Maritza Lopez pulled a postcard out of her mailbox five years ago. It was an invitation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking her to attend a public meeting about the lead and arsenic contamination of her neighborhood in East Chicago, Indiana. The what? She’d never heard about the threats posed by these toxins and certainly never considered that the soil around her home might have something to do with her arthritis, kidney problems, or cancer.

    Lopez attended the meeting. She learned she spent her entire life living on top of a Superfund site, which is contaminated land designated for government cleanup due to its risks to human health and the environment. That designation, according to Lopez, “was kept a nice little secret.”

    It wasn’t, of course, a secret to the EPA, which declared 322 acres of the city a Superfund site in 2009, or to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which found high levels of lead in East Chicago soils way back in 1985. In fact, what’s happening there right now—the disorganized and forced removal of more than 1,000 people out of a public housing complex and the toxic threats other East Chicagoans like Lopez continue to face—illustrates the communication voids that can occur between local and federal governments and the people they’re supposed to protect, all too often in low-income communities of color.

    Located just over the Illinois border in Indiana, East Chicago is home to almost 30,000 residents, most of whom are either black or Latino. The median household income is $27,000, according to the most recent census report, and residential areas are interspersed between industrial facilities. Several lead and chemical factories once operated here, and while most closed their doors by the 1990s, they left behind a toxic legacy—one that the government has been slow to act on.

    In 1997, the EPA took 29 soil samples from throughout the city and found lead levels to be high enough to warrant emergency action in eight of them. When the agency tested the soil again in 2014, it found that at one site, the lead level was as high as 91,000 parts per million (the EPA’s acceptable level for residential properties is 400 ppm). Instead of letting residents know right away, the agency waited two more years before releasing the data.

    When the results finally became public last summer, Mayor Anthony Copeland told the 1,100 residents of the West Calumet public housing complex, built in 1972, that the buildings would be torn down and they had to move out.

    After the news broke, local Indianans pushed for then-governor Mike Pence to declare East Chicago a disaster area, which would have given the city funds to address the problem. Pence refused. In February, after Governor Pence became vice president, the new governor, Eric Holcomb, made that disaster declaration.

    Unfortunately, toxic soil isn’t East Chicago’s only problem. An EPA study conducted in fall 2016 found dangerously high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water.

    In response, NRDC served a petition on behalf of local and regional advocacy groups asking the EPA to step in to address the water contamination issue, including by supplying safe drinking water to all East Chicago residents. “The EPA has to do more than simply identify a problem—the agency must step in and actually take measures to address the public health crisis,” says Anjali Waikar, an NRDC attorney who focuses on environmental justice in the Midwest. “We are asking the agency to provide bottled water and filters to the community until a long-term fix is in place.” The EPA has not yet responded, but NRDC is now also pushing for the agency to oversee the water treatment in East Chicago, in light of new evidence that the local authority’s corrosion-control measures may have actually contributed to the water contamination problem.

    Since the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, emerged two years ago, our country’s contaminated communities have gotten more media attention. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt visited East Chicago in April, meeting with residents there. An EPA spokesman assured the press that his agency would help, but people there remain skeptical that the Trump administration will actually do so. And for good reason: Instead of shoring up programs to identify industrial threats and help low-income and minority communities, Trump and company have been trying to weaken pollution protections.

    In East Chicago, local politicians haven’t been much help either. According to Lopez, Mayor Copeland seems more concerned with redeveloping the West Calumet housing complex than the health of the city’s citizens. Despite the EPA’s urging, Copeland hasn’t yet revealed his plans for redevelopment, which has prevented the agency from moving forward with its remediation plan.

    Joshua Lott/Getty Image

    “On every level of government, from city to federal, no one has really bothered to let us, the residents, who are living in this…be involved and have any say,” says Lopez, who helped form East Chicago’s community advisory group (CAG). A CAG is a platform for citizens to voice their concerns and an official part of every Superfund cleanup. But Lopez says she and her neighbors didn’t know they were supposed to form one until last fall.

    Communication problems persist between government agencies and the community, says Debbie Chizewer, who works at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Northwestern University’s School of Law and helps East Chicagoans navigate the legal system. For instance, she says the state holds events to test kids’ blood lead levels, but many people don’t know about them.

    One thing that could help bridge that divide is a memorandum of understanding that was struck at the end of the Obama administration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the EPA. The agreement, which should continue through the Trump administration, states that the two agencies would share information and figure out how to address federally subsidized housing on Superfund sites. Again, how the agencies will execute this, or if they will at all under Trump, is a mystery.

    Today, fewer than 10 families remain at the complex, and some of those who legally challenged their relocation were given additional time by a law judge. The 1,000-plus others have all left—some uprooted out of state due to limited housing availability.

    West Calumet resident and CAG member Akeeshea Daniels was able to find a new home in East Chicago. She moved with two of her three sons to a three-bedroom house last month but is continuing to fight for her former and present neighbors.

    “This is where I was born and where I was raised and where I’m comfortable,” she says. “I don’t want another mother going through what I went through.” Daniels was one of the first to speak out about the contamination after her kids began suffering from unusual illnesses like scarlet fever and rashes that made their skin “shed like a snake.”

    “I’m in awe of these residents,” says Northwestern University’s Chizewer. “There are people who have cancer, who have other chronic diseases, potentially as the result of their environment where they’re living, and they’re coming to meetings multiple times a week, making phone calls, writing letters. It’s remarkable. And they’re just getting started.”

    But it’s been a long struggle, say Lopez and Daniels. They and their neighbors often get together to vent and to cry. “One odd thing that’s come out of this is we have become a family,” says Lopez. Like Daniels, she wants to make sure others know how to get informed about industrial threats in their communities—and then demand the government does something about them, and quickly.

    Rich, nutrient-dense soil is crucial to successful gardening. Signs of healthy soil include plenty of underground animal and plant activity, such as earthworms and fungi. Soil that is rich in organic matter tends to be darker and crumbles off of the roots of plants you pull up. A healthy, spread-out root system is also a sign of good soil. We talked about determining your soil type, now here are eight simple tests to determine your soil’s health.

    These tests are part of the Willamette Valley Soil Quality Guide, a system developed for farmers. The expert developers say that it works for gardeners, too! Do all the steps during spring growing season and use different spots in your garden for the best overall picture of your soil’s health.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Soil Organisms

    Healthy soil is full of animal life.

    • Dig a hole at least 6 inches deep.
    • Watch the interior of the hole for 4 minutes.
    • Count the number and species of critters you see like spiders, ground beetles & centipedes.

    Anything less than 10 means your soil is low on animal life. A strong population of critters keeps down pests and disease, so “the more, the merrier.”


    Worms aerate the soil, allowing better circulation. They also eat organic material, so a big worm population means your soil is rich in nutrients.

    • Look for earthworm casts or burrows on the surface of damp soil.
    • Dig up a chunk of soil 6 inches deep.
    • Count the worms you find in the chunk.
    • Five is the magic number, but three is still good.

    Earthworm benefits go beyond aeration. These friendly critters leave behind secretions that improve tilth, as well as adding organic matter, bacteria, plant nutrients and enzymes via their casts.

    Soil Structure/Tilth

    Tilth is the condition of tilled soil.

    • Dig a 6 – 10-inch deep hole in damp soil.
    • Remove a soup can-sized section intact.
    • Break it apart

    Healthy soil consists of different sized aggregates or chunks that retain their shape when slight pressure is applied. Rich, organic soil has rounder aggregates, allowing water and air to move more easily around plants’ roots. This results in healthier plants.

    If the aggregates are difficult to break apart, you have a hard soil problem.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    ‘Residents now have to worry about what they and their children have been exposed to.’ Photograph: Simon Dawson/Getty Images

    ‘Residents now have to worry about what they and their children have been exposed to.’ Photograph: Simon Dawson/Getty Images

    I t is news that no one wants to hear. Independent research from Prof Anna Stec at the University of Central Lancashire, released on Thursday, shows heightened levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the area around Grenfell Tower. Phosphorous flame retardants, toxic to the nervous system, were found in soil samples 50 metres from the tower. Dust and oily deposits were wiped from the blinds of homes close to the tower 17 months later. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found at 160 times the level of reference samples 140m from Grenfell, along with chemicals that can cause asthma with a single exposure. These are not at naturally occurring levels in most urban environments.

    This is truly shocking. From the beginning, residents have asked the local authority and Public Health England about contamination. The problem was obvious. For days after the fire black smoke hung in the air, and contaminated homes, clothing and furniture. For months, charred black ash rained down on people’s balconies, gardens, clothes lines and bins.

    Seven days after the fire the law firm Bindmans, acting for those affected, wrote to the local authority, Kensington and Chelsea, asking for urgent clarification and guidance. Was the area contaminated? Had a sampling programme begun? There was no response. At public meetings, residents asked Public Health England about the dust settling in their homes. They were told that this “was not the kind of dust that gets into your lungs”. Air monitoring took place, but not immediately. It didn’t test for the toxins found by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire. It didn’t test the dust.

    Residents suffering from trauma, and those who have lost loved ones, now have to worry about what they and their children have been exposed to in their homes. They were told they were safe. “After being assured time and again about the risks of pollution following the fire, this report is alarming and hugely upsetting to read,” said the support group Grenfell United in a statement. “It does nothing to build trust in our representatives and says more about managing civil unrest than a truthful duty of care and accountability by our public authorities.”

    In an update to residents, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government sought to reassure residents that it was “taking Professor Stec’s concerns extremely seriously”, and has “established a comprehensive programme of environmental checks to fully assess the risks and take appropriate action”. In reality, although an independent consultant, AECOM, has been appointed and residents have been advised to consult their GP if they have concerns, the government has yet to carry out a single soil test or offer a proper health screening programme to the community.

    The authorities have known about these risks all along. Why have they failed to act? Stec alerted them to her initial findings in February 2018. In September 2018, the Grenfell coroner wrote to the head of NHS England calling for a long-term screening programme for those exposed to fire and smoke, including firefighters and first responders. As with many issues arising from Grenfell, the authorities seem deaf to valid concerns, dismissing experts (Stec’s initial findings were “not peer reviewed” – now they are), dismissing reports of the “Grenfell cough” as psychosomatic.

    There are echoes of the “institutional indifference” (a phrase used by survivor Edward Daffarn to describe the authorities before the fire. This seems to have given way to institutional apathy. And – though this is a matter for the inquiry – there is a wider issue about the materials used, and the toxic load of the building. Stec’s report identifies particular chemicals relating to the materials used in the refurbishment. As Grenfell United says: “The report highlights just how toxic the materials manufactured by Arconic, Celotex and others are.”

    Toxicity must be considered in future legislation, to prevent deaths by toxic smoke, and those corporate entities and manufacturers must be held accountable.

    These delays should be unacceptable to us all. The authorities are supposed to protect us. The situation is unfolding in real time, with real consequences for residents. “We are trapped here,” said Andrea Newton, former chair of Lancaster West residents’ association. “Public Health England will never tell the truth [because] it will highlight their negligence, place RBKC [the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea] in a housing crisis, put central government in a huge financial predicament. The big players in housing, industry, property development and related manufacturers have too much to lose. They gain nothing from transparency.”

    Where is the urgency? At what point will the government act? This is a public health crisis in the making. The government must fulfil its obligations under the Environmental Protection Act. If we cannot trust our government to be candid, we must have legislation to force its hand.

    Toxins in the air. Toxins in the soil. The longer this goes on the more it becomes evident that legislation is needed. The public authorities accountability bill recommended by Bishop James Jones in his report on the Hillsborough disaster, must come back into play. “Whatever the government promise today they need to realise it’s already too little and too late,” said Grenfell United. “Testing in the community must start immediately and by immediately, we mean yesterday.”

    More information about NHS support services is available here

    . Seraphima Kennedy is a writer and academic researcher. She is a former neighbourhood officer at Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation

    Among the contaminants of concern, organic pollutants occupy a unique place because they bind and hold onto organic matter in our soils over long periods of time.

    Some more potent ones like aflatoxins and dioxins also easily find their way into the food chain endangering the lives of many.

    But why should such pollutants matter?

    Why should we be so concerned with them?

    Nothing displays the height of selfishness and impunity than the way man treats the environment he lives in.

    Whereas some pollutants such as aflatoxins are introduced into the soils through fungal action, the vast majority of organic pollutants are brought about by irresponsible behaviour such as the unnecessary use of fossil fuels, indiscriminate burning of rubbish and abuse of agrochemicals.

    Of key concern is the use of organochlorine based pesticides.

    Though potent, they are also very persistent in the environment having the ability to ‘hold onto’ soil particles over long periods of time.

    Infact lindane is one such pesticide which is adversely categorized as a carcinogen.

    Traces of it have not only been found in soil but even in water long after application.

    Though potent replacements such as organophosphate pesticides degrade faster, their indiscriminate use tends to expose more to their effects without their knowledge.

    Residue traces can be found in fruits, vegetables and soil.

    But the soil is not only affected by what we directly put into it but what deposits onto it when it is released into the atmosphere.

    Though seemingly innocent, burning of rubbish is a practice that simply never leaves our air, water and soil the same.

    When waste is exposed to heat, a couple of things take place: large molecules are broken down into smaller ones which further react with atmospheric oxygen and each other producing a toxic concoction like no other.


    But of greatest concern are toxic cyclic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxins some of which are classified as human carcinogens.

    Not only do these toxins accumulate in our body tissues from the air we breathe, they also deposit onto our soils, foodcrops and pasture creating an entire network of possible exposure.

    Dioxins for example are known to adhere strongly to soil particles which creates a risky scenario considering that we use these same soils to produce food.

    But some soil toxins are introduced by soil microorganisms such as fungi when just the right conditions present themselves.

    These poisonous substances are produced by Aspergillus fungal species which invade moist soils.

    What makes aflatoxins potent is the affinity of the fungus to foodstuffs such as maize which directly impacts on the food chain.

    Besides this, toxin concentration might also be promoted by poor grain storage after harvest.

    Lastly, though fossil fuels play a crucial role in powering our lives, they also contribute to soil pollution in more ways than one.

    Though PAHs and dioxins could also be by products of fossil fuel use, petrochemicals such as diesel, petrol and lubricants are increasingly gaining notoriety as top notch soil pollutants especially in urban areas.

    Volatile petrochemical additives such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and xylene not only contaminate our soil but are released continously into the surrounding air leading to respiratory problems. Some of them leach through the soil polluting our groundwater sources.

    That being said, what strategies are useful in combating organic soil contaminants?


    Part of the solution to our environmental problems lie in reducing waste as much as possible.

    The more waste we produce, the more likely it will be burned or carelessly disposed impacting negatively on our air, soil and water.

    There is a place for start ups focussing on recycling waste plastic, composting kitchen waste for garden use or sale, reclaiming metalic wastes among other good practices that will rid our environment of dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.


    Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have the capacity to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in a big way.

    However, more research and action needs to be taken in developing more robust energy conversion and storage technologies for use during periods of low sunlight and wind.


    Soil amendments such as biochar and activated carbon have the capacity to ‘suck up’ organic soil toxins making them unavailable for crops.

    However, their application needs to be carried out with caution because they might also deprive the soil of other essential nutrients if applied indiscriminately.


    Some ornamental plants are known to take up and accumulate toxins from the soil and could prove useful in soil treatment.

    This is a space for horticulturists, landscaping professionals and others to venture into.

    Plants such as hyacinths and lillies could be used both aesthetically and to improve our surroundings.

    Also, some microorganisms which have the ability to take up or degrade some organic soil toxins could be employed in farming on such soils.

    Polluted soils are a subject of great concern today because our crops could take up what is contained in them.

    But with every problem emerges opportunity to make impact.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Last month, at a vast composting yard owned by a Northern California waste and recycling company, Recology, I watched a load of lawn and food scraps from San Francisco residents get fed into a sorting machine. A spinning cylinder resembling a supersized cheese grater sifted out tidbits like lime wedges and grass clippings and spit the chunkier items onto a platform, where a worker in a neon ve st plucked out plastic bags and an aerosol can of glass cleaner—just a few of the hundreds of pieces of contraband that he’d cull that day. I asked if he ever let anything slip by. “Sometimes,” he said with a sheepish smile. I later ran my hand through a ripened compost pile and felt little pieces of glass and plastic mixed in with the fertile humus.

    As thousands of cities have begun composting yard waste and hundreds more begin collecting food scraps on a large scale, new questions are emerging about what kinds of things make their way into compost and whether any of them pose a threat to humans and the environment. Federal laws do not require compost to be screened for contaminants, of which plastic and glass are only the most visible. Random tests of compost used in organic agriculture have occasionally turned up elevated levels of lead and traces of pesticides. Last month, the US Composting Council, the industry’s trade group, warned its members to watch out for grass clippings laced with Imprelis, a new weed killer from DuPont that does not easily break down in compost piles.

    Compost produced from residential grass clippings and food scraps is particularly popular with organic farmers because it contains a wide range of nutrients and beneficial microbes. As an added service, Recology and other composters will add custom blends of minerals to their compost to meet the needs of individual farmers. Recology’s compost is spread on organic vineyards, orchards, and produce farms, where it’s often used to grow cover crops such as mustard that further enrich the soil.

    Clean or not, compost is typically viewed asunassailably green. It helps organic farmers control pests and deliver nutrients without using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Sally Brown, a soil-contamination expert at the University of Washington, estimates that generating a dry ton of compost and applying it to a farm captures the equivalent of 2.6 tons of carbon, enough to counteract driving 5,500 miles. Charles Benbrook, the chief scientist at The Organic Center, an organics industry think tank, says that compost shouldn’t be off limits to organic farmers “just because there is a very low level of some pesticide.”

    Pesticide-laced compost has presented a quandary for the USDA’s National Organic Program ever since California regulators traced residues of dichlorophenyl-dichloroethylene, a breakdown product of DDT, and bifenthrin, an ant killer, to compost in pots of organic wheatgrass in Northern California grocery stores (the levels were not high enough to make anyone sick). DDT was banned for most uses in the early ’70s and bifenthrin is classified as a possible human carcinogen and is highly toxic to fish. The NOP initially proposed setting a strict upper limit for bifenthrin levels in compost but abandoned the idea when wider tests revealed that many brands of commercial compost wouldn’t pass. Regulators ultimately decided to allow any level of contamination in compost so long as “residual pesticide levels do not contribute to the contamination of crops, soil, or water.”

    “It was just one in a long string of things that have been problems and will be problems,” says Zea Sonnabend, a policy specialist for California Certified Organic Farmers who helped organize a conference session on the issue last year. While she feels that the highest bifenthrin levels were still too low to justify pulling compost brands off the market, she believes that “it’s only a matter of time before the next big thing comes up.”

    Critics of composting are mainly concerned about a lack of oversight. With the USDA and EPA unwilling to require testing of compost, the job falls to a patchwork of state laws and voluntary measures. The nonprofit Organic Materials Review Institute, which reviews organic inputs, requires approved composts to be tested for heavy metals and pathogens every five years. The US Composting Council operates a voluntary accreditation program in which the largest participants must submit to similar metals and pathogen tests once a month. Neither program requires testing for pesticide residues. Of course, almost no amount of testing can guarantee compost’s exact makeup. One part of a pile might come from a pristine field, another from a lawn littered with DDT and lead paint chips.

    Compost makers say the fears are overblown. For one thing, the intense heat and microbial action in compost piles break down most contaminants, including motor oils and many pesticides. Researchers with California’s Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery, which periodically tests commercial compost for pathogens and heavy metals, say that only 1 or 2 percent of the tests fail to meet the state’s standards. And those toxic contaminants that make it into finished compost are often diluted to undetectable levels once mixed with soil.

    Still, obvious regulatory gaps remain. Composting Council executive director Stuart Buckner believes that the EPA still hasn’t learned its lesson from the early aughts, when the herbicide Clopyralid was banned for lawn use after turning up in damaging levels in compost. He’s urging the agency to conduct more research on toxins that build up in compost and require chemical companies to show that new products, such as DuPont’s Imprelis, are safe for composting. He wants any costs for pesticide testing in compost to be borne by the pesticide makers.

    Though there’s no easy way to find out what kind of compost was used on your fruits and veggies, it might be worth looking at where the produce was grown. Large compost producers in California must test for heavy metals and pathogens every month or so, while composters in Texas and some other states need not test at all. (There’s no publicly available database of state-by-state regulations). If you’re buying compost for your own garden, look for a brand that’s certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute and the US Composting Council.

    Exclusive: carcinogenic chemicals and other pollutants found near tower after deadly fire

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Researchers examined samples from six locations up to 1.2km from the tower. Photograph: High Level/Rex/Shutterstock

    Researchers examined samples from six locations up to 1.2km from the tower. Photograph: High Level/Rex/Shutterstock

    Cancer-causing chemicals and other potentially harmful toxins have been found close to Grenfell Tower in fire debris and soil samples that could pose serious health risks to the surrounding community and survivors of the blaze, a study warns.

    The research has uncovered “significant environmental contamination” from a range of toxins, including in oily deposits collected 17 months after the tragedy from a flat 160 metres from the site.

    Prof Anna Stec, who led the independent study, said there was now an urgent need for further analysis of the surrounding area to “quantify any risk to residents” over the long term for conditions such as cancer, asthma and other respiratory problems.

    The disturbing findings will heap pressure on ministers, Public Health England (PHE), the Environment Agency and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to explain why they did not immediately commission their own analysis of potential contamination in the aftermath of the tragedy in which 72 people died.

    The government only acted after preliminary findings from this study were published by the Guardian last October – 16 months after the fire.

    Natasha Elcock, chair of Grenfell United, the survivors and bereaved families group, said the full report was “alarming and hugely upsetting to read”.

    She said: “Allowing exposure to the level of pollutants in this report would be criminally negligent even without the horror of what happened that night.”

    The potential risk of contamination has been one of the principal concerns for residents and survivors since the fire on 14 June 2017.

    They have repeatedly asked questions about the potential effects from particles in the plume of smoke and residues generated by the ferociously burning tower.

    This prompted Stec, who is now an expert witness to the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry, to launch her own study, along with a team from the University of Central Lancashire, where she is a professor in fire chemistry and toxicology.

    This work began within a month of the fire and the team continued to take samples until November last year from six locations up to 1.2km away.

    According to the findings, which will be published on Thursday in the journal Chemosphere, the team identified potentially harmful chemicals in debris found close to and around the tower. The study describes:

    Char samples from balconies 50 to 100 metres from the tower contaminated with cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Researchers concluded the levels posed an increased risk of conditions from asthma to cancer.

    Soil samples taken within 140 metres of the tower containing six PAHs at levels up to 160 times greater than those found in soil taken from other urban areas.

    Soil and fallen debris taken within 50 metres of the tower containing phosphorous flame retardants – of the kind used in insulation foams and furniture. They are potentially toxic to the nervous system. Fibres matching those used in the refurbishment of the tower were also found in the samples.

    Concentrations of benzene, another carcinogen, found 140 metres from the tower in quantities up to 40 times higher than typically found in urban soil.

    Dust and an oily deposit found on a window blind inside a flat 160 metres from the tower in November last year. This sample contained isocyanates which can lead to asthma in a single exposure.

    Stec said the research highlighted the need for a more detailed investigation: “There is undoubtedly evidence of contamination in the area surrounding the tower, which highlights the need for further in-depth, independent analysis to quantify any risks to residents.”

    The study notes that although many of the chemicals found in the soil are stable while undisturbed, problems can arise when they come into contact with the skin through activities such as gardening or playing on the ground.

    Inhalation of chemicals found in the indoor samples could also be damaging to health, the research says.

    The study did consider the possibility that soil might have been contaminated prior to the fire. However, researchers believe the level of contamination could not have occurred naturally and was inconsistent with other urban areas close by.

    PHE has been monitoring air quality around the tower since the fire. In a report published last week, it said “the risk to public health from air pollution remains low”.

    It has also consistently played down the likelihood the fire could have caused serious contamination because of the trajectory of the plume of smoke. Many chemicals and toxins are naturally occurring, PHE said.

    However, the agency and RBKC came under pressure to explain this position after the Guardian revealed Stec’s preliminary findings last year.

    Stec was so worried about her initial results, she sent a briefing note to senior staff within RBKC and other agencies on 8 February last year, urging immediate action to analyse soil and dust within and around the tower and other evacuated buildings.

    Grenfell United demanded to know why no one who knew about the early results of the research had warned residents of the potential contamination problem. The pressure eventually led ministers to announce a comprehensive analysis of the soil around Grenfell Tower in November – but work on the ground has yet to begin.

    Elcock accused the government of dragging its heels. “Twenty-one months after the fire, the government has yet to carry out a single soil test or offer a proper health screening programme to the community,” she said.

    A government spokesperson said: “We take Professor Stec’s findings extremely seriously, and fully appreciate the ongoing health concerns.

    “We have established a comprehensive programme of environmental checks to fully assess the risks and take appropriate action. Professor Stec is part of an independent group of scientists overseeing this work and her findings will inform the checks we are conducting.”

    Dr Andrew Steeden, a local GP and chair of West London Clinical Commissioning Group, the body responsible for the community around Grenfell Tower, said he recognised that “local people may be worried about their health”.

    He said: “The NHS shares their concerns and we would really encourage local residents to speak to their GP to get an enhanced health check.”

    How to know if there are toxins in local soilHow to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Look for this logo to ensure you are getting mulch that is safe from chemicals or toxic substances

    What’s in your mulch? Consumers concerned about what might be in their mulch, especially when it comes to hazardous materials such as the chemicals used for treating wood, now have a valuable resource.

    More and more people are making an effort to be more environmentally friendly, from the cars we buy to the food we eat. But have you ever thought about mulch? That’s right, mulch.

    Did you ever think about that organic garden of yours just might be topped off with a nice thick layer of arsenic or chromated copper arsenate (CCA for short) or any one of many not-so-organic chemicals. The potential health risks are sobering and beyond the scope of this mention.

    However, now you have a friend in the mulch and soil industry. In 2004 The Mulch & Soil industry adopted standards prohibiting the use of CCA-treated wood in all consumer mulch and soil products. The Mulch & Soil Council also developed a Product Certification program to help consumers identify mulches and soils that comply with industry standards and contain no CCA-treated wood.

    MSC supports and encourages wood recycling as an environmentally friendly practice when it is done correctly. However, removal of all CCA-treated wood and other potential contaminants must be a required part of responsible wood recycling.

    Certified mulches and soils can be found at major retailers and garden centers across the country. They are identified by the MSC Certification Logo on the package and are listed on the MSC Web site. More about mulch.

    About Joe Lamp’l

    Joe Lamp’l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

    Toxins are poisonous and extremely harmful substances, which causes potential harm to the various organs in the body. Basically, the metabolism of toxins takes place in the kidney or in the liver and these are the organs that are most hampered by toxicity. Toxin exposure can take place in two ways

    • Long Term Process: In this, the extent of toxicity is less over longer duration.
    • Short Term Process: In this, there is exposure to high levels of toxins in short time.

    Liver and kidney sustain the damage and the toxins start to build up in the blood which results in severe symptoms. The only way in which toxins in the blood can be checked is through blood tests.

    Blood Tests to Check Toxins in The Body

    Mineral Toxicity Through Trace Minerals

    Mineral toxicity can take place in an individual and for this trace mineral testing needs to be done. There are strong and prominent signs and symptoms of mineral toxicity including diarrhea, nausea, skin rash, vomiting, seizures, peripheral neuropathy etc. If the problem of mineral toxicity remains undiagnosed and untreated, the consequences can be really severe and serious. Along with liver and kidney failure, the patient might go into septic shock and then coma.

    With the help of trace mineral testing, it is possible to decipher abnormal levels of trace minerals in the body, including iron, chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, zinc, selenium and molybdenum. There are many reasons why the levels of trace minerals increase in the body. Some prominent reasons include accidental occupational exposure to trace minerals, excess dietary intake of components abundant in trace minerals etc. Along with this, there are medical conditions in which the body is not able to excrete the excess trace minerals at a normal rate.

    Drugs of Abuse

    When screening for drugs of abuse is done, there can be many reasons for the same. Such tests are done for legal purposes, before and after athletic performances, for medical reasons as well as for employment reasons. The screening in this test is done for detecting dissociative drugs, stimulants, sedatives and depressants, cannabinoids, opiates, sports doping drugs, psychedelics etc. Some of the most common kinds of drugs that are detected through this test include opioid painkillers, marijuana, anabolic steroids, LSD, PCP, alcohol, date-rape drugs, MDMA, methamphetamine etc.

    After an initial screening, the results of the same are compared with regulated cutoffs for each kind of drug. A negative result is ascertained when the test reading is below the pre-determined cutoff mark. However, anything over the mark is treated as positive and this is when the problem begins.

    Sometimes there are confusions as many illegal drugs have same chemical composition and structure similar to legal drugs. In such cases, other detailed and more specific and sensitive tests are done so that right results are obtained and there are no doubts regarding the results whatsoever.

    Heavy Metal Toxicity

    We all have heard of heavy metals. But many of us do not know that heavy metals can cause toxicity when they get accumulated in the body in large concentrations. Metals with high density are known as heavy metals. Most of these metals occur naturally. Various kinds of useful products are manufactured with the help of these metals.

    When the concentration of these heavy metals increases in the body and in the blood, various kinds of severe problems might take place. Organ failure is one of the most common results of the high concentration of heavy metals in the blood and body. Along with organ failure, this problem minimizes the body’s capability of manufacturing new blood cells. As a result, chances of developing various kinds of cancers are quite high.

    During heavy metal testing in the body, blood is collected and stored in a metal-free container so that there are no chances of contamination or further metal addition. With analysis of the blood sample, it can be understood how much concentration of heavy metals is there in the blood. Some of the most common heavy metals that are detected include lead, chromium, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. Abnormal levels of these metals in the blood can cause various kinds of serious problems in the body.

    Toxicology Assessment and Testing

    Toxicological assessments are usually not done on regular basis and are not counted among blood tests that are done on a routine basis. These examinations are mainly done when a doctor suspects that a patent has overdosed on some kind of drugs. Sometimes clear signs and symptoms of poisoning and toxicity are also seen and the doctor immediately suggests toxicological testing and assessment.

    The blood test for toxins in body helps in detecting high levels of drug dosage. It can be for prescription drugs or over the counter drugs. Along with these kinds of medicines, the tests can also detect toxicity from household substances, illegal drugs and alcohol. When there is mention of household substances for toxicity, it might include components like cleaning products, anti-freezing agents, methanol, insecticides, pesticides etc.

    If blood test results show abnormal levels of toxicity in the blood, immediate treatment needs to be started so that the negative effects of the toxins stop permeating into the blood more. After administering the treatment, the blood test for toxins in the body should be repeated again to understand if the treatment is working or not. If the treatment starts working, the levels of toxins in the blood will surely reduce. But if no significant results are seen, other treatment options have to be thought of.

    Assessments of toxicological cases are done on a stat basis. This means that the blood sample of the patient should be tested as quickly as possible in the laboratory so that prompt results are obtained. Until and unless the result from toxicology assessment is obtained, treatment cannot be started on the patient completely. Just basic treatments can be done to relieve the symptoms as much as possible. Delay in getting the results from toxicity blood tests can lead to extremely severe and even fatal consequences. There should be no delay in taking the patient to the hospital if you feel that there are symptoms of toxins in the blood.

    Rebecca Thiele

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Lead paint peeling off the side of a home.

    Is my drinking water safe? How can I find out what polluted sites are in my neighborhood? Several of our audience members wanted to know the answer to these questions and more.

    We compiled a list of resources so you can find out more about pollution in your home and in your community.

    What industrial companies are putting out pollution in my area?

    The Environmental Protection Agency has something called the Toxics Release Inventory — which tracks how much pollution (aka “releases”) industrial facilities are putting into the air, water, land, or shipping off to another site. Indiana is one of the highest ranking states for toxic releases.

    To find industrial companies near you, scroll down to the bottom of this link and type in your address.

    There is a lot of jargon here, so we’d recommend looking at these tabs on the left sidebar: Under the “Facilities Summary” tab you can find a map of where those industrial companies are, scroll down to see a bar graph showing how pollution from those facilities has gone up or down over time, or look at the “top five establishments” to see which of those companies puts out the most pollution.

    Under the “Releases” tab, you can see what chemicals are being put into the air, land, and water. Go to the “Potential Health Effects” tab to find out more about what health impacts you could see from being exposed to those chemicals. You can also see if any of these companies has had pollution violations through the “Compliance and Enforcement” tab.

    It may not be easy to figure out what a single violation was, however. So you might want to contact the people who put together the EPA’s online enforcement and compliance database if you have questions.

    What are some polluted properties in my neighborhood?

    Many of these abandoned sites have left over pollution from when the property was used for something else — like a factory, a gas station, or dry cleaner. They fall into two categories — brownfields and Superfunds.

    According to the EPA, a Superfund has enough contamination that it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment. A brownfield has less contamination and poses less of a risk, but brownfields often have to be cleaned up in order for new development to move in — which can stifle economic growth.

    You can check out Indiana Finance Authority’s list of brownfield sites and search for Superfunds near you in the EPA’s database. The EPA also has a map of both brownfields and Superfunds.

    How clean is the air in my neighborhood?

    To get an idea of what the air quality is like in your neighborhood, city, or state right now go to It will let you know how bad ground-level ozone and particle pollution (or particulate matter) is today and give you a forecast for tomorrow.

    Obviously, this isn’t a good measure of air quality over time. For that, you may want to try AirCompare — which will help you to see how your county’s air quality measures up to others.

    How can I test the air inside my home?

    Many homes already have a carbon monoxide detector — you may even have a combined fire and carbon monoxide alarm. If you don’t know and you rent, ask your landlord. If you don’t have one, you can easily find one at your local hardware store or online.

    What’s less common is regular testing for radon — a naturally occurring gas that can cause lung cancer. Some local health departments offer free radon testing. You can also get a testing kit shipped from Kansas State University.

    The EPA has a good list here of common indoor air pollutants and what you can do about them.

    If you think that you have indoor air pollution that is less common — such as pollution coming from a Superfund site, like in Franklin — you may want to contact someone at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or EPA Region 5.

    How can I test the soil in my yard or at my business?

    IUPUI Earth sciences professor Gabe Filippelli and his team do free soil tests. They can also test the dust inside your home. Learn more about how to collect samples and then send them to: Center for Urban Health, IUPUI 723 W. Michigan St. Indianapolis, IN 46202.

    How can I find out if my water is safe to drink?

    To truly know what’s in your water, you’re going to need to look at two things — both the water that’s coming from your local water utility and the water that’s coming out of your tap.

    Your water utility should have yearly water quality reports available (like this one from the City of Bloomington) that tells you if the chemicals in your water are low enough that they meet state and federal standards (aka Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCL). If you have a private well, you’ll need to get it tested.

    It’s important to know, however, that just because your water meets these standards doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely safe. When the EPA and the states make up these standards, they consider more things than just health — like how much it would cost to reduce that chemical in the water. There may also be chemicals that water treatment plants don’t have the technology to take out yet.

    This is likely why the Environmental Working Group has their own water quality database — which may give a better idea about how your water measures up. It shows you state and national averages for certain pollutants in your water as well as any federal limits for the chemical. The website also tells you what actions you can take — such as filters you can buy and how to contact your elected officials.

    But neither your water utility report nor the EWG can tell you if your water is safe from some contaminants like lead and copper — which can come from the pipes that bring the water from the utility to your home.

    For that, you’ll need to have your water tested from the tap. You can try asking your local water utility if they will test your water. Unfortunately, getting a test from one of the state’s certified testing labs can be expensive.

    If you’re not sure if you should pay for a test, one good place to start may be to find out if you have lead or copper pipes in the first place. NPR has this step-by-step guide on how to find out if you have lead pipes.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Michigan Radio also has these tips for finding out if you have lead or copper pipes. But once you find out you have lead or copper pipes, you may want to call your local water utility about next steps as this story was posted in 2016 and some of the information may be outdated.

    Purdue University’s Center for Plumbing Safety also has a lot of resources here. You can also try contacting the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline with questions at 800-426-4791 or online.

    Contact reporter Rebecca at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

    Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Article Sections:

    • What is Black Mold?
    • Signs of Black Mold in Air Vents
    • Why Does Mold Grow in Air Vents?
    • How Can You Tell if It’s Actually Black Mold?
    • Mold Remediation Specialists in NYC

    Seeing black spots around air vents or experiencing unusual allergy symptoms while indoors?

    If so, you might suspect black mold growing in your air vents.

    Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, can be a stressful — or even nightmarish — situation for many homeowners.

    Many believe that this species of mold is particularly toxic and harmful to the health of those living nearby.

    If you suspect that you have black mold growing around your air vents, or anywhere in your home, it should be safely cleaned and removed as soon as possible.

    What is Black Mold?

    Stachybotrys chartarum is a highly toxic species of mold, and it is commonly referred to as “black mold,” “toxic mold,” or “toxic black mold.” It tends to grow on porous, organic surfaces like drywall and wood in the presence of excess moisture.

    As it matures, Stachybotrys releases mycotoxins into the air, which can cause irritation and potential allergic reactions when ingested or inhaled.

    Stachybotrys is thought to be a factor that causes sick building syndrome , symptoms of which include nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, coughing, dry cough, skin itchiness, and irritation. However, a definitive connection between the two has not yet been proven.

    According to the EPA, research on mycotoxins is still ongoing, and for many mycotoxins little health information is available .

    Signs of Black Mold in Air Vents

    • Strong musty odors
    • Black spots around vents, ducts, or drip pans
    • Allergy symptoms
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Persistent headaches
    • Nausea or dizziness
    • Fatigue

    Musty odors are often the first indication that you might have mold. This is especially so if the smell becomes noticeably stronger only when your heating or air conditioning is turned on.

    Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, has a distinct smell that’s often more pungent than household molds and mildews . Its smell is often described as musty and earthy, similar to the scent of dirt or wet, rotting leaves.

    If you see black spots or black dust appearing around air vents, there’s a good chance that mold is growing inside. These black spots are usually difficult to wipe off, and if it has a wet, slimy texture, that’s another indication of black mold.

    Remember, avoid touching the mold with your bare hands — always wear gloves and other protective equipment.

    Health symptoms are another sign that you may have mold. The symptoms of black mold might resemble allergies and cause acute discomfort, and present themselves while you’re indoors.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    However, none of these signs are absolutely definitive of black mold and many can have other causes unrelated to mold at all.

    In fact, if you discover that mold is indeed growing in your air vents, it’s more likely to be a nontoxic, black-colored variety of household mold. Cladosporium, for example, is one of the most common types of black-colored mold and has no known toxic effects.

    But if you’re experiencing a combination of these signs, it may be worth consulting a mold or indoor air quality (IAQ) professional . The only way to properly identify a species of mold is to examine a sample under a microscope.

    And regardless of the species, any type of mold found in air vents should be promptly cleaned and removed.

    Why Does Mold Grow in Air Vents?

    Air vents are an ideal environment for many varieties of mold.

    They’re dark, isolated, and have plenty of dust, which comprises organic matter for mold to metabolize. Once condensation or moisture starts to accumulate, you’ve got the perfect conditions for mold to thrive.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Vents and HVAC systems are a special area of concern for homeowners when it comes to mold.

    Most mold problems are diagnosed visually — if you see mold growing, then you remove it. However, when it’s hidden inside a vent or ducts, you might not notice it until you or your family start experiencing symptoms.

    This poses a problem because mold colonies release spores — and in some cases, toxins — into the air, which can then become inhaled. When mold grows in air vents, these spores may travel throughout your home along with the air being circulated.

    But you don’t need to panic. The most common species of household molds are non-toxic to humans, although they may cause allergy symptoms when inhaled.

    How Can You Tell if It’s Actually Black Mold?

    Many people have misperceptions about the term “black mold” and “toxic mold.”

    Not all black molds are toxic, and not all toxic molds are black. If you have noticed or suspect black mold growing in your air vents, the probability that it’s actually Stachybotrys is relatively low.

    In fact, while Stachybotrys chartarum isn’t considered rare, it is far less common than other household mold species. That’s because Stachybotrys requires humidity levels over 90% to grow, whereas most molds only require 35-70%.

    Typically, a surface would need to be wet for at least 72 hours with consistent moisture for Stachybotrys to grow.

    Furthermore, Stachybotrys commonly grows on drywall and wood rather than metal surfaces found in vents and ducts. However, it’s certainly not impossible for Stachybotrys to grow in vents either — it’s just not typical.

    How to know if there are toxins in local soil

    Mold Remediation Specialists in NYC

    Green Orchard Group is a leading environmental health & safety firm in New York City. We are an NYS-licensed mold assessment and remediation company with over 25 years of experience.

    Whether it’s Stachybotrys or a nontoxic species, any type of mold growth in your home should be removed to protect the health of you and your family.

    If you live in a building with 10+ apartment units with more than 10 square feet of mold, NYC’s Local Law 55 requires your landlord to hire licensed mold assessors and mold remediators to address it.

    If you have questions or need assistance dealing with a mold issue, call (212) 219-8261 or contact us using the link below.

    EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority are looking into elevated levels of dioxins, a group of toxic chemical compounds, in soil samples taken around the J.H. Baxter Street wood treatment facility, south of Roosevelt Boulevard in Eugene.

    Though one sample was near residential properties, the levels of dioxins around the facility do not pose an immediate health risk to residents of the neighborhood, DEQ spokesperson Dylan Darling told The Register-Guard.

    The eight off-site soil samples were given to DEQ as required under a October 2019 cleanup plan. Four results, including one in the Bethel neighborhood directly north of the facility and three stormwater ditch locations, indicated elevated levels of dioxins.

    The results indicate the need for more investigation to understand the source and the extent of the contamination to guide next steps and if cleanup may be needed.

    “We found enough dioxins in the soil that it’s worth looking into,” Darling said. “That doesn’t mean that there’s a public health problem, but does means we need more evaluation.”

    A Baxter spokesperson was not available for comment.

    The 31-acre site at 85 Baxter St. has been an active wood treatment facility since the early 1940s. Historical spills and operational practices have resulted in soil and groundwater ​contamination, the DEQ release said. Additionally, the facility has had issues with air emissions and concerns from residents about odors and possible health effects related to the facility.

    DEQ created a technical work group with the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, the city of Eugene and OHA to oversee a comprehensive investigation of the environmental concerns at Baxter. It is working with Baxter to develop a plan for additional sampling by January.

    The agencies will be forming a community engagement group to inform and address concerns from those living near the facility. The first meeting is being planned for December, though DEQ doesn’t expect to have results before then.

    “One of main things we need to find out is what the source is. You want to find out if there are even more places with elevated dioxins,” Darling said.

    Over the next few months, DEQ will be working with LRAPA and OHA to collect soil samples from private property to complement current specimens from public rights of way like ditches and stormwater culverts in the surrounding property.

    Agencies want to release new information as soon possible, but this most likely won’t happen until well into 2021. Previous issues at JH Baxter had to do more with wastewater than soil.

    This is not Baxter’s first run-in with DEQ. In 2004, the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency logged more than 700 complaints from 100 households near the plant alleging sickness from fumes from the company’s chemical applications. DEQ also noted arsenic in soil on the property and pentachlorophenol spreading in the aquifer under the neighborhood. This led to Baxter spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to mitigate this damage.

    In 2007, a three-year investigation by health researchers, encompassing 14,694 households in six census tracts that took in much of the Bethel, River Road and Trainsong neighborhoods, found a suspicious pattern of lung cancer and an acute form of leukemia near the train tracks and the J.H. Baxter creosoting plant.

    Additionally, from 2017 through 2019, DEQ served Baxter with a pre-enforcement notice for several violations of hazardous waste and water quality regulations, ranging from Class I (most serious) to Class III (less serious) violations.

    This included a $19,200 fine in 2018 for multiple stormwater violations at its wood treatment plant dating back to late 2015. DEQ noted eight instances between December 2015 and November 2017 in which stormwater runoff from the J.H. Baxter property that drains into Amazon Creek contained levels of pentachlorophenol or copper above the threshold of the company’s pollutant discharge permit.

    In 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined the company $64,000 and required Baxter to construct new berms and drainage on the drip pads when storing toxic waste to ensure preservatives did not migrate into the ground.

    In 2019, Baxter and state regulators finalized a cleanup plan with Baxter to reduce the health risk stemming from soil and groundwater contamination at its 31-acre site on Roosevelt Boulevard. This followed more than 60 odor complaints to the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency on Oct. 6, 2019.

    It is currently unclear if further violations contributed to the current elevated levels of dioxins in soil near the site, but this will be part of DEQ’s investigation.

    October 16, 2014 / 12:16 PM / CBS Miami

    Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter

    MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Just how what to do with the toxic soil at Miami’s Merrie Christmas Park will be the focus of a community meeting on Thursday at City Hall.

    Last weekend, dozens of residents who live around, and use, the park protested the city’s clean up plan which called for redistributing some of the toxic soil and then burying all of it under a new layer of top soil. The trouble is, they said, is that the toxic soil would still be there and spread to other areas of the park.

    Residents said the plan could put their health and community at risk.

    “You’re basically throwing your residents, your constituents, under the bus not only once but twice. You’re potentially ruining property value,” said Jose Rey.

    Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff agrees with the residents. He asked the City of Coral Gables to help pay the additional cost of removing the contaminated soil in the park, rather than just cover it up. The park is across the street from a Gables residential area.

    Last Tuesday, the Coral Gables commission met to discuss the idea. Most said they liked the idea of the park being cleaned but didn’t want their taxpayer money to be a part of the clean up.

    Commissioner Vince Lago was the lone supporter of possibly kicking in on the project.

    After some discussion, commissioners agreed with Lago that the Gables should help Miami in any way it can to get the county or federal government to help fund a more complete cleanup of the park. Sarnoff said the city has reached out to the county and the property appraiser’s office to see if there can be some flexibility in terms of tagging the surrounding homes as being near a contaminated site. Lago said he would do the same.

    The City of Miami said their proposal meets all government regulations and that removing all of the contaminated soil will be too expensive for taxpayers and it’s not the typical procedure the Department of Environmental Resources recommends.

    Environmental consultants have told the city burying the contaminated soil under two feet of new, clean earth, will render it harmless to people in the park or to the water supply.

    On Thursday Miami-Dade cleanup target levels will be discussed and there will be a presentation on the risk exposure to contamination by Dr. Richard Weisman of the University of Miami Miller School Medicine and Director of the Florida Poison Information Center.

    Merrie Christmas Park was one of the six city parks closed due to high levels of toxic metals in the soil linked to ash from a now closed incinerator.


    First published on October 16, 2014 / 12:16 PM

    © 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    What do we know about heavy metals in soil?

    • Metals from air pollution accumulate in the top 1-2 inches of soil and tend to stay put.
    • Old orchards have more lead and arsenic in the soil because of residue from old insecticides.
    • Soil next to busy roads may have higher lead levels because of exhaust from now-banned leaded gasoline.

    What do we know about lead exposure through soil and garden plants?

    • Lead poses human health hazards when particles are inhaled or ingested.
    • Lead does not enter the body through unbroken skin.
    • In general, plants do not absorb lead into their tissues.
    • Lead particles can settle on vegetables grown in lead-contaminated soil or in areas where lead-laden air pollution settles.
    • You can be exposed by eating unwashed fruits and vegetables.
    • Lead in soil can be a hazard for young children who play in the dirt and then put their hands in their mouths.

    What do we know about cadmium and arsenic in soils?

    • Cadmium and arsenic are naturally occurring elements widely distributed in the earth’s crust.
    • Exposure to cadmium can come through foods, cigarette smoke, water or air.
    • All foods contain a low level of cadmium.
    • Leafy vegetables, grains, legumes and kidney meat have the highest levels.
    • You can reduce your risk by eating a balanced diet.
    • For adults, most exposure to arsenic occurs through the diet and inhalation.
    • For young children, hand-to-mouth activity is an important exposure route.
    • Most arsenic consumed in foods is excreted unchanged in the urine.

    What can I do if I’m at risk for heavy metals in my garden soil?

    • Unless your soil has exceptionally high levels of lead or cadmium (which you can find out by testing—see below), it’s probably safe to eat vegetables after washing them thoroughly.
      • Wash with cold running water just before eating, cutting or cooking.
      • Be especially careful in washing vegetables that may trap dust, such as leafy greens, broccoli or cauliflower. Remove the outer leaves of greens. Wash everything thoroughly.
      • Wash your hands after working in the garden and before you wash your produce.
      • Wear gloves, long pants and closed-toe shoes in the garden.
    • To reduce your exposure to heavy metals in the soil, cover bare ground to prevent blowing dust.
      • Apply mulch or compost to bare areas, or plant a lawn or ground cover.
      • Grow vegetables in raised beds filled with an uncontaminated growing medium. Planting mixes certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) or the U.S. Composting Council are free of heavy metal pollution.
      • Keep tillage to a minimum.
      • Plant annuals away from busy roads.
      • Keep your soil pH near neutral: 6.5–7. This is a good pH range for most vegetable crops.
      • Supervise children when they are in the garden, and supervise hand-washing after outdoor play.

    What do my soil test results mean?

    • Ask whether metals were extracted using a strong acid.
    • If so, you can compare your results directly to the levels reported in the OSU Extension publication EC 1616, Reducing Lead Hazard in Gardens and Landscapes.
    • Also see Reducing Lead Hazard in Gardens and Landscapes for recommended gardening practices for different thresholds of lead in the soil.
    • The sample test below shows levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel and zinc in a homeowner’s soil.
    • See the OSU Extension publication EC 1478, Soil Test Interpretation Guide, if you submitted a soil sample for plant nutrition.

    Be cautious about planting vegetables close to older structures.

    • Lead-based paints have not been sold in the U.S. since 1978, but structures built before 1978 were likely painted with lead-based paint.
    • Figure 1 shows the results of soil tests for lead contamination at 0, 5, 10 and 15 feet from structures.
    • In all sites tested, lead concentrations right next to the structure are high enough to prohibit the production of leafy vegetables and root crops.
    • In all sites tested, lead concentrations 15 feet from the structure show some lead present from human activities, but with care, any vegetable crop could be grown.
    • For recommended gardening practices based on results of soil testing for lead, see Table 1 in EC 1616, Reducing Lead Hazard in Gardens and Landscapes.

    Are my bees at risk from heavy metal pollution?

    • Research in an industrialized area found that honey did not contain elevated lead levels, even when bees foraged in contaminated areas.
    • There is no research on how heavy metals affect bee health learning and behavior.
    • If lead or cadmium dust is on plants, bees could carry it back to the hive, which would increase exposure for the colony.

    Where can I learn more?

    • Raised Bed Gardening (FS 270), Oregon State University Extension Catalog
    • A Guide to Collecting Soil Samples for Farms and Gardens (EC 628), OSU Extension Catalog
    • Analytical Laboratories Serving Oregon (EM 86778), OSU Extension Catalog
    • Air quality in Portland. Safer Air Oregon.
    • Lead in plumbing. Multnomah County Health Department.
    • For families concerned about elevated lead in school water fixtures. Multnomah County Health Department.
    • For EPA thresholds for heavy metal contamination of high-contact areas for children and bare soil areas in the landscape, see the OSU Extension publication EC 1616, Reducing Lead Hazard in Gardens and Landscapes.
    • Healthy soils: Information about testing your yard or garden. Oregon Health Authority.
    • Resources for healthy gardening in Oregon. Oregon Health Authority.
    • Understanding your test results: Metals in garden soils and vegetables. New York State Department of Health and Cornell University.
    • Healthy soils, healthy communities: Metals in urban garden soils. New York State Department of Health and Cornell University.

    Selected citations from academic literature

    Accumulation of lead and arsenic by carrots grown on lead-arsenate contaminated orchard soils. 2015. E. E. Codling, R. L. Chaney, and C. E. Green. Journal of Plant Nutrition, 38:509–525. ISSN: 0190-4167 print / 1532-4087 online. DOI: 10.1080/01904167.2014.934477

    This research determined that carrots grown in former orchard soil did accumulate lead and arsenic. The researchers were unable to determine what portion of the lead and arsenic was in a form that humans could take up when the carrots were eaten.

    Field evaluations on soil plant transfer of lead from an urban garden soil. 2013. Chammi P. Attanayake, Ganga M. Hettiarachchi, Ashley Harms, DeAnn Presley, Sabine Martin, and Gary M. Pierzynski. Journal of Environmental Quality. DOI:10.2134/jeq2013.07.0273

    The objectives of this study were to evaluate the transfer of lead from soil to plants, to determine the impact of amending soils with a leaf compost to reduce lead uptake by plants, and compared vegetable cleaning techniques for their ability to remove lead from the surface of vegetables.

    Lead in urban soils: A real or perceived concern for urban agriculture? 2016. Sally L. Brown, Rufus L. Chaney, and Ganga M. Hettiarachchi. Journal of Environmental Quality 45:26–36. DOI: 10.2134/jeq2015.07.0376

    The take-home points from this study were that urban agriculture is unlikely to increase the blood lead levels of children because crop production practices are also the best practices to limit risk associated with lead in soil.

    Over the last 50 years, man-made chemicals, medications and street drugs have spread at almost inconceivable rates. We’re exposed to pesticides, fertilizers and toxic chemicals daily. Some of us do our best to avoid exposure to these toxins, taking normal safety measures around chemicals. Yet what if there are toxic dangers lurking in our own homes—that we bring into where we live or routinely use in household chores?

    According to Environmental Scientist Michael Wisner, there are numerous types of toxins that we may bring into our own homes unwittingly that can be absorbed into the body. “There are common sense things one can do to reduce the toxic exposure in one’s home,” says Wisner. “For example, if you leave your shoes at the door before walking into your house, you can reduce you and your family’s exposure to lead by 40%. Lead comes from vehicular and industrial exhaust and being heavier than air, falls to the ground, where we then walk it into our homes. Another simple tip is to clean things with baking soda, vinegar and water rather than harsh store-bought chemical cleaners.”

    Wisner has been seen in TV interviews across the country, including the Montel Williams Show where he discussed a two-pronged approach to the rampant dangers posed by everyday toxins. Wisner urged people, first, to be aware of the chemicals that can insidiously make their way into our everyday lives. He then explained why reducing the levels of toxins that have already accumulated in the body is also so vital. Wisner spoke about the program as described in the book Clear Body Clear Mind by New York Times best-selling author L. Ron Hubbard.

    This book details Mr. Hubbard’s research that resulted in his breakthrough discovery that toxic residues can be trapped in the fatty tissues of our bodies and can affect our mental and spiritual well-being. This program has now been successfully completed by over 250,000 people worldwide.

    Wisner and other scientists studied the program; and while Wisner made it clear that the program and book make no medical claims and results may vary from person to person, he added, “I have contributed to twelve independent, published scientific studies that in my opinion clearly document the scientific efficacy and safety of the program.” Wisner also extols the more subjective results, “We put over 3,000 normal people through the program, seeing some incredible results on a scientific level. But it is important to note that many of those who have completed the program have experienced results such as heightened ability to think clearly and a general increase of happiness in life.”

    “The key,” says Wisner, “is to do everything we can to reduce the toxins we use in our homes and workaday environments, while at the same time reducing our internal exposure with a proven method. Mr. Hubbard’s program in Clear Body Clear Mind is a survival tool in today’s chemical world.”

    It seems there may not only be hidden toxins in our homes, but in our bodies as well.

    Louis Steiner is a freelance author in the field of health.