Pollutants in your produce?


Last year some friends of mine took an old washtub, drilled several good drainage holes in its bottom, piled in rich, organic soil, and planted a couple kinds of lettuce. Looking back, I think it had been too close to the first average frost date to turn into a proper fall container garden, but, fast forward several months, and some of those fall-planted seeds have grown into lovely, organically grown lettuce just begging to be picked. Knowing salads are one of their favorite things, I wondered aloud why they weren't harvesting and eating the greens. They're expecting a child, and, because they've been using treated lumber to renovate the part of the house closest to the container garden, they've decided it would be best to leave this year's salad crop to the birds.

By now I think most hobbyists building new garden beds know to avoid using creosote-containing railroad ties or old timbers that have been pressure treated with a mixture of chromium, copper and arsenic, since those have been shown to leach contaminants into the soil. But just having some pressure treated lumber around? Weren't my pals taking this a little too far? Turns out, they're smart to be cautious. There had been plenty of warning signs posted inside the big box store where they bought their building materials which advise wearing gloves and a mask when coming into contact with treated lumber and washing your hands well after handling it. They even go so far as to suggest washing any dust-covered clothes separately. So having that same dust coat the vegetable garden and surrounding soil? I think that would make most people lose their appetites.

Ditto for veggies grown too close to the foundations of old homes, since the soil may contain lead from old paint or building materials. Because plant root systems take up lead especially well, growing root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or beets in contaminated soil is a particularly bad move. Gardening too close to the street is also out, since pollutants in the air can cling to the soil and come into contact with your produce.

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