Heavy Metals in Brooklyn, Not as Safe as Rock & Roll.

Eco Brooklyn is gearing up for it Spring Soil Remediation Projects. A potential client has sent us their Soil Testing Report and it was time to refresh our knowledge on key components of soil contamination and remediation.

Heavy Metal Contaminated Soil
Backyard Soil Contamination
Backyard Contamination Sample
Soil Sample Report

The level of contamination in their report will require root barriers and the addition of six inches of topsoil.

According to the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College It is not uncommon for many New York City gardens to have contamination.  The dense urban environment has contributed to an overabundance of metals including: Lead, Chromium, Nickel, Arsenic, and Cadmium.

Prior to the 1980’s heavy metals were used primarily in manufacturing processes. Lead is one of the most abundant toxins that contributes to soil contamination, and was commonly found in paint, print making ink, fertilizers and gasoline.

Chromium is another substantial toxin found commonly in Brooklyn soil. The element was widespread in the production of paint, tanning salts, car parts, and plumbing fixtures.

Heavy metal poisoning often results in birth defects, autism, allergies, weight loss, and even paralysis.

Safe Levels of Toxic Metals
Soil Contamination and Remediation

The chart above, from California’s Environmental Protection Agency,  displays the safe levels of the most common heavy metals found in soil. The second column displays the levels for which the California Office for Environmental Health deems safe for soil use, such as gardening, while the EPA suggests a significantly higher threshold in the third column.

The State of New York does not currently have specific guidelines or regulations for garden soil. If you own a brownstone or home in Brooklyn you can bet your soil has toxic levels of heavy metals.

Testing for contamination is a simple and inexpensive process at Brooklyn College. Just visit their Soil Testing Website, and follow the five easy steps to receive a Soil Test Analysis and/or a Tissue Analysis of your fruits and vegetables.

Eco Brooklyn recommends following the European ECO Label threshold for heavy metals. Soil containing lead above 100 parts per million should be mediated and it is crucial to apply these standards when children are involved. Green building starts with designing a good foundation whether it involves sustainably sourced wood studs or a contamination free lot to build upon.

-Anthony Rivale

Adverse Effects on Children’s Health From Soil Lead Contamination

An article about the adverse effects of soil lead contamination on children’s health was recently published on WNYC. As a green builder involved in garden soil lead remediation this was very interesting to us.

Perhaps it is the spring weather driving children outdoors in droves, but Eco Brooklyn has been receiving a number of inquiries from local families regarding soil remediation. Back when we first tested the Eco Brooklyn Show House soil in 2010 and got lead results far above what is remotely safe, we realized this is a real problem and became by default a Soil Remediation Contractor for NY and Brooklyn brownstones.

Living in Carroll Gardens, one of the more family-friendly neighborhoods in New York City, Eco Brooklyn cannot emphasize enough the importance of lead remediation for the sake of our children’s health. Our recent posts reviews some of the key components.

-Liza Chiu

Heavy Metals in Brooklyn, Not as Safe as Rock & Roll.

Eco Brooklyn is gearing up for it Spring Soil Remediation Projects. A potential client has sent us their Soil Testing Report and it was time to refresh our knowledge on key components of soil contamination and remediation.

Heavy Metal Contaminated Soil
Backyard Soil Contamination
Backyard Contamination Sample
Soil Sample Report

The level of contamination in their report will require root barriers and the addition of six inches of topsoil.

According to the Environmental Sciences Analytical Center at Brooklyn College It is not uncommon for many New York City gardens to have contamination.  The dense urban environment has contributed to an overabundance of metals including: Lead, Chromium, Nickel, Arsenic, and Cadmium.

Prior to the 1980’s heavy metals were used primarily in manufacturing processes. Lead is one of the most abundant toxins that contributes to soil contamination, and was commonly found in paint, print making ink, fertilizers and gasoline.

Chromium is another substantial toxin found commonly in Brooklyn soil. The element was widespread in the production of paint, tanning salts, car parts, and plumbing fixtures.

Heavy metal poisoning often results in birth defects, autism, allergies, weight loss, and even paralysis.

Safe Levels of Toxic Metals
Soil Contamination and Remediation

The chart above, from California’s Environmental Protection Agency,  displays the safe levels of the most common heavy metals found in soil. The second column displays the levels for which the California Office for Environmental Health deems safe for soil use, such as gardening, while the EPA suggests a significantly higher threshold in the third column.

The State of New York does not currently have specific guidelines or regulations for garden soil. If you own a brownstone or home in Brooklyn you can bet your soil has toxic levels of heavy metals.

Testing for contamination is a simple and inexpensive process at Brooklyn College. Just visit their Soil Testing Website, and follow the five easy steps to receive a Soil Test Analysis and/or a Tissue Analysis of your fruits and vegetables.

Eco Brooklyn recommends following the European ECO Label threshold for heavy metals. Soil containing lead above 100 parts per million should be mediated and it is crucial to apply these standards when children are involved. Green building starts with designing a good foundation whether it involves sustainably sourced wood studs or a contamination free lot to build upon.

-Anthony Rivale

Brooklyn’s Baggage: Soil Contamination in our own Backyards

A Brooklyn backyard before soil remediation.

Many Brooklyn homeowners have inherited a common problem: contaminated backyards. This is a result of over 100 years of garbage incineration, car fumes and toxic paint. In New York, soil is deemed contaminated if there are more than 400 ppm of lead present in the soil (in Euro the maximum is 100ppm!).

A few months ago, Eco Brooklyn wrote a blog about soil tests and remediation jobs they have done. The results from the soil analysis were staggering…the Eco Brooklyn Showhouse backyard had 3,500 ppm of lead!

Lead, and other heavy metal contaminated can be very harmful to health. Especially children.

There are the few steps you can take to test your own backyard!

A soil test is an analysis of a soil sample to determine the content of nutrient, contaminates, composition, acidity and other characteristics of the soil. Contaminate elements usually include arsenic, barium, cadium, copper, mercury and lead. By performing a soil test we are attempting to indicate the deficiencies that need to be remedied and the toxicities from excessive fertility.

How to test your soil for contaminates:

Take sample from a 6-8 inch hole.
Take sample from a 6-8 inch hole.

Method for Garden Soil Sampling

  1. Use a spade or trowel and take samples of soil from 10 or more random locations distributed throughout your area of interest. Place all the sampled into a clean container. For small areas, a minimum of 3 samples is recommended.
  • Grass-Sampling depth should be the top 3-4 inches deep
  • For other plants, the sampling depth should be the top 6-8 inches.
  1. Mix up the container and remove pebbles, leaves and plant roots. Transfer at least one cup of the soil into a .5 lb plastic bag and seal it. Try not to fill the entire bag because it will be flattened in the mail.
  1. Place the plastic in a mailing envelope or a small box. If the samples are wet, dry them at room temperature.  Drying the soil by using a stove or radiator may change the readings.

Costs:

    • Lead Test – $10.00
    • Heavy Metal Test – $35.00
    • Basic Soil Quality Test – $45.00
  1. Soil samples are screened for (1) pH, (2) salt content, (3) soil class using jar test, (4) NPK levels using field kits, and (5) lead, chromium and zinc using XRF analyzer. Results available within one week.
  2. Soil samples are analyzed for (1) total organic content, (2) nitrate, phosphate, ammonia contents, (3) potassium and micro-nutrients with modified Morgan extraction method, (4) soil class using hydrometer method, and (5) heavy metals using wet digestion-ICP-MS method.
  3. Five toxic metals (Pb, Cr, As, Cd and Ni) are analyzed for plant tissue samples with acid digestion ICP-MS method. Please note that these samples cannot be sent through mail (i.e., must be dropped off in person). Results available 2-4 weeks.
    • Advanced Soil Quality Test – $75.00
    • Tissue Analysis: Heavy Metals in Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs – $30.00

You can conveniently send your soil to the testing lab at Brooklyn College. Dr. Cheug, a Professor of Earth science and soil analyst has upgraded his techniques so that the process only takes an hour!

What do you do if your soil is contaminated?

A Brooklyn backyard after soil remediation.

There are two different routes that you can take. The first is to depend on the power to plants to do most of the remediation. Ideally you would use plants that are not used for food or medicine.

After the plants have grown and absorbed the contaminates, the plants need to be removed from the contaminated area. This process would have to occur multiple times over a few years.

The second possible route is a complete soil remediation, where a company, such as Eco Brooklyn comes in and removes the top 6-8 inches of soil, places a barrier down and then covers the void with new soil. There is potential for contamination as the workers walk through the house creating opportunities for contaminates to be brought into the house.

Eco Brooklyn recommends that a complete soil remediation is the best way to react to soil contamination. Although there is a potential to contaminate a home, we believe that with our careful procedure, the results are safer and more effective.

 

Testing New York Soil

The New York area has a lot of brownstones with backs yards. What a lot of people don’t know is that those back yards are contaminated. As a New York soil remediation company we’ve become pretty obsessed with this. It is alarming how many yards come up high in heavy metals, especially lead.

Anything below 100ppm of lead in soil is considered safe by European standards. In NY it is anything below 400ppm. Seems like a big difference but the results we are seeing renders that difference irrelevant. The last job we did had 2,100ppm, more than five times the safe level in NY.

And this is common.

I first got into this a couple years ago when I tested the soil at the Eco Brooklyn green show house. The test came back with 3,500ppm.

I freaked.

I called up Dr. Cheng who runs the testing lab at Brooklyn College to see if there had been an error and if not what city agency do I call! His response was very nonchalant: “That number is pretty common,” he said.

And no he didn’t know of anyone who could help. This is the main guy in NY when it comes to this stuff.

Being a green contractor it wasn’t a stretch to educate myself and add soil remediation to the list of Eco Brooklyn’s services. It is such and important one.

100 years of lead from garbage incinerators, car fumes, and paint are the main culprits of soil contamination in NYC and it is amazing how many people are using back yards contaminated with it.

So test your yard! It is easy and cheap – $10-35, and Dr. Cheng just upgraded their technique so the test takes an hour. Just gather some soil and send it or bring it to the soil testing lab at Brooklyn College. They offer a great service.

My son exploring the lead free Eco Brooklyn green show house garden. It is designed to be a NY in the 1600's

A Fresh Start for a Contaminated Brooklyn Garden

Spring gardening is upon us and as a New York soil remediation company we are getting a lot of calls from clients wanting to remove lead contaminated soil from their back yards. We just finished a job last week.

The clients had a beautiful garden in the back yard of their brownstone in Bedford Stuyvesant. Several years of careful work had brought a happy profusion to the space, with native plants nestled close to roses and figs, carefully placed tall grasses creating a tiny ‘secret garden’ area,  and a raised bed providing fresh vegetables every summer.

But when their adorable son reached 18 months old, they decided to have the soil tested before letting him play in the garden – and they were very glad they did. The soil was contaminated with 2500 ppm (parts per million) of lead, enough to make it unhealthy for adult contact and very dangerous for a child. To put the number in perspective: uncontaminated soil has about 10ppm of lead; in the Netherlands, 40ppm or more is considered unacceptable; in the US, the EPA advises remediation in children’s play areas at 400ppm!

Lead has found its way into our urban soils mainly from paints and (pre-1980s) automobile emissions, and like other heavy metals it is very persistent and will be there for many years to come.  It can poison us either through direct contact with the soil or by eating plants that have grown in it, and it causes damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior problems and slow growth in children, as well as reproductive problems in adults.

Unfortunately, almost all soil in New York City (and other major metropolises like Detroit) are contaminated with heavy metals.  A $35 soil test from Brooklyn college will tell you what heavy metals you have and in what quantities, but it’s safe to assume contamination if you’re gardening in the city. Luckily there are several options for remediation, and as an ecological contractor, we can find solutions that work with your situation and budget.

The fastest and most affordable methods involve switching to container or raised bed gardening with fresh soil; the least expensive but slowest option is phytoremediation, where plants that take up heavy metals from the soil are grown and removed several times over 2 to 5 years; and the fastest and most pricey involves removing and replacing the existing soil.

In this case, we worked with the clients to find a custom solution that would quickly have their garden ready for their son to play in. The whole area was covered with a layer of compost to bind with lead and alkalinize the soil (making heavy metals less available to plants):

Remediating a back yard with high lead levels.

Then a layer of landscape fabric was laid as a root barrier. This also creates a break between clean and toxic soil in case the client goes digging later.

Remediating lead contaminated soil with root barrier

Six inches of fresh soil were brought in to go on top of this, and extra was added to recreate the raised vegetable bed. Many plants were carefully transplanted and preserved so the garden wouldn’t have to be started completely from scratch.

Adding clean top soil over isolated lead contaminated soil.

We then laid the border, the bluestone and built a nice little deck in the back out of old growth salvaged wood. We planted native will grass instead of laying sod. It should be sprouting in the next couple weeks.

A lead free garden

Thanks to his parent’s green thumbs and a little bit of help from Eco Brooklyn, our client’s son will grow up with a safe and beautiful garden for play and exploration, but most gardens and back yards in New York have not been tested or remediated, and we can only guess at the long term effects of lead exposure for us and our children. So if you’re gardening (or thinking about it), be sure to get a soil test, and call us for a consultation if you’d like to find out more about remediating your soil.

New York Soil Remediation Services

Eco Brooklyn does soil remediation and does its best to keep on top of the lead based remediation topics. Here are some links I got from the “leadnet” listserve (hosted by the national center for healthy housing www.nchh.org) in a conversation about lead and growing vegetables in soil.

http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1884/eb1884.pdf

http://www.umass.edu/plsoils/soiltest/lead1.htm

“Sources, Sinks, And Exposure Pathways of Lead In Urban Garden Soil,”
Journal of Environmental Quality, 27 October 2006, http://jeq.scijournals.org/cgi/content/full/35/6/2066

Lead In The Home Garden And Urban Soil Environment,” University of
Minnesota, 2002,
http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG2543.html

A Resource Guide: The Phytoremediation of Lead in Urban, Residential Soils,
Northwestern University,
http://www.civil.northwestern.edu/EHE/HTML_KAG/Kimweb/MEOP/INDEX.HTM

Urban Gardens: Lead Exposure, Recontamination Mechanisms, and Implications For
Remediation Design, Department of Geosciences, Wellesley College, Wellesley,
MA, July 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18456252

Greennet Chicago, Chicago’s Greening Network, Publications Page,
<http://www.greennetchicago.org/soil_contamination.html>
The Annual Conference On Soils, Sediments, Water And Energy (Formerly known as
the Annual Conference On Contaminated Soils), http://www.umasssoils.com/

“City Soil Lead Exposure Maps,” http://urbanleadpoisoning.com/maps.html
Lead In Soil,” Lead‘s Urban Legacy, Tulane University,
<http://www.som.tulane.edu/cbr/ecme/leadhome/soil.html>

——————-

Here is another thread on soil remediation in Brooklyn.

Does anyone know where I can put lead contaminated soil removed from a
Brooklyn garden?
I’m having a hard time finding anyone who knows what to do with it
short of not telling anyone and just hauling it off to the dump….I’m
happy to dispose of it correctly but where??

—————————————————————

I would call the city if I were you. You’ve got to have some kind of hazardous materials transfer station or some such somewhere there.

—————————————————————

This is an interesting problem and has a potential scalar problem that makes
the whole issue rather expensive if a simple solution is not implemented. I
thought I would ask one of my contacts here in London Ontario as to what she
would recommend as we are finding sufficiently high of trace metals in some
of the urban community food gardens. In addition, we are finding that
different vegetables have different uptake of different metals and thus
while your soil may have specific metals, some foods will be safe to eat as
they do not collect the metals into the edible portions of the plants; it is
also dependent on the diversity of one’s diet as there are recommended
levels that one can consume; thus the message would be maintain a truly
diverse food diet if foods come from urban soils – Here is the response I
got:

Hi Shane,

Gennaro’s problem is a complex one – because metals cannot be degraded,
there is no easy solution to their disposal.

I have asked the very same question of the Heath and Safety people here on
campus. The best (?) answer I have received is to mix the contaminated
soils with very large volumes of uncontaminated soil (e.g. large compost
pile) to “solve the problem of pollution by dilution”. Of course, the
resulting compost should NOT be used on vegetable gardens, but could be used
on flower (or other non-edible) plant beds. And, the compost pile should
not be beside a river or other conduit to the groundwater.

On a very large (e.g. industrial) scale, people incinerate the contaminated
soil. This reduces the volume immensely by burning off all the organic
matter, but the ash contains incredibly high concentrations of the metal
(one hectare of soil can be reduced to a few barrels of ash). Then they
store the barrels for eternity, or ‘mine’ the ash to recycle the metal.

For my research, the concentrations of metals I use are barely above the
natural background level, so I feel a bit better about disposal into a
compost pile.

The good news for Gennaro is that lead is not very soluble. A further
remediation factor could be to add lime to the contaminated soil (to raise
the pH and further immobilize the lead) before composting it.

Hope this helps.
Sheila

—————————————————————

The Brooklyn college did the soil test. When I asked them what I
should do they asked me how long I had been living in Brooklyn (10
years). They said not to bother doing anything, I was already screwed.
What a world we live in.

—————————————————————

Nice. (add sarcastic tone) But you’ve only been at that location a year or less, right? Presumably, your previous location in Brooklyn did not have the lead levels you found in your (paint-enriched) soil.

And I thought lead was primarily an issue for children….? Your young-un hasn’t been in Brooklyn for ten years.

Also wondering if bioremediation offers any solutions.

—————————————————————

You could try Chelation Therapy:

http://drjamesbaum.com/chelation

—————————————————————
Well I’ve just bought some books on permaculture and another on
mushrooms to see what I can do.

—————————————————————

On a related note, my wife’s lead level is quite high and the operating theory is that it is due to use of Chinese herbs grown in contaminated soil.

She attempted chelation treatment, btw, but the treatment was too hard on her system and made her sicker.

—————————————————————

My daughter had high lead levels when she was young due to a sliding
pocket door that had lead paint on it. Once we found the problem we
fed her lots of blueberries, green vegetables like kale and spinach,
and other food items high in vitamin C with a reputation for
neutralizing lead. Despite the claims that lead doesn’t easily leave
the body, her lead levels went down within a couple months.

Uncovering Toxic Sites in Brooklyn

Have you ever wondered what toxic sites are in your neighborhood? Do you unknowingly live next door to an abandoned toxic dump? Here is a site that can give you some clues. It is called ToxicTargeting.com and lists all the recorded environmental activity in New York State.

You can type in your address and see all the registered activity. It shows you the satelyte view, the map view, the locations of activity. Very cool. You can also order a Phase 1 Environmental Report from them, which will give you a professional assessment of a site. This report can be useful sometimes when getting a mortgage or protecting yourself from unknown toxic liability.

Eco Brooklyn is a Brooklyn green contractor, which means we build green. But it also means we unbuild non-green. We come in and fix what other builders have screwed up. This may be mold remediation due to a badly weatherproofed building, soil remediation due to toxic dumping in a garden, structural support due to cheap building, natural termite pest control due to improper envelope protection, or even weather sealing due to improper insulation and weatherproofing.

So the site Toxic Targeting may be used by Eco Brooklyn to get the history of a property and the surrounding properties to better understand what we are dealing with.