High levels of lead in soil poses threat to city gardens

What’s the hottest locally sourced crop among New York’s urban farmers? Turns out, it’s toxic lead.

A startling new study has found dangerous levels of the heavy metal sitting in the soil among the kale, carrots and arugula sprouting in backyards and community gardens across the city.

Researchers from CUNY took soil samples from 746 gardens citywide and found the majority were “contaminated” — posing “significant risks to human life and ecological systems,” according to the report published in the Journal of Agronomy and Animal Industries.

Researchers tested thousands of samples and found that Brooklyn’s dirt was laced with the most lead.

“If children are playing on the soil, it’s a high health risk,” said study co-author Anna Paltseva said.

Exposure to lead can harm a child’s brain and nervous system, and can lead to learning, hearing and speech problems.

Paltseva added, “In moderately contaminated soil, it is still possible to safely grow fruit vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage — but not root vegetables such as radish, onion, and carrots or leafy greens.”

The discovery sent shivers through Brooklyn’s organic gardening community.

“Thanks for telling me!” quipped Nick McGaughey, who was working Sunday at Annie’s Garden at the Garden of Union in Park Slope, where the harvest includes kale, peppers, carrots and tomatoes. “I won’t be stealing any of the vegetables while I do my shift.”

The borough’s highest lead levels were in Brownstone Brooklyn, Greenpoint and East Flatbush — with some tainted samples far exceeding safety thresholds, the study said.

Researchers considered anything above 15 parts per million of toxic metals “polluted” in the study.

In one case, soil in an unspecified garden in the vicinity of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope had an astounding 45,076 parts of lead per million — more than 100 times the federal standard of 400 parts per million.

The city’s second most toxic soil sample came from the formerly industrial neighborhood of Greenpoint, with 15,911 parts per million. The third most lead-loaded sample was in East Flatbush, with 9,112 parts of lead per million.

Additional reporting by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon

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