Urban farmers can take steps to protect their vegie patches against potential contaminants by taking a few simple steps, advises Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).
"There is a growing self-sufficiency movement in urban areas with more residential properties using their backyards to grow their own vegetables," explained Victoria’s Chief Environment Scientist Dr Andrea Hinwood.
"Many residential homes, especially in older established suburbs, may have used lead paint which can leach into soil over the years. A new RMIT report titled "Assessment of soil metal concentrations in residential and community vegetable gardens in Melbourne, Australia" found raised lead concentrations in some community garden beds and some residential vegetable gardens. It concluded that elevated soil lead concentrations could present a potential health hazard in a portion of inner city residential vegetable gardens in Melbourne.
"But there are simple steps you can take to safeguard against possible lead contamination in your backyard farm and while EPA does not regulate residential backyards, we recommend the following:
- Most lead in urban soil is likely to have come from old lead paint or from vehicle emissions when fuels contained lead. Therefore, older residences and those closer to major heavily trafficked roads are more likely to be at risk.
- If you are concerned about potential lead levels you can get soil tested through the VEGSAFE program operated by Macquarie University, which will test up to 5 soil samples for a minimal donation of $20.
- Grow vegetables in raised garden beds consisting of hardwood frames (not treated with CCA) with a synthetic geotextile layer, filled with imported clean soil.
- Pathways and other uncultivated areas should be covered in a thick layer of gravel or mulch.
- If you are concerned about your soil, refrain from growing vegetables that are known to accumulate lead such as lettuce, aramanth and caraway and root vegetables such as carrots, onions, turnips and radishes. You can also replace soil with clean fill to a greater depth to account for root growing vegetables.
- All vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating.
- In addition, it is also advisable to wash hands after working or playing in the garden and before eating.
- Children in particular should wash hands regularly after playing outside.
Contaminated land database
The 2017-18 state budget committed $162.5 million over five years to deliver landmark reforms in environment protection that will protect Victoria’s environment, liveability and the health of Victorians into the future. This includes a number of reforms to support the management of contaminated land.
The Victorian Government through the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) are working in collaboration with EPA to develop a publicly available database of potentially contaminated sites due to past land use which could incorporate information about residential sites. The database will bring together information from across government, including information held by the EPA, to support informed decision making about potentially contaminated land. The database will inform the community of potential contamination risks and support informed decision making by individuals, state government and local councils.
The Victorian Government is also piloting approaches to support better identification and screening of contaminated land. In particular, DELWP is working with EPA to test a streamlined approach to contaminated land assessment with EPA appointed environmental auditors. Such an approach could significantly reduce the cost of contaminated land assessment for the purpose of remediation.