Free Soil Testing for Heavy Metal Contamination Offered on April 30 at the Garfield Park Conservatory

Photo by: Pascal Sabino

Photo by: Pascal Sabino

alt text By Pascal Sabino, Environmental Health and Wellness Editor, The Real Chi & Industry Pathways 2018 Cohort

Get your soil tested for heavy metal contamination for free on Tuesday, April 30 at the Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave., from 6-8 p.m. The free soil testing will be offered by Dr. Andrew Margenot, assistant professor of Soil Sciences at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Margenot will also be presenting the Chicago Safe Soils Initiative, a two-year citizen-science and stakeholder collaboration between researchers and community members that will both collect data on lead levels and also empower residents with guidelines for mitigating the risks of gardening in soil exposed to heavy metals.

The industrial history of Chicago leaves some areas in the city with lead residue in the soil even decades after the ban of lead-based gasoline and paints. In response to residents’ concerns of the industrial presence in Pilsen, the EPA conducted a round of soil testing between 2012 and 2013 which found that 54 of the 58 sites tested had lead levels exceeding the action level of 400 parts per million.

A similar round of testing in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood found that all 21 soil samples were tested at lead levels above the upper limit, with one sample reaching as high as 3,700 ppm. More recently in 2018, the EPA conducted soil testing in 100 lots on the south east side, finding that 42 of those samples exceeded the EPA upper limit for lead of 400 ppm.

A major focus of Dr. Margenot's study aims at uncovering exactly what the risks are for farming on soil contaminated with lead by determining lead concentrations in the edible part of the plant. The project will also test for differences in lead absorption for different types of crops, exploring whether certain types of plants are safer to grow than others.  

By the end of the initiative, Dr. Margenot will use the data to map heavy metal contamination hotspots across Chicago, while also assembling guidelines for identifying and mitigating the risk of lead exposure for urban farmers.

Residents looking to test their soil can submit a sample from their urban gardens, farms or even their yard at the Conservatory on Tuesday April 30. To prepare the most accurate test, three to six samples should be collected at about four inches deep and six inches across, with leaves and grass removed. Those samples should be mixed and dried before the analysis.

Those unable to attend the free on-site testing at the Conservatory can still have their soil tested for free by the Chicago Safe Soils Initiative by mailing their samples in to the lab at the University of Illinois.

RSVP for the soil testing here.