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Report: Analysis of Baltimore City’s urban farms and gardens finds safe levels of metals at vast majority of sites

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Study analyzed samples from 104 farms and gardens in Baltimore City and found low levels of lead and other contaminants; report offers guidance about potential exposures

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School Of Public Health
Eurek Alert
June 2021


A new report that examined soil, water, and produce from urban farms and gardens in Baltimore City found low levels of lead and other metals that pose no reason for concern at the majority of growing sites. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 96 percent of soil samples and 95 percent of irrigation water samples collected from the participating farms and gardens complied with criteria for metal contaminants.

The researchers say their findings should reassure growers that farming and gardening in Baltimore is generally safe.

Urban farms and gardens can benefit communities, but growing food in urban soils, especially in industrialized cities like Baltimore, has been a subject of much concern about possible residual contaminants, including heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, that are harmful to human health.

To investigate potential metal exposures on Baltimore City’s urban farms and community gardens, Center for a Livable Future researchers collaborated with the Farm Alliance of Baltimore, the Parks & People Foundation, the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, and the University of Maryland Extension-Baltimore City to design and implement the “Safe Urban Harvests Study.”

“Urban growers in Baltimore care deeply about the health of their communities, and we’ve received many questions from them about the safety of urban soils and urban-grown produce,” said Raychel Santo, MSc, lead author of the report and a senior research program coordinator at the CLF. “The good news is–it’s safe to grow food in Baltimore. We hope that this report can help farmers and gardeners make healthy choices about where and how they grow food in the city.”

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