Partnering with Atlanta Gardeners to Measure Heavy Metal Soil Contamination and Exposure – Phase 2

Study Title: Community-Based Assessments of Soil Contamination and Childhood Exposure to Heavy Metals in Atlanta Urban Agriculture

PI: Eri Saikawa, Emory College, Environmental Sciences; Community Collaborators: Historic Westside Gardens ATL Inc., Environmental Protection Agency, and Georgia Department of Public Health 

Growing food in urban areas is quickly becoming more popular throughout the metro Atlanta area, with known benefits of increased fruit and vegetable consumption, improved weight control and increased food security. However, heavy metal soil contamination (such as lead) can be common in urban sites used for agriculture. Phase one of this study measured heavy metals in urban farms and gardens, which raised health concerns among community partners. Phase two of the study addresses these concerns by measuring heavy metals in residential soils and in children who live and play near them. In addition to the measures of metals in the soil and children, questionnaire data will be collected to determine how often the children come in contact with contaminated soil and to identify other potential ways the children could be exposed to metals (e.g., lead-based paint in the home). With this information, we will identify likely sources of exposure to heavy metals and work with our partners to develop intervention strategies to reduce exposure. This interdisciplinary study will connect environmental exposure science with community-driven research and health education. Project partners include the Historic Westside Gardens ATL Inc., Environmental Protection Agency Region IV, Georgia Department of Public Health, and community gardeners. Together, we hope to establish a long-term research collaboration with the urban agricultural community of Atlanta to better understand the exposures and health outcomes of these spaces while promoting the safe growth of urban agriculture in Atlanta.

How this study contributes to the exposome: Urban gardening includes social, psychological, and dietary benefits. However, urban soils are often contaminated with heavy metals which can lead to human exposure. The benefits of urban agriculture could outweigh the cost of soil contamination but potential risk to children should be assessed. This study will seek to understand exposure pathways for heavy metals to determine effective intervention strategies.

Dr. Eri Saikawa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory College.  Dr. Saikawa conducts interdisciplinary research on the environment. Her primary research questions are related to the source and the magnitude of emissions linked to air pollution, ozone depletion, and global warming; the impacts of these emissions on humans; and policies to reduce emissions.

Founded in 2009, the mission of Historic Westside Gardens is to foster community self-determination through building equitable networks around healthy, fresh, and affordable food.