The need for affordable, healthy foods (including organic and locally produced items) has increased public interest in home, school and community gardens. In addition to food security, economic savings, and reduced environmental impacts associated with food transport and large-scale production, gardens provide urban green space, opportunities for recreation and community building activities, and diverse benefits for public health. However, garden soils (and urban soils in particular) can contain a number of contaminants that may pose risks to human health. Many inner-city gardens are located in communities of lower economic status, often on vacant lots and abandoned properties that may have a history of soil contamination. However, the extent of soil contamination in many communities remains uncertain. Due to the growing number of vegetable gardens in urban areas such as New York City, gardening could increase environmental exposures to soil contaminants (e.g., lead) that may already be greater in urban communities as compared to other areas. Existing risk assessments and risk communication efforts do not sufficiently address community concerns or directly link research findings to the education and public health action strategies needed to support community gardens. Communities in New York City and elsewhere in New York State have identified several key needs related to soil contamination and public health, including requests for further research, education and training;the formation of workgroups (with community involvement) to address issues of concern;and the creation of a vehicle for better communication and collaborative research. Through a community-research partnership (including Cornell researchers and Extension educators, the New York State Department of Health and community-based organization Green Thumb, and others), this project aims to address community concerns through collaborative research to directly inform the development of education and public health action strategies. Key project activities include: (1) Assessing soil and vegetable contaminant levels (and other soil properties) and human exposures through gardening activities in urban community gardens, and evaluating the effectiveness of management strategies in mitigating associated health risks;(2) Translating research findings into effective education and public health action strategies to address community concerns and reduce exposures to soil contaminants and resulting public health risks;(3) Identifying future research needs to sufficiently characterize potential exposures and risks for urban gardeners;and (4) Evaluating the success of education and outreach programs in effectively addressing community concerns and reducing exposures to soil contaminants related to urban gardening activities.

Public Health Relevance

The anticipated impacts of this project on public health include improved health of gardeners and other community members through the use of healthy gardening practices and behaviors and effective management strategies to reduce exposures to soil contaminants. Additionally, project research findings aim to inform public health policies and programs to encourage community-based awareness about both the benefits and risks of urban gardening to improve public health.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZES1-SET-V (01))
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Finn, Symma
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Cornell University
Schools of Earth Sciences/Natur
United States
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