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Urban Soil Safety Policies: The Next Frontier for Mitigating Lead Exposures and Promoting Sustainable Food Production

August 30, 2022

Sara N. Lupolt, Raychel E. Santo, Brent F. Kim, Thomas A. Burke, Keeve E. Nachman


Urban soils bear the persistent legacy of leaded gasoline and past industrial practices. Soil safety policies (SSPs) are an important public health tool with the potential to inform, identify, and mitigate potential health risks faced by urban growers, but little is known about how these policies may protect growers from exposures to lead and other soil contaminants. We reviewed and evaluated 43 urban agriculture (UA) policies in 40 US cities pertaining to soil safety. About half of these cities had a least one SSP that offered recommendations or provided services for soil testing. Eight cities had at least one SSP containing a requirement pertaining to any topic (e.g., soil testing, a specific best practice for growing). We found notable inconsistencies across SSPs for “acceptable” levels of lead in soils and the activities and behaviors recommended at each level. We specify research needed to inform revisions to US Environmental Protection Agency guidance for lead in soils specific to UA. We conclude with a series of recommendations to guide the development or revision of SSPs.