Can you Garden after the Hurricane? Do you Have Toxic Soil?

toxic waters in houston harvey flooding

Not a New Problem

Long before the deadly hurricanes hit the United States this year, reports circulated about the toxicity problems of soil, especially in urban environments. Lydia, a friend of ours from Brooklyn told us to get our soil tested in the city before we start growing food.

This is why people use raised beds in city gardens. In China, educated people don’t dare to eat food grown in the urban periphery for knowledge of toxins like heavy metals in their food.

Is It Safe to Grow?

But now facing the aftermath of hurricanes — in Houston, in Florida, in Puerto Rico and many other countries, we need to be asking — how toxic is our soil? Can you grow food in Houston or Florida and know it’s going to be safe to consume, especially after a hurricane?

Good question. Let’s look at what the media has been reporting. According to the New York Times, Hurricane Harvey blew in and caused a stew of toxic chemicals, sewage, debris and waste to Houston. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that in Texas, 13 of the state’s 41 Superfund sites — the nation’s most toxic industrial waste sites — had been flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

Yeah, I’d say avoid gardening for the next 77 years.

What’s Makes Soil Toxic?

The EPA lists what can be found in Superfund sites. Lead, asbestos, dioxin, and radiation are some of the troubling contaminants. While conclusions weren’t in, maybe to dissuade mass panic — in Florida, some 54 Superfund sites were threatened by Hurricane Irma.

In Houston, “runoff from the city’s sprawling petroleum and chemicals complex contains any number of hazardous compounds. Lead, arsenic and other toxic and carcinogenic elements may be leaching from some two dozen Superfund sites in the Houston area,” the New York Times reported.

Porfirio Villarreal, a spokesman for the Houston Health Department, said the hazards of the water enveloping the city were self-evident. “There’s no need to test it,” he said. “It’s contaminated. There’s millions of contaminants.”

Given the grim near-future of our gardens and farms post hurricane, we suggest you test your soil before you grow. This link is a great resource on testing your soil and the best lab for you depending on your location in the United States. Soil is dirty. Healthy soil should be black. But contaminants are invisible. Time to jump in and take a test.

The other option we’ve been beating our drum about is hydroponics. Grow your food with water you know is safe, and let your worries dissolve.