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EPA: Brownfields and Urban Agriculture

Interim Guidelines for Safe Gardening Practices

United States Environmental Protection Agency
Summer 2011
22 pages

This report presents a process and set of recommendations for developing agricultural reuse projects on sites with an environmental history. Potential gardeners, state environmental agencies and regulators can use this process to determine how to address the risks inherent to redeveloping brownfields for agricultural reuses while being protective of human health.

This document can be used as an interim guideline until research can provide more definitive standards and policies for agricultural reuse on these e was developed in the Midwest, it may be used to benefit tribes and communities throughout the country wishing to utilize urban agriculture on brownfield sites and vacant properties.


This document is a condensation of the input of 60 experts from academia, state and local government, and the nonprofit sector who gathered in Chicago on October 21 and 22, 2010 to outline the range of issues which need to be addressed in order to safely grow food on former brownfield sites. A list of the participants in this workshop is available in Appendix A.

In short, there are three major issues:

1. Before deciding whether to garden on a site, it is important to research its history, because a site may have a range of contaminants depending on its past uses;

2. Once the past uses have been determined, there are options for testing, cleanup or exposure- management approaches which prospective urban farmers can utilize in order to garden safely; and

3. Although a wealth of experience has been gained through brownfields cleanup over the last 15 years, the cleanup standards in existence are designed to protect people on the site from ingestion and inhalation of contaminants in the soil, water and air, but do not address consumption of food grown on the site. Over time, we expect that standards will be updated to address this gap. In the interim, existing residential cleanup standards can be used as a benchmark for safe gardening.

Read the complete report here.

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