Urban agriculture organizations want their soil tested after Chevron refinery fire
Contra Costa Health Services say Richmond-grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat and that they don’t expect any impact from the fire on soil or compost
By Wendi Jonassen
Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley for, and about, the people of Richmond, California.
August 24, 2012
After the Chevron refinery fire sent plumes of black smoke laden with chemicals into the air, Urban Tilth, one of Richmond’s urban agriculture organizations, wants the soil it uses to grow food tested for heavy metals.
Though the Contra Costa Health Services say Richmond-grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat and that they don’t expect any impact from the fire on soil or compost, Doria Robinson, the executive director of Urban Tilth, said she worries about heavy metals like lead, arsenic, or mercury in the soil.
Other organic compounds that entered the air during the fire, like chloroform and ethanol, can be washed away, Robinson said, but heavy metals that can fall into the soil are particularly dangerous and hard to remove.
“That is a whole other bag of worms,” she said. “You need such a small quantity to make a huge impact, especially on a child’s body. That is my biggest fear.”
With Richmond’s long industrial history, there are already some heavy metals in the soil, said Wendel Brunner, the director of public health for Contra Costa Health Services.
Testing would offer no way to tell if the heavy metals were present before the fire or because of the fire. And since the smoke rose several thousand feet and was swept east, very little ash or debris fell on Richmond, Brunner said.
“From the fire,” he said, “no, I have no concerns about heavy metals in the soil.”