When my husband and I bought our home in south Seattle's White Center neighborhood four years ago, I was six months pregnant with our son. My husband built raised bed garden boxes in the front yard, and we immediately started growing our own food. Fast forward two years: we wanted to transform even more of our 1/3 acre from lawn into into growing space. Before we broke ground though, I wanted to research something I'd heard about while I was pregnant:
The Asarco Plume.
For a full century, the Asarco Company smelted copper at their plant in Tacoma, about 30 miles south of where my family lives now. It dispersed a cloud of contamination bearing lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals across the south Puget Sound region, contamination that persists in soil around the area.
Our neighborhood appeared to have experienced mild to moderate contamination, but just to be safe, I dug up soil samples and sent them to the University of Massachusetts soil testing lab. There were negligible amounts of heavy metals, so we went ahead with cultivating food in our soil. Lots of other folks in our region aren't so lucky. This is a problem that has played out in communities downwind of industrial sites across the United States. Mines, nuclear facilities, factories, processing plants, factory farms, and other facilities of business all create plumes of contamination, not to mention the risks to environments and populations downwind if an accident occurs at those sites, or on the roads to and from those sites, along which toxic waste and chemicals may be transported. Turn over the soil in your community: find out what industries have operated there historically, and the risks posed by current industries! This MomsRising blog post on vulnerability zones is a good place to start. Knowledge is power! If your soil is contaminated, build raise beds and bring in safe soil before you grow food. Raise your voice in your community to make sure your family, your food, and your water are being protected from the byproducts of industry.