Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science
Bachelor of Arts, Spanish
Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs Finalist/Princeton in Latin America Fellowship Finalist
Uptake of heavy metal contaminants by vegetables in urban gardens, Dr. Nathaniel Weston (Tutor) and Dr. Lisa Rodrigues (Reader)
Summary / Description of Thesis:
Community gardens are at risk of growing contaminated food. Studies have shown across the world that urban ground soil is contaminated with heavy metals that pose a danger to human health, and that vegetables grown in such soils are at risk of absorbing such toxins. This thesis conducted a controlled experiment in which different vegetable plants (lettuce, spinach, turnips, radishes, and peas) were grown in a greenhouse from seeds in potting soil contaminated with lead, copper, and zinc. The edible plant material was then tested for heavy metal contamination after 8 – 11 weeks of growing. Heavy metal contamination in soil samples from three community gardens, one in central Philadelphia and one in the suburb of Radnor Township, were also measured to assess local levels of contamination. This study seeks to help educate urban gardeners of the types of vegetables best suited to grow in potentially contaminated urban soil.
What motivated you to select this as your research topic?
I have seen the benefits of community gardens for individuals and communities by volunteering with local gardens as the founder of the Villanova Community Garden student group and supporting urban gardeners as a community garden outreach intern for the NYC Parks Department's GreenThumb Division last summer. While these revitalized garden spaces empowered community members and provided access to hard-to-find produce in urban areas, I noticed that many gardeners were unaware of potential soil contamination or struggled to address soil contamination on their garden plots. I hope to shed some light on what vegetables would be optimal to plant in potentially contaminated soil that would uptake the least amount of contaminants.
What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
It was interesting to see that little research has been done to track the uptake of heavy metal contaminants by plants in urban gardens specifically, and I hope to add to and support the findings of the few other studies that have been done in the past.
What is the most surprising and unexpected thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
It was surprising to discover that there is a potential for even raised beds in urban gardens to be contaminated with heavy metals that settle into the soils from air pollution. I had not previously considered this and I am interested to analyze my soil samples from local gardens to see if even their raised beds show evidence of heavy metal contamination. If there is contamination in raised beds, it will be even more important for urban gardeners to be aware of what vegetables uptake the least amount of contaminants in their edible parts.
How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
I aim to present my research in pamphlet geared towards community gardeners for easy distribution of information about soil testing and vegetables that are best to plant when soil is potentially contaminated. In this way I hope to continue to support the gardeners' efforts to become self-sufficient in their food production and beautify their neighborhoods while also ensuring that they are not unintentionally ingesting harmful contaminants.