The Q&A Archives: Absorption Of Garbage Leachate By Vegetables

Question: Last year I cleaned out an area in my yard for a flower/vegetable garden. While tilling the soil with a shovel, I discovered a great deal of refuse obviously deposited there by previous residents. The garbage included such things as glass, paper, plastic, tires, aluminum cans, styrofoam, batteries, stereo components, bicycle parts, car parts, foam pads, and even a plastic garbage can! Most of the items were heavily degraded, rusted, and broken down chemically. Much of the visible garbage was removed but the suspected presence of leachate convinced me to not grow any vegetables. Would vegetables grown in this plot absorb and retain any harmful chemicals that may be present in the soil making them unsafe to injest? I have been told that plants only take in what they need; however, I've seen Willow trees used as a groundwater clean-up method at contaminated industrial sites. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Answer: There is certainly a possibility of this happening, but you would need to have the plants and soil analyzed to see if it is so. To be on the safe side, I would strongly suggest growing edible crops elsewhere. If you have a well you might also look into having your water tested -- consult with the testing agency as to which tests to run but they would include heavy metals for starters since you found batteries and car parts. Your county extension (424-9485) may have some insights on this as well as suggestions of who to contact or how to verify whether or not it really is a problem in need of remediation.

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