More pollutants in city vegetables than in the supermarket

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Vegetables from cities sometimes heavily contaminated

Vegetables that are grown in the city themselves are often heavily contaminated. This was the result of a study by the Institute for Ecology at TU Berlin. According to the researchers, the pollution of city vegetables is “significantly higher than that of vegetables from the supermarket”. But there is no reason to panic. Rather, a holistic view of gardening is important.

Even EU limits exceeded
Many people grow their own fruit and vegetables in their home garden. "You know what you have," is the motto of many. After all, potatoes, carrots or apples can be planted without artificial fertilizer and is even better than "organic". Urban gardening is booming not only in Berlin, but also in numerous cities in Germany. In many cases, however, urban vegetables are contaminated with heavy metals, as a recent evaluation of a study by researchers at the Institute for Ecology at the Technical University (TU) in Berlin showed. In the journal Environmental Pollution, the researchers reported that vegetables from cities that were grown especially near busy roads were contaminated with heavy metals. “Vegetables from inner-city gardens can have accumulated many times more heavy metals than standard supermarket products. In some cases, EU limit values ​​for food have even been exceeded, ”reported head of research Dr. Ina Säumel. "Our results were surprisingly clear."

For the study, the scientists took samples from areas around trees, backyards and allotment garden colonies. The withdrawals were carried out in summer 2010 and then examined in the laboratory. The researcher did not say in which districts and streets the analyzes were carried out. Finally, anonymity had been agreed with the test subjects prior to the trial. Some decision-makers like to use contamination as an argument to close entire garden settlements so that the areas can be used for profitable uses, the scientist explained. "We want to prevent this with anonymization."

Significantly higher pollution levels in vegetables
Pollutant levels varied considerably for the different types of vegetables, so that “the TU researchers could not identify problematic or unproblematic vegetables from the outset.” The city location where the vegetables were grown was more important for the study result. Tomatoes, chard and carrots were significantly more contaminated with zinc, lead and copper. The metallic substances nickel and cadmium were also significantly higher. Some of these metals can cause health problems if taken in high doses through food.

Holistic view of urban vegetable cultivation
However, the researchers see no reason to panic. Dr. Instead, Säumel referred to an investigation by researchers from Great Britain. They had asked for a holistic view of urban vegetable growing. In addition to the aspect of pollutant quantities, positive side effects such as active exercise, fresh air, social community experiences or the joy of gardening should also be included in the risk assessment. All of these are also health-promoting points that do not apply when buying fruit or vegetables in a conventional supermarket. In addition, environmentalists had only recently discovered numerous pesticides in fruits and vegetables.
Nevertheless, the Berlin city study shows that vegetables were less polluted when they were placed further away from busy streets. Natural or artificial barriers such as houses, dense vegetation such as hedges between busy streets are also helpful. City gardeners should therefore take precautions to protect their vegetables from harmful substances. (sb)

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