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Episodio 2: Attenti all'orto!

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Quasi la metà della popolazione australiana coltiva verdure e erbe, ma secondo una recente ricerca livelli potenzialmente letali di piombo contaminano il terreno in molti orti casalinghi.

Sono molte le famiglie australiane che coltivano ortaggi e frutta, dalle carote al peperoncino, nei propri "backyard".

Complice della diffusione degli orti casalinghi è il desiderio di consumare prodotti che vadano direttamente dall'orto al piatto, che permette di risparmiare sul conto della spesa e evitare i pesticidi.

Ma secondo una nuova ricerca molti coltivatori in proprio potrebbero, senza rendersene conto, mettere sulla tavola della famiglia prodotti contaminati.

Lo studio condotto dalla Macquarie University e dall'RMIT University indica che un orto su cinque è contaminato con livelli tossici di piombo.

Ascoltiamo la professoressa associata dell'RMIT Suzie Reichman.

"The key findings are that we found 20 per cent of vegetable gardens in Melbourne have lead above the health-investigation levels and 8 per cent of the community gardens that we sampled also had lead above the health-investigation levels."

Lo studio si è concentrato sugli orti di Melbourne, ma secondo Reichman gli appassionati di orticultura dovrebbero essere prudenti in tutte le città.

"If you have an older painted house, so pre-1970s and your house is painted, or if your house is on a site that used to have an older house that was painted, then you've got a high risk of having elevated lead concentrations. If you're right next to a major road, or if you live next to an industrial area. And so, if you fit within those three categories, I would suggest you get your lead tested."

Il professore di scienze ambientali della Macquarie University, Mark Taylor, è il coautore del rapporto e uno dei fondatori di VegeSafe.

A suo parere chi coltiva frutta e verdura non dovrebbe farsi scoraggiare in seguito alla diffusione dei dati.

"Carry on gardening, but do it safely and produce nice, clean, green, healthy vegetables. It is a fact now that nearly 50 per cent of Australians produce some sort of food in their yard, whether it's herbs, or whether it's chillies, or whether it's actual lettuces and tomatoes. And, therefore, there's a really good reason now that people wish to find out about is the soil clean, are there any legacy contaminants from industrial actions, or lead paint, or lead petrol, that linger on in our soils."

I ricercatori ritengono che il motivo per cui molti orti comunitari hanno livelli di piombo inferiori rispetto a quelli nelle case sia l'uso di orti rialzati.

Secondo la Professoressa Reichman si tratta di un metodo consigliabile, ma occorre anche fare attenzione a quali ortaggi si coltivano.

"Choose wisely the sort of vegetables that you grow. So, for example, lead tends to be absorbed to much higher concentrations in root vegetables than it is in leaves, and it's at its lowest in fruit, so things like tomatoes or fruit trees. So if you do have elevated lead concentrations, you might want to stay away from things like potatoes, carrots. And, also, some of the lower-growing plants like lettuces are likely to get a lot of soil splash, and so you want to make sure that you're washing them thoroughly."

Secondo Reichman la ricerca indica che i genitori, in particolare, devono essere cauti perché potrebbero, senza saperlo, dare da mangiare ai figli un mix pericoloso di sostanze contaminate.

"The biggest risk is to children, and there have been a number of studies that show that it can have impacts on their brain development. And so, this sort of exposure is from eating vegetables that are high in lead, particularly if those vegetables do have some bits of soil on them. And then also, of course, we know that, when little children play in soil, they're quite likely to either directly eat the soil or to put their hands in their mouths and take in lead that way."

Ci sono vari servizi per il controllo della qualità del terreno, tra cui VegeSafe, che è un servizio non a scopo di lucro che permette ai coltivatori di inviare campioni di terreno da esaminare.

Il professor Taylor spiega che VegeSafe sta cercando di informare le comunità multiculturali e gli immigrati che hanno orti in tutta Australia.

"We've actually been out to some of these communities in Sydney, and we've given advice to them, we've visited them. And we have international people that work in my group who can converse with people from different ethnic groups, and, so, if they feel more comfortable in talking to people from these different parts of the globe, we're more than happy to do that. And we're happy to help people and direct them as they need, or get other people to talk to them if they feel more comfortable."

Il Professor Taylor afferma che coloro che coltivano i propri ortaggi evidentemente si preoccupano della propria salute e aggiunge che semplici accorgimenti possono far sì che si possa sfruttare al meglio il proprio orto.

"Really, does anybody want to grow nice, clean, green vegetables in contaminated soil? I think the answer is no. We want people to keep on gardening but to do it safely and minimising the risk of exposure to legacy lead in their soils."


 

English

Almost half of Australians grow their own vegetables, fruits and herbs, but new research warns deadly levels of lead are contaminating the soil in many home vegetable patches.

From carrots to chillies, many Australian families grow their own vegetables in their backyards.

The idea behind the growing trend is that produce goes from the vegetable patch to the plate, saving on grocery bills and avoiding exposure to pesticide.

But new research shows home growers may unknowingly be feeding their families contaminated produce.

The joint study by Macquarie University and RMIT University suggests one in five backyard vegetable patches is contaminated with toxic levels of lead.

RMIT associate professor Suzie Reichman (RIKE-mun) explains.

"The key findings are that we found 20 per cent of vegetable gardens in Melbourne have lead above the health-investigation levels and 8 per cent of the community gardens that we sampled also had lead above the health-investigation levels."

The study looked specifically at gardens in Melbourne, but Dr Reichman says gardeners in all cities should be cautious.

"If you have an older painted house, so pre-1970s and your house is painted, or if your house is on a site that used to have an older house that was painted, then you've got a high risk of having elevated lead concentrations. If you're right next to a major road, or if you live next to an industrial area. And so, if you fit within those three categories, I would suggest you get your lead tested."

Macquarie University environment professor Mark Taylor co-authored the report and is one of the founders of VegeSafe. 

He says gardeners should not let the findings deter them from growing their own produce.

"Carry on gardening, but do it safely and produce nice, clean, green, healthy vegetables. It is a fact now that nearly 50 per cent of Australians produce some sort of food in their yard, whether it's herbs, or whether it's chillies, or whether it's actual lettuces and tomatoes. And, therefore, there's a really good reason now that people wish to find out about is the soil clean, are there any legacy contaminants from industrial actions, or lead paint, or lead petrol, that linger on in our soils."

The researchers believe the reason many community gardens reported lower levels of lead than home gardens is because many of them grow produce in elevated garden beds.

Professor Reichman says it is a method home gardeners should also use, as well as being mindful of what vegetables they grow.

"Choose wisely the sort of vegetables that you grow. So, for example, lead tends to be absorbed to much higher concentrations in root vegetables than it is in leaves, and it's at its lowest in fruit, so things like tomatoes or fruit trees. So if you do have elevated lead concentrations, you might want to stay away from things like potatoes, carrots. And, also, some of the lower-growing plants like lettuces are likely to get a lot of soil splash, and so you want to make sure that you're washing them thoroughly."

Dr Reichman says the research indicates parents, in particular, need to be careful because they might be unknowingly feeding their children a dangerous mix of contaminants.

"The biggest risk is to children, and there have been a number of studies that show that it can have impacts on their brain development. And so, this sort of exposure is from eating vegetables that are high in lead, particularly if those vegetables do have some bits of soil on them. And then also, of course, we know that, when little children play in soil, they're quite likely to either directly eat the soil or to put their hands in their mouths and take in lead that way."

There are a number of soil-testing services available, including VegeSafe, which operates as a not-for-profit service, allowing gardeners to send samples of soil for contamination testing.

Professor Taylor says VegeSafe is trying to get the message across to multicultural communities and the many migrant-community gardens across Australia.

"We've actually been out to some of these communities in Sydney, and we've given advice to them, we've visited them. And we have international people that work in my group who can converse with people from different ethnic groups, and, so, if they feel more comfortable in talking to people from these different parts of the globe, we're more than happy to do that. And we're happy to help people and direct them as they need, or get other people to talk to them if they feel more comfortable."

Professor Taylor says those who grow their own vegetables clearly care about their health and simple measures can help make sure they get the most out of their vegetable gardens.

"Really, does anybody want to grow nice, clean, green vegetables in contaminated soil? I think the answer is no. We want people to keep on gardening but to do it safely and minimising the risk of exposure to legacy lead in their soils."

Report by Jessica Washington

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