As many may already know, the soil in Phillips is contaminated with heavy metals—lead and a significant amount of arsenic. For thirty years (1938 to 1968), companies that manufactured pesticides occupied a site near 28th Ave and Hiawatha and allowed toxic arsenic dusts to fly from their uncovered pesticide piles into residential yards. The effects? The Minnesota Department of Health has observed an increase in several cancers, including lung, larynx and stomach, and Phillips residents have experienced skin rashes, learning disabilities, urinary tract problems and respiratory difficulties due to the arsenic.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed soil with massive amounts of arsenic between 2004 and 2011, their safety standards are much different than those recognized to safely grow food. While the EPA deems an arsenic concentration of 25 ppm to be acceptable, the bioavailability of the arsenic is unknown and edible plants need to grow in soil with arsenic availability less than or equal to 1 ppm.

This difference is drastic and unacceptable to our community growers. Several local groups—like Tamales y Bicicletas and Mashkiikii Gitigan—in recognizing these soil contamination issues, have provided educational resources and even worked on cleaning their garden soil using natural techniques.

One viable solution is bioremediation. This technique requires the use of plants, fungi and other microorganisms to break down and remove contaminants in order to restore polluted soil. Instead of essentially wasting soil by just removing it, we can actually revitalize it through this process. Certain ferns, trees and other plants are known bioremediators of arsenic contamination.

Waite House will be exploring ways for the community to access bioremediation tools to make their soil healthy for growing and will be offering a workshop in the spring. Be on the lookout for more details in February!

Contact Haleigh Ziebol at ziebo016@umn.edu for more information or to get involved.