What’s In Your Soil?

photo credit- Sue Sours
photo credit- Sue Sours

What’s In Your Soil?

by Rama K Ramaswamy


Here in Wellesley, from the last week of October, the Recycling and Disposal Facility (RDF) puts out the call for leaves, brush, wood, grass and more- all for composting. In fact, all over Boston, there are mounds of rich, carefully sifted piles of soil tumbled into compost depots. For years, Boston residents await spring and access to compost to grow tomatoes, squash, or any of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables that come from gardens across the city; this year is no different. Some of my neighbors farm raised beds in their yards and others head to Wellesley College’s North 40 community garden space. In recent years, however, community gardeners have found higher traces of heavy metals such as lead in their compost than they might have expected. The Environmental Protection Agency sets safety standards at 400 parts per million for lead; in 2012, in an article by 90.0 WBUR, Wellesley College Geochemist Dan Brabander found nearly double the lead in local garden soils. Who knows what else might be in our soils? Watch this interesting Boston Globe video. Certain leafy green vegetables such as kale and root crops such as carrots, radishes, and parsnips can absorb heavy metals such as cobalt, manganese, cadmium or even lead as they grow. At Wellesley, his courses help students develop a toolbox of skills to frame and analyze complex environmental systems. He teaches a core course Environmental, Health, and Sustainability Sciences and upper level courses in Isotope Geology and Environmental Geochemistry. In Fall 2012 Professor Brabander and Olin College of Engineering colleague Professor Rob Martello developed and co-taught a trans-disciplinary course Paradigms, Predictions, and Joules: A Historical and Scientific Approach to Energy and the Environment that focused on the "grand challenges" at the interface between energy and the environment through the disciplinary lenses of the history of technology and environmental science. Dr. Brabander will be at the Wellesley Science and Technology Expo on Saturday April 5th at Wellesley High School; bring him a few tablespoons of soil from your yard or that you’d like some information about- find out what’s in your soil! Please register with The Wellesley Education Foundation and like the Wellesley Science and Technology Expo on Facebook.






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