Growing a flourishing garden can be no easy task, but ensuring it is safe to eat from can be even more challenging when the soil is laden with toxic material.
Such was the case for this Redditor, whose new home had gardens laced with rubber mulch.
“Just moved into a lovely house, but, I’ve found tons of loose/mixed in rubber mulch in the gardens,” the original poster wrote in the r/OrganicGardening subreddit. “My husband and I are invested in having an edible garden. Is there any way to clean up the soil?”
The user mentioned that the mulch was in the top three inches of soil and was placed above raggedy plastic landscaping fabric.
“We have little kids and I don’t want them too exposed to carcinogens and heavy metals (I’d prefer not at all but lol that’s impossible). Especially from food we grow ourselves,” they continued. “But, am I also just overreacting?”
A study from 2022 suggests they were not overreacting, as rubber mulch contains heavy metals, microplastics, and PFAs — otherwise known as “forever chemicals” — all of which contribute to the adverse health effects and carcinogenic nature of the substance.
Researchers have also found that the rubber can leach toxins into water systems, endangering the surrounding ecosystem and wildlife.
However, the Redditor’s idea to sow sunflowers was a good start, as the plant is often used to extract contaminants from the soil in a process called phytoremediation.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plants effective in phytoremediation can absorb metals, pesticides, explosives, and oil from the ground. They can either store the pollutants in their roots, stems, or leaves or convert them into less harmful chemicals.
One commenter supported the original poster’s plant, noting that sunflowers have been used “to protect areas of nuclear contamination.”
“Adding layers of compost and straw bales is good to help add new inches of organic matter and there are SO many varieties of sunflower to grow can be really enjoyable,” they also suggested.
“If it’s beds you plan to grow food in, definitely get rid of all of the existing soil and replace,” another Redditor wrote.
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