In Richmond, is it safe to eat your garden fruits and veggies?

Panelists at town hall meeting on platform strewn with wilted plants from local gardens

Questions remain about the safety of eating homegrown fruits and vegetables from gardens in Richmond and other areas affected by a fire at the Chevron refinery August 6.

The official line from Contra Costa County--where residents were told to shelter-in-place during Monday evening's fire--is to wash the produce in your gardens extra well.

"It's safe to eat your fruit and vegetables," said Randy Sawyer, the county's chief environmenta and hazardous materials officer. "We do recommend that you wash them in a weak soap solution like a dish soap." If there was harmful residue on the plants, it would be visible, he said. "It wouldn't be a dust product, it would be sooty."

But local gardeners and environmentalists beg to differ, and many are anxious about the fire's potential long-term effect on the area's urban agriculture. At a tense community meeting on Tuesday night, gardeners from Urban Tilth rolled in wheelbarrows of wilted produce they said was destroyed by the refinery fire, which was contained after a few hours but burned into the night. 

"We have extreme concerns," Urban Tilth executive director Doria Robinson told the Guardian. "We're trying to work with soil and air quality scientists to figure out what we need to test and how we can test it to determine what is safe. In the meantime, we can't stand by the food we have."

Until we know what chemicals were burning in the fire and what remains in the air, it's dangerous to assume our garden products are not contamminated, said Robinson, a Richmond resident herself. "If it's particulate matter or dust, in theory you can wash it off. At the same time, you're not exactly sure how certain chemicals react. More importantly, if you can wash the plant, what happens to the soil? Heavy metals like mercury are used in some processing. If that stuff was in the plume and it deposited in the soil" there could be lasting detrimental effects on our gardens, she said. 

When a Richmond resident at Tuesday's community meeting asked what chemicals might be in the air, and Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer at Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), listed hydrogen sulfide, benzene, sulfur dioxide, and styrene. All four compounds are either considered poisonous, or suspected to be carcinogens. 

The BAAQMD' lab analysis report tested for 23 compounds, including Benzene, but not the other three chemicals. Most of the chemicals “have been identified by the state of California as Toxic Air Contaminants," according to the BAAQMD. And although the same report insists that the air pollution levels were "significantly below federal health standards," the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 1,700 people ended up in the emergency room with respitory problems during or after the fire. 

Robinson said it is extremely difficult to trace health problems to individual pollutants. 

"The way that companies like Chevron have been able to pollute the air without liability is it's extremely hard to trace back, and they can point to things like the highways," she said. "This particular instance was so extreme that if we get a list of what was burning, we might be able to trace it back for the first time."

Robinson and her team hope to have a plan to test Urban Filth's produce by Monday, though she said financial barriers will make a comprehensive analysis difficult or impossible. Until the products are deemed safe, the organization is planning on suspending its school programs and refraining from eating from its 11 Richmond gardens, and Robinson urged residents to do the same with their personal plants.

"Before we take someone else's word for it, we owe it to ourselves and our community" to ensure our food is clean, she said.


Not many.

And veggies wilt naturally and for all kinds of reasons.

You're really reaching here, ya know?

Posted by Anonymous on Aug. 10, 2012 @ 9:50 am

No, urban gardens of all kinds are proliferating for all kinds of environmental reasons...What an awful shame this is...Is it wise to have these refineries so close to populations in the first place?
It'll be a great day when all these dirty refineries are rendered obsolete.

Posted by Daniele E. on Aug. 10, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

has been there 100 years, the city grew up around it.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 2:05 am

100 years ago, a lot of things were considered acceptable which no longer are. 100 years ago, it was acceptable to not only belch filth into the air and poison the people around you, but it was acceptable to work people 6 days a week without overtime, employ child labor, and regularly have accidents that killed people as part of your business plan.

These things are no longer acceptable in the 21st century, though the owners of these corporations act as if they should be. It's no defense to say that they've operated a certain way for 100 years, and because of that, we should tolerate their negligence and criminality in perpetuity. If Chevron is unwilling to follow 21st century safety standards to ensure the health of the surrounding community, they need to be closed down.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 7:57 am

who moves in next to a bar and complains about the noise.

Your whole troll is off topic by the way, and just plainly out of touch.

You own a car last I heard by the way, does it run on magical thinking too?

Posted by matlock on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 11:50 am

You don't have any valid point to make, which is why you have to use some of the weakest rhetorical tools.

*Your* troll is off topic: this *isn't* about noise abatement law violations, no matter how justified or unfair; because noise *only* affects people within a predictably limited range of where it is generated, and only on a short term basis.

And the crack about owning a car is fully absurd on at *least* one level: it posits that nobody who uses any product is justified in expressing an opinion regarding the safety conditions and environmental costs tolerated by the product's manufacturers.

Only industry lobbiests should have an opinion, right Mr. Moderate? No law for any industry!

lillipublicans©, often impostered, less frequently equaled.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 1:00 pm


Posted by matlock on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

You post on here probably eight times a day. You're on here maybe 10 hours a week.. You have created your own super rad tag line, because you care that much about your SFBG persona.

And all your rambling has never, ever changed a single fucking vote. You have made no difference. The time you spent on here could have been spent fundraising, volunteering.. doing *something*. Tell me I'm a troll, or a right winger, call me names until you run out of them.

But yeah... you don't *fucking matter*.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

Oh, I feel so bad!

I must at least be important to *you*, since you took the time to complain. That's nice. Thaks.

...and I see you've used the asterisks-for-italics style I like to use. I shouldn't even think of it as flattering since I copied the idea from someone else myself of course, and I know I'm supposed to be feeling badly anyway.

Anybody heard from Spitonreagan recently?
lillipublicans©, often impostered, less frequently equaled.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

claimed that those doing so had no credibility!

Woo hoo, chalk one up for the good guys.

Posted by lillipublicans© on Aug. 13, 2012 @ 8:21 am

(...but we can change that.)
That is what I heard, Matlock (that the city grew up around it). Nevertheless:

Just another example of how $$ trumps caring....But wait--they *do* care, it's just that they care more than people.

Same old same old...Soon, we'll hear about another oil spill, cause it's overdue.

You have to regulate these multi-national corporations up the wazoo, otherwise, it's all about the money.

Just sayin', Matlock.

But things are changing, slowly but's all about people power...

Posted by Daniele E. on Aug. 13, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

Holy shit.

Posted by bored reader on Aug. 12, 2012 @ 10:28 pm