New Yorkers may have more to worry about than their cholesterol when sitting down to their next plate of eggs. After testing eggs sourced from chickens in NYC neighborhood gardens, the New York State Department of Health found that many from Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens contained detectable levels of lead. 28 of the 58 eggs tested contained lead in 10-74 parts per billion, with one example scoring 100 parts per billion. The findings are a wake-up call that while being a locavore is a healthy and sustainable lifestyle choice, New Yorkers still need to be careful how they keep their chickens and where they purchase their eggs.
City gardens with an industrial past have to be extra diligent about how they grow their vegetables and raise their animals. Many soils still contain traces of heavy metals and toxins used for production and manufacturing, and city farms must often have their soil treated, cleaned, or shipped from other locations to avoid problems with harmful substances. Those who keep chickens in their yards have no way of knowing if their eggs are contaminated unless they are specifically tested for lead. The New York State Department of Health recently published preliminary results of a sample of 58 eggs from community gardens Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, as samples in those areas were easier to obtain than from private residences. Over half contained lead from 10-74 parts per billion. While the FDA has not set an official level for acceptable amounts of lead in food, a December 2005 case where candy wrappers were shown to contain lead established 100 parts per billion as the maximum acceptable threshold. For children, 6 micrograms per day is the daily intake deemed by the FDA in 1993 as safe. Poultry itself does not have an established limit in the United States. For now, the New York State Department of Health is being cautious in how it advises urban farmers. “We generally support chicken raising,” said Henry M. Spliethoff, a research scientist in the Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment for the State Department of Health to The New York Times. “However, we also support reducing lead exposure.” He plans to publish the findings later this year after additional analysis of data gathered from the chicken’s soil and feed. Since there are established government regulations on lead in eggs, it may be difficult to know where to buy eggs in NYC without at first doing a little research. Consumers are encouraged to be vigilant, test their soil and ask questions. For now, the debate continues over whether the risk of lead exposure outweighs the environmental and social benefits of eating locally-sourced eggs. Via The New York Times