Locavores were shocked to learn from the NY Times that the eggs from their backyard chickens may contain elevated levels of lead. Tests run on eggs from New York City’s public neighbourhood gardens show that almost half of those tested had detectable levels of the potentially harmful metal.
The study was led by the New York State Health Department and Henry M. Spliethoff, a research scientist in the bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment. Of the 58 eggs tested, taken from gardens in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens, 28 of them contained lead in amounts of 10 to 73 parts per billion, with one egg having more than 100 parts per billion. To put this in perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” for lead in tap water is 15 parts per billion.
The Department of Health is approaching the results with caution however, saying that it takes lead poisoning seriously but does not want to discourage urban gardeners. Spliethoff said “we generally support chicken-raising, however, we also support reducing lead exposure.
Many have found it difficult to decide whether to give up their eggs due to the lack of consistent guidance available. In 2005 the FDA established the maximum acceptable level of lead for candy after complaints about wrappers that contained lead, but there are no thorough guidelines.
Though some treat the situation as a serious cause for concern, others see it as a minor issue. Declan Walsh, a father of three, has kept chickens for nine years and told the NY times that he has always been aware that the chickens’ eggs could contain lead but also believes that “the benefits of raising your children with an awareness of where your food comes from and having an honest relationship with your livestock way, way outweighs the possibility that they might encounter heavy metal.”
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