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Initial Research Finds Foraged Urban Fruits in Boston Area Safe to Eat

Early results from research done at Wellesley College in Massachusetts revealed that fruits and herbs foraged in the Boston area were safe to eat and actually had relatively low levels of lead and arsenic.

Leading the research was Dr. Dan Brabander, a Wellesley geoscience professor, after he was approached by members of the Boston League of Urban Canners. One of the group’s members had reportedly tested high for blood lead levels, and the concern was that eating certain foods found in the urban landscape might be the cause.

Gleaning windfall applesUrban foragers pick up windfall fruit and other foods in yards, along highways, in parks and sometimes around office buildings. They also work in abandoned orchards and other places where nobody is harvesting the fruit, vegetables, or other crops so that the food items don’t go to waste.

The Boston canner’s group brought 166 samples of dehydrated cherries, peaches, apples and other fruits and herbs to Brabander’s lab for testing for contaminants, including heavy metals, and for nutritional content.

Results showed 0.5-1.2 micrograms per gram of lead in the apple samples. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) provisional total tolerable intake level for lead by small children is 6 micrograms per day.

In addition, the research found that calcium levels in foraged apples and peaches were more than 2.5 times higher than the non-foraged versions of those fruits, and that levels of iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese and zinc were higher in some of the samples.

The researchers also compared the heavy metal levels between peeled and unpeeled foraged fruits, expecting higher levels on the unpeeled ones due to contamination of the urban soil and air.

“We found there was no difference between these variables,” said Ciaran Gallagher, a member of Brabander’s research team. Gallagher, an environmental chemistry major at Wellesley, helped present the team’s research Nov. 2 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Baltimore, MD.

More investigation into the issue needs to be done since soil and other growing conditions vary, Brabander said, adding that more site-specific testing was needed before applying the findings to other urban environments.

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