Eggs laid by chickens in New York City contain scary amounts of lead, researchers have found. The findings add to mounting evidence about the dangers of urban homesteading. Researchers led by Henry M. Spliethoff from the New York State Health Department's Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment tested 58 eggs gathered from community gardens in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens, detecting lead in half of the eggs, some with trace levels as high as 100 parts per billion. At 15 ppb, the CDC recommends you start treating your tap water, so this number is very high. The store-bought eggs they tested were lead-free.
Urban homesteading advocates tout the ecological and personal health benefits of backyard eggs, but concerns about lead in urban chickens have dogged the movement. The problem stems from city soil, which often has high levels of lead pollution, as these maps show. Scientists suspect that auto emissions or buildings coated in lead paint could be the culprits in many cases. One Portland homesteader conducted a lead test on eggs laid by her chickens in 2009, finding worryingly high traces of lead. Other concerns about urban homestead chickens deal with their potential to spread disease. After that widely discussed Stanford study arguing that organic food provides no additional health benefits than conventional food, this is just what back-to-basics proponents need. Still, New Yorkers raising urban chickens plan to keep refraining from industrially farmed food in favor of personally harvested eggs. "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 a heavy metal," Red Hook resident Declan Walsh told The New York Times.