How to clean wildfires, pollution from vegetables

Q: Are my fruits and vegetables safe to eat after covered in ashes? If air quality is at “dangerous” levels, will my plants absorb those toxins?

A: These questions are often answered by the many wildfires that have left our gardens empty of smoke and ash.

Short answer –

  • There is no danger of eating vegetables from a smoky garden. But it can also affect the taste of vegetables or fruits.
  • Ash may be a bit of a problem, but if the ashes wash leaves or fruits, the product is safe to eat.

Master Gardeners studied the effects of smoke and ash on production and soil after the 2017 Santa Rosa fire. Sonoma County gardeners put together a civic science study. This was done in response to concerns that fire-fighting chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHHs) and other combustible chemicals from combustible products, could pollute the environment.

During the fire, it was difficult to supply local gardens and small-scale agricultural products, which provided significant food security to the region. The concern is that people who work in the garden or on a small farm can inhale toxic chemicals from ash or inhaled smoke. And plants can absorb air pollution directly through the leaves. There is a risk of air pollution from wildfire smoke, but little research has been done on human health risk by inhaling smoke and ash.

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