We all want fruit free of as much pollutants as possible. We all want healthy fruit. In Baltimore, Md., long-ago orchards and the trees that inhabited them are being rediscovered. As it turns out, even though they’re being found in urban areas, the fruit these trees bear are more nutritious than the fruit we purchase at stores and for the most part they contain no urban pollutants.
Wellesley College scientists, along with the League of Urban Canners (LUrC), conducted a study in which they collected and analyzed 166 samples of various fruits and herbs, including apples, cherries and peaches. These samples were gathered from “remnants of historical farms, urban parkland and residential properties,” The Geological Society of America reports. For the study, the team “investigated the concentrations of lead in urban fruits when they were peeled and unpeeled as well as washed and unwashed. That was intended to distinguish whether the fruits were taking up lead internally or being contaminated by dry deposition from the air or from soil dust.”
What they discovered may surprise you: no differences were found between the variables studied.
“This is a story with a good ending: not much lead in these urban harvested fruit,” Wellesley Geosciences and Environmental Studies professor Dan Brabander told The Geological Society of America.
In addition, the research team paid close attention to arsenic in the fruits they studied. Farmers used to use lead arsenate to get rid of pests in their orchards. To test for it, the team took 22 fruit samples (14 urban and eight commercial), dried them in a dehydrator and then analyzed them for the elements in question. The lowest lead concentration found in urban apples was 0.5 ug/g; the highest was 1.2 ug/g. The team then estimated how much fruit was being consumed to find out how much lead was being eaten. The result was that “eating urban fruit is not a significant source of lead exposure, when compared to the EPA regulated benchmark for lead in drinking water,” according to The Geological Society of America.
The team also looked at the urban fruit nutritional value. Compared to commercial fruit, all urban fruit had 2.5 times more calcium and iron. Some urban fruit also had more potassium, manganese, magnesium and zinc. Overall, urban fruit had more micronutrients than commercial fruit.
“When they grow in a commercial setting the soils can become quite impoverished,” Brabander said, according to The Geological Society of America. “In the urban setting where the trees sampled tend to be older perhaps they are able to shuttle micronutrients from a wider and more diverse range of horizons. That’s not to say that all urban produce is safe to eat, however, because local conditions vary and antique fruit trees are found in some very unexpected – and sometimes very polluted places, like along major roadways. By working with the Wellesley researchers the LUrC members are able to get a much broader, clearer look at the health benefits and any potential health threats from urban fruit than they ever could have if they had randomly spot checked fruits.”
What the LUrC and Wellesley discover may have a large impact on the fruit we eat.