Soil Test Shows Toxins Present in National City Community Garden

National City's mayor said the city only recently realized Mundo Gardens wasn’t permitted and never had its soil tested

Its fruits and vegetables are planted in polluted soil. Yet, a community garden on taxpayer-owned property in National City has been operating for years.

Mundo Gardens is located near the 805 in National City. Mayor Ron Morrison told NBC 7 it has been there for years but only recently did the city realize it was operating without a permit and without any soil testing.

The city commissioned a study of the soil by Geosyntec Consultants. The results of the study, delivered on Sept. 13, showed that concentrations of chlordane and dieldrin exceeding residential screening levels were found in the soil.

Chlordane is a man-made chemical that was used as a pesticide in the United States from 1948 to 1988, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATS).

The ATS says dieldrin is another man-made compound once used in insecticides. Both compounds are harmful to humans if ingested, according to the ATS.

“They’re growing on soil that we now know is unsafe,” said Stepheni Norton, who owns the nearby, privately-owned Dickinson Farm.

Norton said she would never eat the food grown at Mundo Gardens because of the soil.

Norton said she spent close to $2,000 on permits from National City, San Diego County, the State of California, and the federal government.

She said that included getting her soil tested to make sure it was safe to grow fruits and vegetables.

Norton wondered why Mundo Gardens inexplicably didn’t do any of that.

“They are the rules and all of us have to follow them and when people aren’t following them, it’s not only discriminatory by the agency that’s allowing it, it’s also potentially not safe,” she said.

The “agency” she referred to is the City of National City. They own the property where Mundo Gardens is growing.

Morrison said they do not have a permit, insurance, or indemnification. He said the community garden has somehow operated for years under the radar. He said the city only recently realized Mundo Gardens wasn’t permitted and never had its soil tested.

“We don’t know who they’ve been giving it [produce] out to or selling it to. We don’t know,” said the mayor.

Morrison said he personally remembered removing trash from the site years before it was Mundo Gardens.

“There was batteries, there was paint, there was everything else that was dumped on that lot,” he said.

“You’re hurting the community that you’re feeding,” said Norton. “I definitely think there’s a double standard.”

Norton said the woman running the garden, Janice Reynoso, has been in the community all of her life while Norton moved to National City only a few years ago.

Morrison said two councilmembers, Alejandra Sotelo-Solis and Mona Rios, publicly supported the garden even though it’s on city-owned property.

“We’re holding them to an entirely different standard than we are people on their own property,” said Morrison. “Anyone from either an environmental or health standard situation should be concerned about an operation like this.”

NBC 7 called, emailed, and Facebook messaged Reynoso and Mundo Gardens the past week. None of the messages were answered.

NBC 7 contacted several other National City City Hall leaders. No one could explain how Mundo Gardens was allowed to slip through the system to grow food on tainted soil.

“It’s kind of this outlaw-type situation,” said Mayor Morrison.

Norton said she’s only concerned about one thing: “We wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t care about healthy food.” 

Geosyntec's report recommended that raised garden beds be used at the site. For continued in-ground gardening, the report suggested excavating at least 2 feet of soil from the garden space.

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