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PUREsoil NYC is a program designed to improve the quality of degraded soil in NYC communities and to make these communities more resilient to the effects of climate change. This program uses pristine native soil excavated from deep below the ground surface during construction of new buildings in NYC. The pristine soil is delivered to community-based organizations for projects to improve soil quality at the local level, such as yards and community gardens. Clean soil is also delivered to public and private sector projects in NYC for earthworks projects that can protect against sea level rise and flooding from storm surge caused by climate change.

PUREsoil NYC is operated by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation (OER). PUREsoil NYC is a new program and OER plans to establish pilot Spotlight Communities in places like Greenpoint, East New York, Hunt’s Point, and Long Island City. Spotlight Communities will work to bring together local community organizations to build soil distribution and education programs and manage centralized clean soil stockpiles for community use.

PUREsoil NYC uses clean native soil from deep excavations at large construction projects to build space for underground parking and basements. The soil is obtained from the NYC Clean Soil Bank, a successful clean soil exchange that has delivered almost 500,000 tons of soil over the first five years. PUREsoil NYC uses the purest soil from the soil bank for community-wide soil remediation projects and resilience projects.

Over the last four decades, scientists have documented the presence of various pollutants in soil in cities around the world. These pollutants come from sources like automobile exhaust and the residue of products like lead in paint. Exposure to these pollutants can be harmful to the health of urban citizens. While the problem is well known, no city has ever developed programs to solve this pollution problem. PUREsoil NYC may be the first program designed to solve the problem of ubiquitous urban soil pollution and reduce soil pollution exposures on a community-wide scale.

To eliminate exposures in degraded urban soil, a layer of clean soil, (generally 6-inches or more) is placed over the existing soil. This is called a ‘clean soil cover’.

PUREsoil NYC uses the purest soil available from the NYC Clean Soil Bank. Most people are unaware that NYC has a remarkable soil resource that was deposited by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. These glacial sediments are buried deep below the ground and have never been exposed to environmental contaminants common on the land surface—and are among the highest quality soils available in the northeastern U.S. There is a 12-step process to make sure that only the purest soil is used. This involves direct sampling and chemical testing, compliance with the most stringent standards established by the New York State Health Department and USEPA, and inspection and certification of soil quality by a qualified environmental professional during excavation.

A recent study by OER, Columbia University and Brooklyn College showed that use of pristine soil from PUREsoil NYC can lower exposure to lead and other common urban pollutants by over 98%.

There is no cost to receive PUREsoil. It is a non-profit program and soil is delivered free of charge.

Soil can be received by contacting the PUREsoil NYC coordinator at OER and filling out a request form available on the PUREsoil NYC or NYC Clean Soil Bank website tab. Organizations must have a property that is large enough to safely receive a standard dump-truck. Minimum soil deliveries are 20 cubic yards and fit into a space measuring about 15 feet by 15 feet (and five feet high).

Yes. Recipients must participate in a pre-transfer conference all with OER and the soil donor and must be in attendance at the receiving property on the day of shipment to receive the truck(s) and direct the driver where to dump the soil shipment. Soil should be covered by tarps to protect against dust and erosion. Other steps may be needed to prevent soil drainage off the property during heavy rain. Soil should be put into use with 1-3 months.

Yes. PUREsoil can be used for gardening but it must first be mixed with compost or some other amendment and nutrient source. The soil is from deep below the ground and is technically known as sediment. Because it comes from so deep down, it does not have natural organic matter or necessary plant nutrients that emerge during soil formation.

NYC currently operates one of the most successful land cleanup programs in the U.S. and is the only city in the country to run its own land cleanup program. That program, the NYC Voluntary Cleanup Program, is very effective at cleaning up vacant and polluted lots as part of the property development process. PUREsoil NYC is different. It is designed to lower pollution exposure over a community-wide scale on many existing properties that are already in use. Working together, NYC’s programs for land cleanup and community-wide soil remediation can make a big difference in the quality of land in NYC.

Yes. Use of NYC’s clean soil for its highest uses is supported by over 350 scientists, engineers, environmental advocates and gardeners in NYC. The PUREsoil NYC program is guided by a Science Advisory Panel made up of some of NYC’s most notable soil scientists and regulators. The environmental and public health benefits have also been reported in several scholarly journals.

OER established the Progressive Urban Resource Exchange (PURE) to retain our precious natural and recyclable resources right here in NYC. Other resources that are relevant to PURE include wood waste, compost and recyclable clean concrete aggregate.

The PURE program and PUREsoil NYC were established in 2018 by OER founding director Daniel Walsh, a soil geochemist and faculty member at Columbia University Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. As a long-standing advocate for protection of urban soil resources, Dr. Walsh established PUREsoil NYC to enable the highest and best uses of NYC’s clean native soil resources to solve some of our most important societal problems. He dubbed this approach ‘soil upcycling’.

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