General Question

Jeruba's avatar

Tomato plants: safe or not?

Asked by Jeruba (41889 points ) July 23rd, 2013

Earlier this year, we had a break in the sewer line from our house, and there was a bit of leakage in the flowerbed out front.

It’s all been repaired now, and there’s no problem.

However, we also now have a dozen tomato plants coming up in the near vicinity of the pipe. We’ve never grown tomatoes there.

We know that tomato seeds are hardy things, that tomato plants thrive in sewage treatment plants, and that natural fertilizers are, um, natural.

The question is whether anything bad that might have leached out of the pipes three months ago, before the repair was made, could have a detrimental effect on tomatoes that have not yet blossomed or formed. Assuming that we don’t mind having tomatoes in the front yard, will they be safe to eat?

Should we let them grow, take them out, or transplant them elsewhere?

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10 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I would say they should be safe. It’s been three months since the break. But I have had some close calls and I wouldn’t take a chance on them. The downside is a lot bigger than the upside.

Jeruba's avatar

Please say more, @Adirondackwannabe: close calls? Like what?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’ve had E coli, a bug nearly took me out with a bad reaction, and some idiot came within feet of killing me in the car. I don’t feel like rolling the dice too much. I still love life but I’m more careful.

josie's avatar

Wash them before you eat them. There is no E Coli in them. Maybe on them, but not in them. The organism is too big to pass through the root structure.

Jeruba's avatar

@josie, yes, of course. But what about stuff other than nice organic matter that might have been in—or passing through—the pipes? Can the plant harbor bad things that might have got into the soil months ago? Can the roots pull up some kind of nastiness that might have lingered in the soil?

@Adirondackwannabe, I remember the bug. I thought you meant close calls with tomatoes!

josie's avatar

Only if they are in molecular form. And only if you ate them for years. It takes about 30 years for a smoker to get sick, if they get sick at all. A couple of tomatoes probably have less shit in them than a deep breath of urban air.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Jeruba When I was little they thought I had leukemia or an allergy to tomatoes. That was fun. I quit tomatoes for a while and it went away.

gailcalled's avatar

Article in Wikipedia on the use of night soil as fertilizer for vegetables strongly suggests not to. Your leak contained uncomposted raw sewage.

“Sanitation issues: Source

The use of human feces as fertilizer is a risky practice as it may contain disease-causing pathogens. Nevertheless, in developing nations it is widespread. Common parasitic worm infections, such as ascariasis, in these countries are linked to night soil, since their eggs are in feces. There have also been cases of disease-carrying tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables being imported from developing nations into developed nations

These risks are eliminated by proper composting. “Finished compost should never be ‘sterile,’ but it should be sanitary. That means the compost should be teeming with beneficial microorganisms that do not pose a threat to human health. Any human disease organisms that may have been in the original organic material should have been eliminated, weakened, or greatly diminished by the time the compost has become mature.”

Human waste may be attractive as fertilizer because of the high demand for fertilizer and the relative availability of the material to create night soil. In areas where native soil is of poor quality, the local population may weigh the risk of using night soil.

The safe reduction of human waste into compost is possible. Many municipalities create compost from the sewage system biosolids, but then recommend that it only be used on flower beds, not vegetable gardens. Some claims have been made that this is dangerous or inappropriate without the expensive removal of heavy metals.”

flo's avatar

I wouldn’t take a chance.

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