2022 Grants Challenge

Healthy Soil for Community and Climate

FoLAR will collaborate with The Dirty Lab in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the UCR to continue a two-year phytoremediation pilot program that is already underway along the LA River, while also engaging youth and the community in science and the civic process. The pilot program will determine plant-based (phyto) and fungus-based (myco) solutions to removing pollutants (remediation) on the contaminated Taylor Yard G2 parcel – leading to the restoration of a multi-beneficial ecosystem and the future development of a public park.


Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

University of California – Riverside

What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Climate and Environment

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

City of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Pilot or new project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

This project will address the substantial contamination of Taylor Yard G2, a 42-acre abandoned rail yard along the LA River in a pollution-burdened neighborhood. When Union Pacific Railroad left in the 1980s, the land was left with decades of contamination. The soil is polluted with lead and other toxins that spread to surrounding neighborhoods through wind, stormwater runoff, and eventually groundwater. As climate change intensifies storms and flooding, these issues will only worsen. The site has been identified for extensive wetland restoration, an effort that requires full remediation. The ultimate benefit: healthy soils and habitats that sequester carbon and cool temperatures. The community is also concerned about the dust caused by the movement of contaminated soil and the City of Los Angeles is concerned about the astronomical cost of full remediation using traditional methods. Phytoremediation is the most cost-effective, low-impact solution to meet this community need.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Our two-year phytoremediation pilot project can truly create a pathway to progress for environmental healing in Los Angeles. This project will test the efficacy of phytoremediation on one-riverfront-acre of Taylor Yard G2 and will use this effort to connect local communities to an otherwise inaccessible issue and property. The project will evoke the public’s imagination and make visible what is possible on this fallow land. What makes this project unique is the use of native plants and fungi to extract site contaminants. Plants and fungi have the natural ability to filter toxins directly from the soil and this project will test their ability to remove harmful toxins, including lead and other heavy metals, from the soil. If proven effective, phytoremediation can then be applied to the remaining 41 acres of Taylor Yard G2. The project will be conducted from 2022 to 2024, and project activities include: plantings, collecting soil samples, providing regulatory updates, workforce development for 10 local youth in phytoremediation, hazardous substances, and science communications, as well as public multi-modal public engagement (digital, onsite signage, events). By the end of the project we will have engaged community members and youth on the possibilities and importance of soil health, nature-based solutions, and their power to advocate. The final soil report will be presented to the CA Department of Toxic Substance Control as a potential precedent for innovations in remediation.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

If successful, this project will make a significant impact on Los Angeles County and set a statewide precedent for nature-based soil remediation practices. Currently, DTSC relies on expensive and environmentally destructive soil excavation practices or caps land with concrete, which entombs the contamination, leaving it to seep into our waters. This project could be groundbreaking for public health and for working soils that can sequester carbon. It also has the potential to make a significant case for cost effective, low-impact remediation of toxic lands in urban environments. In the short-term, the project will connect youth to STEM careers and the community to the potential of a healthy environment. Residents will also increase their knowledge of environmental education and engagement with nature. In the long-term, this project will lead to the restoration of Taylor Yard as a multi-beneficial ecosystem, the development of a public park and an increase in environmental leaders.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

This is a pilot program that has the potential to provide environmental healing to our entire community. The hope is that this project will serve as a proof of concept for application across wider swaths of Taylor Yard G2 and the entire watershed. We have recruited a team of highly knowledgeable professionals in the field, secured seed funding, and developed a two-year work plan to serve as a roadmap for all project activities. Several activities are involved in evaluating the success of this project. A project manager will be onsite regularly to guide student workers through weekly operations, maintenance, and monitoring while collaborators collect shallow soil samplings and analyze them for remediation efficacy. To evaluate the educational component, we will track the number of students that participate in our workforce development program and the number of individuals that attend our educational summits and community engagement activities.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,992

Indirect Impact: 115,519

Describe the specific role of the partner organization(s) in the project, program, or initiative.

Danielle Stevenson, a PhD candidate, and Sam Ying, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biogeochemistry and Head of The Dirty Lab at the University of California, Riverside, will conduct soil sampling and alysis in addition to assisting with irrigation systems, conducting plantings on the site, and helping train 10 high school students on each step of the process. FoLAR will be leading the workforce development program and community engagement activities. Specifically, Dennis Mabasa, Director of Education, will be replicating proven workforce development pedagogy previously deployed at the California Academy of Sciences with demonstrated longitudil outcomes for the youth involved. FoLAR’s CEO, Marissa Christiansen, will oversee the community engagement efforts.