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Railway sleepers

 
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Hi, we have railway sleepers in our garden which were here when we moved in which occasionally leak what looks like black tar. If we were to remove them, how would we restore the soil close to them and how close could we plant vegetables to the area without it being an issue? Thanks!
 
master pollinator
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I don't think there is an easy answer here.  I would remove them.....dig down in the soil below the point where there is a visible impact (maybe we.. below that point,) and have the soil tested.
 
master steward
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Agree with John...  I'd remove them and at least a foot of soil on every side and two feet downwards.  Maybe more.  If there is a soil testing lab that could check for toxins in your area I'd do that to test the closest remaining dirt to where the sleepers were.
 
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Are the sleepers in good enough (or fixable-enough) condition that you might want to repurpose them in some way, instead? Shed? Guest quarters? Chicken coop?

Removing them is going to be a pretty involved project, and apart from the tar-like substance, I'm wondering if there are tracks under them? I don't know what all is done to the ground in the track-laying and maintenance process, but I'm thinking removing all that might be a pretty big job.

OTOH, if the sleepers are beyond fixing anyhow, then I agree with the other posters: dig pretty widely and deeply. Pollution, sadly, travels pretty well in soil.
 
pollinator
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There are species of mushrooms that help pull those toxins out of the soil (DON'T EAT THE MUSHROOMS) but I don't remember the name right now.

Then you only have to dispose of a few pounds of mushrooms instead of tons of soil.

BUT the bright side is....

A few used timbers for raised beds after they spent their useful life under a track don't leach that much anymore.  It isn't enough to bankrupt yourself trying to remove.  Remediate what you can, isolate the rest. Don't worry, the worry does the most damage.
 
Kelly Forster
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cat forest garden homestead
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Thank you for all your responses, that's been really helpful! There aren't tracks under them so I'm going to look up the mushroom idea and then perhaps remove at a later date.
 
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I hate to say this, but, many of the older wood preservatives included arsenic compounds, which have insidious mobility and bioaccumulation properties, including in fungus, I believe.
They change oxidation/reduction state and shift mobility depending upon conditions; it is a huge problem.
Unlike lead, I am not aware of a quick test, but arsenic in well water is a fairly widespread issue, so there might tests or services available.
 
pollinator
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That really sucks Kelly. That tar is likely creosote/oil mix, which is toxic. It’s used to keep the RR ties from rotting. I’d be inclined to either remove a lot of surrounding soil or find a different spot to garden. The leakage contaminates groundwater so the sooner you get rid of them the better.
 
steward
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If I may offer my thoughts also, I think removing the sleepers is best, and to echo what Julie noted in the post above mine, find a new spot to grow a garden.
 
John F Dean
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To stress a point, there is no telling what kind of concoction they were treated with.  It was probably limited to the imagination of the workers.  Most likely they were not pressure treated but rather soaked in the preservative.  This would result in a greater likelihood of the substance leaching into the soil.
 
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Here are some threads about removing toxins with mushrooms.  Oyster mushrooms seem to be the ones you will want.

https://permies.com/t/55469/Water-Filtration#864354

https://permies.com/t/94957/Oyster-Mushroom-growing-home

https://permies.com/t/25910/Mycoremediation-fixing-contamination-mushrooms
 
Kelly Forster
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Thanks all, the sleepers are coming out!
 
I found some pretty shells, some sea glass and this lovely tiny ad:
Rocket Mass Heater Manual - now free for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/8/rmhman
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