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Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
8:11 am PST December 26, 2018

After the fire, many folks are understandably worried about radiation. 

It is an issue that must be looked at, especially when a nuclear research site is involved. I personally do not believe officials when they say it is safe. Having said that, I would like to add that I have been testing for radiation levels all over Malibu and while the background radiation levels are high, at 0.16 to 0.20, they are not at dangerous levels. 

Dangerous levels start at 0.50. This is for very healthy people, however, and not children, pets and folks with health issues. 

It would be worth your time to get your own Geiger Counter to help monitor in real-time any radiation changes. If there were a radiation occurrence, you would not necessarily get high radiation levels until the summer, when it is dry and the dust is whipped up by the winds. 

I would take Biodine, a source of iodine. Iodine helps the body cope with radiation exposure. Wearing a mask does not help reduce exposure since it will be absorbed through your skin. Let us hope we do not have radiation issues. 

I also am being asked how to tell if trees are alive. Many look dead but can recover with proper care. I would wait until the main stuff is cleaned up. Get your gardeners to prune dead branches. Even if a plant is burnt to a crisp, it may recover if it has enough underground roots.

What you can do to help your property recover is start to treat the soil. The key is living soil. Fires are often very good for the soil if it is only natural stuff like trees that are burning. Throw chemicals into the fire, and you have toxic soil that will not support life for a long time.

I would start applying living compost, a source of minerals like rock dust and an acid mulch such as an azalea/gardenia mix. 

But, before you work on the soil, it needs to be tested for toxins. I believe the City will be doing that, but any soil testing lab can do it, too. Email me, and I will direct you to the proper labs. I would also do a separate test for microbial life. You can make compost tea and spray it on the property. It will help get more microbial life into the soil. The microbes will eat up any toxins and restore life to the soil.

I also am being asked about fruit on fruit trees and vegetables in gardens. Many want to know if they can eat it, and the answer is no. They probably contain many trace toxins that were airborne, which washing will not remove. Remove soil in raised beds and replace it with a mix of organic potting soil and compost layered with mulch on top.

If any fruit trees were damaged, prune them back to where it is alive. If the core is dead, prune down to the roots. 

A lawn also will recover from being burned. Just cut it short, fertilize with compost and organic fertilizer, and water well (but not so much that there is a runoff).

Right now, it is important not to touch anything around the house until it has been adequately cleaned. 

Every month, the air quality will get a little better, but the toxins in the air will end up the soil and it will come up from winds when dry. So, once your soil is cleared, it is best to apply compost, etc., and mulch it over. 

This does not help, however, with toxins blown from nearby damaged properties. I recommend wearing a mask and gloves for six months to a year to be safe. It also is important to realize that your car’s interior contains toxins, so use your air conditioner whenever possible and replace the filters. The same goes for in-home filtration.

Any questions? Email me at