I read with interest Rebecca Clarren's article about lead arsenate and other chemicals contaminating old orchard sites in the West (HCN, 12/6/10). Alas, as we Eastern morel foragers have discovered, one does not have to go West to encounter this problem. In a recent paper, Elinoar Shavit, a fellow member of the New York Mycological Society, found that morel mushrooms gathered in deteriorating apple orchards -- a favored hunting environment in this part of the world -- can contain unacceptable quantities of old insecticides.
When Shavit presented her findings at a talk in New York City, an audience member was brought almost to tears. He had recently purchased an abandoned orchard with the intent of farming it organically. The soil was almost certainly so contaminated he would never be able to obtain organic certification.
Given the frequent occurrence of residents discovering chemical "snakes" in their new dream-home woodpiles, perhaps an old slogan should be modified: "Those who do not know their history are condemned to eat it."
Weehawken, New Jersey