Is your garden putting your health at risk? Free test for soil metal contamination at Open Day 2013

7 September 2013

Update: see the latest Vegesafe news here.

Urban gardens and home vegetable patches are increasingly popular in Sydney, yet few people are  aware  that  a  simple  soil  check  might  reduce  significantly  any  health  risks  associated  with eating home-­grown produce.

This is particularly  important  for urban veggie  patch growers  – especially  at older houses or near main roads, where environmental lead may be present from old leaded paint, traffic fumes or other sources, in high concentrations in soil and dust.

As  part  of  a  new  ‘VegeSafe’  initiative, to keep veggies safe,  a  team  of  Environmental  and  Earth  scientists  from Macquarie  University’s  Faculty  of  Science  will  be  offering  free  soil  metal  testing  at  the University’s annual Open Day on September 14, giving community members new insight into safe urban gardening options.

“Although lead was removed from petrol in 2002, and in other household substances like paint during the 1990’s,  our research  shows that Sydney’s  household  soil still has a lead legacy – accumulated lead in soil and dust,“ says Associate Professor Damian Gore.

This is especially important information for parents and keen urban gardeners,” he says. “As more inner-­‐city and suburban families start sustainable vegetable gardens, it’s crucial that they know what’s in the soil before eating their produce, or exposing their children to soils.”

Team leader Professor Mark Taylor is an expert in lead contamination,  primarily in high-­‐risk mining areas such as Mount Isa and Port Pirie, but also increasingly in what he is seeing as “an inner-­‐city backyard epidemic”.

Taylor  says  “High  soil  lead  has  been  shown  to  correlate  with  high  blood  lead  exposure  in children – through them being more likely to be exposed to that dirt through their play, and getting dirt in their mouths – an exposure which is then associated with developmental  and neurological risks.”

To reduce Sydney’s potential exposure risks, the team has offered to analyse visitor’s soil using state-­‐of-­‐the-­‐art  Olympus  X-­‐ray  instruments  as  part  of  the  Open  Day  activities  on  Saturday September 14th.

Open  Day  is  the  biggest  event  on  Macquarie  University’s  calendar  with  over  14,000  visitors coming to the North Ryde campus. It gives the local community a unique opportunity to visit Macquarie University, meet with its experts and students and make new connections, from the VegeSafe program to children’s science activities with slime and goo, and arboretum tours of the beautiful bushland environment.

To participate  in the VegeSafe  program  on Open Day, community  members  are advised  to follow    the    instructions    on    the    VegeSafe    website.

Quick facts:
Your garden soil in Sydney might be lead-­‐contaminated if it is now or was once surrounding or nearby;
• A pre-1997 painted residential building or pre-2010 painted industrial building, and the paint has deteriorated or been dry-­scraped, heat-­gunned or dry-sanded and allowed to contaminate the yard;
• Older inner city homes or those near main busy roads -­  pre-­2002 leaded petrol vehicle emissions  emitted  lead particulates  to the atmosphere  that accumulate  in dust, soil and ceilings;
• Lead  flashing  or  lead  acid  batteries,  manufacturing  or  recycling  plants,  or  a  waste dump/landfill.

The team will also measure several other toxic elements including copper, zinc and arsenic, which  may  have  been  used  in  fungicides  and  pesticides,  and  will  alert  homeowners  if found in unhealthy concentrations.

Filed under: Events Health & medicine Research Science & nature

For instructions on how to bring in your soil sample, visit

For instructions on how to bring in your soil sample, visit

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