VegeSafe: a community science program measuring soil-metal contamination, evaluating risk and providing advice for safe gardening

Marek Rouillon*, Paul J. Harvey, Louise J. Kristensen, Steven G. George, Mark P. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    58 Citations (Scopus)


    The extent of metal contamination in Sydney residential garden soils was evaluated using data collected during a three-year Macquarie University community science program called VegeSafe. Despite knowledge of industrial and urban contamination amongst scientists, the general public remains under-informed about the potential risks of exposure from legacy contaminants in their home garden environment. The community was offered free soil metal screening, allowing access to soil samples for research purposes. Participants followed specific soil sampling instructions and posted samples to the University for analysis with a field portable X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometer. Over the three-year study period, >5200 soil samples, primarily from vegetable gardens, were collected from >1200 Australian homes. As anticipated, the primary soil metal of concern was lead; mean concentrations were 413 mg/kg (front yard), 707 mg/kg (drip line), 226 mg/kg (back yard) and 301 mg/kg (vegetable garden). The Australian soil lead guideline of 300 mg/kg for residential gardens was exceeded at 40% of Sydney homes, while concentrations >1000 mg/kg were identified at 15% of homes. The incidence of highest soil lead contamination was greatest in the inner city area with concentrations declining towards background values of 20–30 mg/kg at 30–40 km distance from the city. Community engagement with VegeSafe participants has resulted in useful outcomes: dissemination of knowledge related to contamination legacies and health risks; owners building raised beds containing uncontaminated soil and in numerous cases, owners replacing all of their contaminated soil.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)557–566
    Number of pages10
    JournalEnvironmental Pollution
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


    • lead
    • soil contamination
    • Sydney
    • urban gardens
    • x-ray fluorescence spectrometry


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