Lead levels of edibles grown in contaminated residential soils: A field survey

Mary E. Finster, Kimberly A. Gray*, Helen J. Binns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


Plants grown in lead contaminated soils can accumulate lead from the adherence of dust and translocation into the plant tissue. In order to evaluate the potential health hazard due to the consumption of plants grown in residential gardens contaminated by lead, a survey of the lead concentrations in a typical array of edible vegetables, fruits and herbs was conducted. Samples of garden plants harvested from the field were washed with detergent or water alone to remove adhered soil. They were dried, separated into sections including root, shoot and edible fruit, and then analyzed for lead content using inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES). Soil samples, taken in conjunction with the plant harvesting, were analyzed using flame atomic absorbance (FAA). A pattern of lead transference from soil through the root to the stem and leaves of garden crops was found. The majority of the lead was concentrated in the roots (root:soil ranging from 0.02 to 0.51), with some translocation into the shoots (shoot:soil as high as 0.10). This pattern is a concern particularly for crops in which the root, stems, stalks or leaves are edible. The lead concentration in fruiting vegetables was less than the detection limit of 10 ppm (microgram lead/gram dry plant matter). Some edible portions of the leafy vegetables and herbs, however, were found to have lead levels that, if consumed, could contribute to the total body burden of lead. Therefore, urban gardeners should test the lead levels in their soils and develop strategies to ensure safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-257
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Mar 29 2004


  • Chicago
  • Edible
  • Fruit
  • Herb
  • Lead
  • Lead exposure
  • Soil
  • Vegetable

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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