Checking your soil for contamination

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

We are frequently asked about soil contamination by customers wanting to grow their own food. Soil in household gardens can sometimes contain elevated, unsafe levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium. This is something everyone should be concerned about, but it becomes even more important when you are planning to grow your own herbs, fruit and vegies as the toxins are taken up by the roots and ingested. There are quite a few factors that can increase the chance your soil is contaminated; such as the volume of traffic around your house, the level of industry nearby (both now and in the past) and whether lead paint has been used around your house.

Soil testing can be an expensive business. A comprehensive test of your garden at a soils laboratory can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 (depending on how many samples require testing). The high cost often deters people from investigating further, which is where VegeSafe can help!

VegeSafe – Affordable soil testing

VegeSafe is a community science participation program run by Environmental Science staff at Macquarie University, the only service of this kind in Australia. Their aim is to inform the community about metal and metalloid contaminants in their garden soil through their soil metal testing program. Participants receive a formal report with their soil results and are provided with links to information and advice about what to do next in the event of soils containing elevated concentrations of metals and metalloids. They accept soil from all Australian states and territories, but do not accept soils from overseas due to Australian quarantine regulations.

You will need to fill out a consent form and mail the sample in a ziplock bag. They also request that you send a $20 donation with the sample… this is such a fantastic service that we would encourage you to send more if you can afford it!

All the info you need to get started can be found at

What next?

If you do find that your soil contains unsafe contaminant levels, don’t despair! There are still options available for you to grow your own food.

  • Completely remove the top layer of soil and replace it. This can be costly, but you may feel it is worth doing for the peace of mind. The amount you would need to remove would vary depending on your situation and the test results.
  • Install raised garden beds.
  • Grow your produce in pots.
  • Apply for a plot in a community garden.