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A recent study from Macquarie University environmental scientists has revealed that soil in almost half of Sydney gardens contains lead levels that are 3 times the recommended guidelines. Those living in the inner west are most affected, so if you have an edible patch in a backyard in Marrickville, Leichhardt and surrounding areas, take note.

The contamination is due to past use of leaded products such as paint and petrol (which are now phased out) and is harmful if directly ingested or absorbed by herbs and vegetables. Infants and toddlers are at particular risk, as lead poisoning can lead to IQ loss and a reduced attention span.

Professor Mark Taylor, who oversees research and testing for the VegeSafe program said, “Overall the results show that 40 per cent of garden soils from Sydney homes exceeded the Australian soil lead guideline of 300 mg/kg. 15 per cent of garden soils containing lead concentrations in excess of 1,000 mg/kg.”

In the City of Sydney area, the levels are 883 mg/kg. Houses built before 1970 are most likely to have contaminated soil and homes that are 80+ years, even more so.

Luckily, the folks that carried out the study offer a program called VegeSafe, which offers free soil testing and advice. They developed this so you can keep on gardening. This doesn’t mean you should start planning a total backyard overhaul, but instead consider a simple solution like a raised garden bed. VegeSafe has already provided over 5500 free soil metal tests to more than 1300 homes and community gardens across Australia.

If you’re concerned, head to VegeSafe and order a free soil test. You will receive a detailed report, as well as options for avoiding the contamination. Read more in The Conversation.

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