Toxic Truth: Patch test checks for safe soils

UNDER ANALYSIS: Professor Mark Patrick Taylor tests a Sydney home vegetable garden for lead levels.
UNDER ANALYSIS: Professor Mark Patrick Taylor tests a Sydney home vegetable garden for lead levels.

A DECADE after Pasminco’s lead and zinc smelter closed at Boolaroo and as the land is being prepared for redevelopment, the Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University collected more than 130 soil and  dust samples from homes and public spaces in surrounding suburbs. The analysis revealed alarming levels of contamination remained, despite a government-approved Lead Abatement Scheme.

​NEWCASTLE and Lake Macquarie residents will be able to have their garden soil tested for metal contamination as part of Macquarie University’s award-winning VegeSafe program.

The free program, established by a group of environmental scientists, has been operating in inner Sydney since 2013.

It aims to inform the community about metal and metalloid contaminants in their garden soil.

‘‘This is especially important for parents and keen urban gardeners,’’ Mark Patrick Taylor said. 

‘‘As more inner-city and suburban families start sustainable vegetables gardens, it’s crucial that they know what’s in the soil before eating their produce, exposing their their children to soils.’’

The program will be formally launched in the Hunter in the new year, however, residents can start sending soil samples to the university for analysis.

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. 

‘‘Our motto is ‘carry on gardening’ because this is exactly what we want people to do, in the knowledge that their soils are metal free, as is the produce from their gardens,’’ VegeSafe team member Marek Rouillon said.

The VegeSafe program was highly commended at this year’s Green Lifestyle awards.

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