Soil Lead Levels High in Willoughby City Council Area

A recent article in the Sun Herald highlighted that soil levels in some Sydney suburbs (including the Willoughby City Council area) have a high lead level.   The article highlighted the work of Vegesafe.

What is Vegesafe?

VegeSafe is a community science participation program run by Environmental Science staff at Macquarie University.   It is the only community soil testing service of its kind in Australia!

VegeSafe is committed to providing the community with relevant information about their veggie gardens and backyards to help minimize exposure from environmental contaminants so that gardeners can enjoy home grown food without being concerned about the quality of the soils. Their motto is “Carry on Gardening“.

The principal staff involved are Research Assistant Steve George, Professor Mark P. Taylor and PhD Researchers Marek Rouillon, Paul Harvey and Louise Kristensen.

VegeSafe conducts FREE (yes FREE) 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.


What are the contamination levels in Lane Cove?

VegeSafe has provided soil metal information to more than 600 (and counting) households across Sydney and is by far the largest study of its kind in Australia.  From their results, it is clear that the contaminant of most concern across Sydney backyards is lead.

Typical ‘natural’ or ‘background’ concentrations of lead for the Sydney region lie within 20 – 30 mg/kg (or parts per million). However, due to the intense use of lead containing products such as lead-based paints and leaded petrol over the last century, much of Greater Sydney has been contaminated with lead.

Results to date indicate that 20% of Sydney homes exceed 300 mg/kg (the Australian guideline for domestic residences) of lead in garden soils.

Sydney residences have a mean soil lead concentration of 220 mg/kg – approximately 10 times the typical natural background for Sydney’s soils and rocks.

Soil Contamination Lane Cove
Source: Vegesafe  Average lead concentration (mg/kg) of backyard garden soil in each Local Government Area (LGA) of Sydney (March 2015).

Researcher Marek Rouillon told the Sun Herald

“contamination had been around for decades because of historic pollution from leaded products such as leaded paint and petrol.

“This isn’t a new problem, it’s been accumulating for many years,”


It is interesting to note that Lead Levels are higher in the Willoughby City Council area than Lane Cove Council area.  However Lane Cove North falls within the Willoughby City Council Area.


How to Get Your Free Soil Test?

If you have a vegetable patch or are concerned about metal contamination in your backyard, Vegesafe encourages you to participate. Follow these three easy steps:

Step 1: Complete the necessary VegeSafe Consent form.

Step 2: Collect your soil samples by following their Soil Sampling Instructions.

Step 3: Together with the completed Consent form, bring them to our next VegeSafe event or send in your soil samples to:


Prof. Mark Taylor

Department of Environmental Sciences

Faculty of Science and Engineering

Level 2 Australian Hearing Hub

Macquarie University

NSW 2109 Australia

Having a veggie patch is a very Australian thing and sharing your crop is also a growing trend, so if you are concerned, take advantage of the free soil test.  If you like to share your crop read about Crop Swap here.

Crop Swap Sydney has partnered with the Lane Cove Council for a very special Family Crop Swap on Saturday, February 25 at 9:30 AM – 11 AM at the Living and Learning Centre Longueville Road Lane CoveIn addition to their normal swap schedule this event will include family friendly activities and information including:

– Seedling giveaway (seasonally appropriate for planting in Sydney)
– Help to make a scarecrow
– Start seeds to take home and plant in your garden
– Colouring in activities
– Learn about stingless native bees, including information about how to make a bee hotel
– and more…

Do you have a local issue you would like help with? ITC is here to help just email us at [email protected]