Did You Plant an ISO Veggie Garden? Then You Need to Know About 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“.

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.

The principal staff involved are Professor Mark P. Taylor and our lab technicians Ms Kara Fry and Mr Max Mclennan-Gillings.

For 6 years VegeSafe has been operating as a service to all Australians. In order to keep the program running and accessible to all, they ask for a small donation. This donation covers the time involved and the cost of soil analysis and laboratory consumables. They ask if you could please consider providing a donation to support the work of the program, starting from $20. Please note: your donation covers up to five samples submitted, it is not per sample.

A $20 donation to support their program can be made at the following link: Support VegeSafe



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).
Source Vegesafe Report 2017 Figure 1: Soil lead concentrations of vegetable garden soils where people grow their food. The older, inner city and inner west suburbs of Sydney have the greatest soil lead concentrations, largely due to contamination from leaded petrol and lead-based paint sources.

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.

Professor Taylor told  The Lighthouse:

“Soil can pick up metal particles from many sources and these particles can remain for many years.”

“Your garden soil could still contain lead deposited back before leaded petrol was banned in 2002, from previous land use or residue from old-style lead paints. The allowable limit of lead in house paint was reduced to 0.01 per cent in 1991, down from a staggering 50 per cent before 1965,” Taylor said.

“Lead is not a nutritious trace element in your carrots: it’s a neurotoxin. Brain damage from lead exposure is irreversible.

“Other metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel and zinc won’t do you any good either if there are high concentrations in your soil. They might not be harmful for adults but children are more vulnerable. Toxic doses are lower for smaller bodies and children are more likely to stick their dirty fingers in their mouth.”

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 Soil Tested

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

Step 1: Complete the necessary VegeSafe

Consent form

Step 2: Collect your soil samples by following our

Soil Sampling Instructions

Step 3: Together with the completed Consent form, send in your soil samples to:


Professor Mark Taylor

Department of Environmental Sciences

Faculty of Science and Engineering

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.

Be Inspired by The Sydney Edible Garden Trail

The Virtual Sydney Edible Garden Trail runs to 30 June 2020. The virtual event now has videos on seed saving, hot composting, dehydrating food and more.  More details here.

With tickets at just $5, ticket holders are able to view the video feeds until end of June 2020.

All proceeds will go to building new community and school edible gardens.

The team has raised more than $10 000 so far, and tickets continue to be sold locally and internationally.

A number of local councils purchased bulk tickets to replace their sustainable event programs that were cancelled due to COVID-19.

The Sydney Edible Garden Trail team would love you share this article to help increase awareness and share food growing skills to the world!


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