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 to environmental contaminants so that gardeners can enjoy homegrown 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.
Latest Research – 2021
The VegeSafe program was launched in 2013 to assist Australians concerned about exposure to contaminants in their soils and gardens.
The response was overwhelming—Australians submitted 17,256 soils from 3,609 homes, and in turn VegeSafe researchers now have unparalleled household-scale data, providing new insights into urban trace metal contamination.
The results are sobering, with 35% of homes, particularly those that are older, painted and located in inner cities having soils above the Australian residential guideline (300 mg/kg) for the neurotoxic trace metal lead (Pb). Exposure pathway, blood Pb concentration and vegetable uptake modelling showed the communities in these locations were most at risk.
The research found that Australian backyard gardens near busy roads and in older homes often have high levels of lead and other contaminants in their soil, making them unsafe to grow food.
VegeSafe is transformative: 94% of participants better understood contaminants, 83% felt safer in their home environment and 40% undertook remedial action based on their results. The two-way nature of the program enables education of citizens about environmental contaminants, advances public health, and delivers impactful science.
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?
Data modelling indicates that 20% of vegetable gardens Australia-wide (31%, 19% and 19% of all vegetable gardens from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, respectively) are likely to produce food exceeding Australian Government (2017) Pb (Lead) standards.
In the Sydney areas the following Tolerable risk for Lead and Manganese for children exposed to garden soil:
- Canada Bay (Pb = 1.21)
- Leichhardt (Pb = 1.77)
- Liverpool (Pb = 1.41)
- Marrickville (Pb = 1.61)
- Merrylands (Mn = 1.34)
- Strathfield (Pb = 1.61)
- Sydney Inner City (Pb = 2.33)
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 from Vegesafe 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
Step 2: Collect your soil samples by following our
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
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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