The Community Gardens project offers resources for garden managers, Extension agents, and Master Gardeners to identify, understand, and manage risks associated with soil contaminants that may be present in garden soils.
Explore the following pages for general information about soil contaminants, and what you can do to help limit exposure and health risks.
Soil contaminants are naturally occurring or human-made chemicals in soil that can have a negative impact on human and/or environmental health. Exposure is typically low, but gardeners can be exposed to soil contaminants through direct skin contact with the soil, inhaling or ingesting soil particles, and by eating contaminated produce.
Industrial land use, lead paint use, traffic pollution, runoff, and several other sources can introduce contaminants into nearby soils. Some contaminants can last in soils for many years after they are introduced. Learn more
Reducing my exposure
Unless your soil is heavily contaminated and requires clean-up, there are easy steps that can be taken to minimize exposure to lower levels of soil contaminants. Healthy Garden Habits are especially important for children, pregnant women, or those with preexisting health conditions who are spending time in your garden as they may be more susceptible to the health impacts of contaminants. Learn more
Low levels of contaminants in soils do not usually present an immediate risk to human health. But some contaminants can build up in a person’s body over time can impact health, especially for children. In most cases, the benefits of gardening and growing your own food far outweigh the risks from soil contaminants. Learn more
Testing my garden soil
Typical soil nutrient testing (like the testing services offered by NCSU Cooperative Extension) do not include any tests for possible soil contaminants. Our soil test decision tool can help garden managers identify nearby sources of contaminants and whether additional testing for soil contaminants may be necessary. Learn more
Some contaminants like lead, arsenic, and human-made chemicals can be introduced into soils from nearby sources of pollution and may remain in the soil for long periods of time. There is a higher chance of soil contamination in gardens located on land that was previously used for another purpose or located near older buildings, and some soils maybe high in arsenic or other metals due to the natural geology of the area.