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  QUESTION: How much lead is allowed in plants, soil & water?  01 Apr 2005, New South Wales Australia

I was wondering about levels of lead, cadmium and mercury in plants, soil and water.

I am growing certain types of plants that soak up lead from soil and water. I have run samples (1 g/ml -500 g/ml) on AAS to determine the absorbance so that I can compare these with the plants after they have grown.

I have found that most of the samples are too high and that when a graph is drawn it gives a curve instead of a straight line.

I am soon to run samples with smaller amounts of lead.

I was wondering how much lead is allowed in plants (soil water) before it becomes unsafe?

Is there anywhere I can find out (In parts per million) what is safe, what is borderline and what is extreme?


ANSWER: 07 Apr 2005

Dear Charmaine,

the levels of lead allowed in plants, soil or water are guidelines only and only relate to edible parts of plants.

  • Edible parts of plants are permitted to have up to 0.1 - 0.3 mg/kg lead depending on the food (see table below);
  • 300 mg/kg is the health-based soil "investigation" level;
  • the NHMRC Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, 1996 allow 0.01 mg/L (0.01 mg/L = 10 micrograms (g) per litre) in drinking water and 0.05 mg/L in raw water which is a source for drinking water.

Lead mg/kg

  • Brassicas 0.3
  • Cereals, Pulses and Legumes 0.2
  • Edible offal of cattle, sheep, pig and poultry 0.5
  • Fish 0.5
  • Fruit 0.1
  • Infant formulae 0.02
  • Meat of cattle, sheep, pig and poultry (excluding offal) 0.1
  • Molluscs 2.0
  • Vegetables (except brassicas) 0. 1

I hope this helps. I'd be glad to add your final research article to our library. Please email it when complete.
Elizabeth O'Brien

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