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QUESTION: Can lead be found in the honey of Leptospermum? 16 Jun 2008 Victoria, Australia

I want to know if lead can be found in the honey of Leptospermum? thank you so much.


EMAIL TWO Sent: Monday, June 16, 2008

Dear Elizabeth

Thank you so much for your reply, and so quickly too. I really do appreciate your assistance.

When I reread my question I realise that a bit more information might have been helpful!

Originally, Richmond, where I live, was a swampy area and landfill was brought in from the gas fired power stations of the day. It was cheap and there was a need, and one hopes that they did not realise the contamination risk.

Anyway, I remodelled my Richmond garden and I relocated tons of the soil to my farm in Bendigo and made a large garden bed. As it turned out some time later I had the soil in Richmond tested and found that it is contaminated by lead 1400/(mg/km) and zinc 1900/(mg/km. So my issue is what can I do with the large garden bed that I now have in Bendigo? I cannot really cart it all away again.

So I need to 'use it' in a way that it will remain undisturbed. So I thought what if I grow a garden of leptospermum.

Then I thought - could the honey from these bushes contain traces of lead? I know that leafy plants (like silverbeet) will draw up the lead, and I know that fruit can show traces, but what about the nectar & pollen? Your example from WA shows that the dust will most certainly kill everything, and recently Mt Isa, affect people.

So there is my quandary. Any thoughts will be greatly appreciated.


EMAIL THREE Sent: Monday, June 16, 2008


Thank you so much. You have supplied a number of interesting web addresses for me to follow. And I think that I should follow your comment as to whether to grow the leptospermum at all and I should find something else to grow in the contaminated soil - who knows what considering most plants have some sort of flower.

Again I do thank you so much for your time and links provided.

I really do appreciate your work.

Thank you so much.


ANSWER: 16 Jun 2008

Dear Maree,

Lead can be found in any food if it is grown or collected in a lead contaminated area (eg near a lead mine or smelter, lead ore-loading facility, where lead arsenate was used as a pesticide, or human sewage sludge applied as a fertiliser, etc), or processed in a place with inadequate control of contamination (eg with lead paint flakes falling in from painted processing equipment or leaded components of water supply or heating processes) or packaged or cooked or served in ways which do not control for lead in plastics, soldered tins and other packaging, ceramic-ware, leaded pewter, water-supply, etc. Can you work out how lead may have made its way into the honey of Leptospermum?

If so, then the only way to know how much lead is in the honey is to have it tested at a health department or department of agriculture lab. IF a lab was capable of analysing lead in honey, the problem then would be - how to interpret the result. I am not aware of any control or standard for the level of lead in honey so you would probably only be able to compare it to a general foods lead standard.

It's possible no one has ever tested it or even thought of testing honey for lead. I have certainly never heard of it being tested in Australia despite the death by lead poisoning of 9,500 nectar-eating native birds (and countless insects) when lead ore dust was allowed to escape the port loading facility in Esperance, WA from around December 2006. You could perhaps ask David Mell, Manager, Nature Protection Branch, Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) , WA - email  or phone (08) 93340292. David organised the testing of the dead birds at Animal Health Labs and perhaps he organised testing of local Esperance honey for lead as well.

When I searched the web this morning I found the National Honey Board (USA) website - - only lists US labs as testing specifically for lead in honey, and lists the closest lab to Australia that tests honey (at all) as:

New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries

Pastoral House
25 The Terrace
Wellington New Zealand

Phone: 0800 00 83 33. +64 4 894 0100

I hope this helps but I would be very interested to hear how you go with your quest, in case I can think of anything else that's relevant.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

EMAIL TWO Sent: Monday, June 16, 2008 3:55 PM

Hi Maree,

What an interesting situation. I used to live in Richmond as a child but I never knew that landfill was brought in from the gas fired power stations of the day. On the Bendigo end, I am told that due to natural outcroppings of mineraliferous ores, as well as processing of gold over the years, soils around Bendigo can have quite high levels of arsenic, mercury and cadmium. For example, Dr Andrea Hinwood's doctoral thesis (PhD in Environmental Epidemiology) which was on cadmium and arsenic in Victorian gold mine area ground water eg near Bendigo.

"Environmental inorganic arsenic exposure, human absorption and cancer incidence" by Andrea Hinwood - PhD Thesis Abstract, Monash University 1999, SUMMARY. Associate Professor Andrea Hinwood is now working at the School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University in WA.

So I guess I'm saying that you probably need to test for more than just lead in the soil before trying, an only hope that the Department of Primary Industries - Victoria can offer you some helpful advice on this quandary, and perhaps even some more soil testing - see

And I trust you've seen our factsheet "Is your yard lead safe?" (though it doesn't comment on whether nectar or honey can contain lead taken up by the plant from the soil).

All the best and good luck.

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O’Brien

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