Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 955–971 | Cite as

Estimated lead (Pb) exposures for a population of urban community gardeners

  • Henry M. SpliethoffEmail author
  • Rebecca G. Mitchell
  • Hannah Shayler
  • Lydia G. Marquez-Bravo
  • Jonathan Russell-Anelli
  • Gretchen Ferenz
  • Murray McBride
Original Paper


Urban community gardens provide affordable, locally grown, healthy foods and many other benefits. However, urban garden soils can contain lead (Pb) that may pose risks to human health. To help evaluate these risks, we measured Pb concentrations in soil, vegetables, and chicken eggs from New York City community gardens, and we asked gardeners about vegetable consumption and time spent in the garden. We then estimated Pb intakes deterministically and probabilistically for adult gardeners, children who spend time in the garden, and adult (non-gardener) household members. Most central tendency Pb intakes were below provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels. High contact intakes generally exceeded PTTIs. Probabilistic estimates showed approximately 40 % of children and 10 % of gardeners exceeding PTTIs. Children’s exposure came primarily from dust ingestion and exposure to higher Pb soil between beds. Gardeners’ Pb intakes were comparable to children’s (in µg/day) but were dominated by vegetable consumption. Adult household members ate less garden-grown produce than gardeners and had the lowest Pb intakes. Our results suggest that healthy gardening practices to reduce Pb exposure in urban community gardens should focus on encouraging cultivation of lower Pb vegetables (i.e., fruits) for adult gardeners and on covering higher Pb non-bed soils accessible to young children. However, the common practice of replacement of root-zone bed soil with clean soil (e.g., in raised beds) has many benefits and should also continue to be encouraged.


Urban agriculture Community garden Urban soil Lead (Pb) exposure 



Funding for this research was provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Award Number R21ES017921. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIEHS or the National Institutes of Health. We greatly appreciate the contributions of Megan Gregory, other Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities collaborators, and NYC community gardeners.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 41 kb)
10653_2016_9790_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (179 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 178 kb)
10653_2016_9790_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (428 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 427 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Environmental HealthNew York State Department of Health, Bureau of Toxic Substance AssessmentAlbanyUSA
  2. 2.Soil and Crop Sciences Section, School of Integrative Plant ScienceCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Cornell University Cooperative ExtensionNew York CityUSA

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