Arsenic and Lead Uptake by Vegetable Crops Grown on an Old Orchard Site Amended with Compost

  • Murray B. McBride
  • Hannah A. ShaylerEmail author
  • Jonathan M. Russell-Anelli
  • Henry M. Spliethoff
  • Lydia G. Marquez-Bravo


The potential for lead (Pb) and arsenic (As) transfer into vegetables was studied in an old orchard land contaminated with lead arsenate pesticides. Root (carrot), leafy (lettuce), and vegetable fruits (green bean, tomato) were grown on seven “miniplots” with soil concentrations ranging from near background to ≈800 and ≈200 mg kg−1 of total Pb and As, respectively. Each miniplot was divided into sub-plots and amended with 0 % (control), 5 %, and 10 % (by weight) compost and cropped for 3 years. Edible portions of each vegetable were analyzed for total Pb and As to test the effect of organic matter on transfer of these toxic elements into the crop. Vegetable Pb and As concentrations were strongly correlated to soil total Pb and As, respectively, but not to soil organic matter content or compost addition level. For Pb vegetable concentrations, carrot ≥ lettuce > bean > tomato. For As, lettuce > carrot > bean > tomato. A complementary single-year study of lettuce, arugula, spinach, and collards revealed a beneficial effect of compost in reducing both Pb and As concentrations in leafy vegetables. Comparisons of all measured vegetable concentrations to international health-based standards indicate that tomatoes can be grown without exceeding standards even in substantially Pb- and As-contaminated soils, but carrots and leafy green vegetables may exceed standards when grown in soils with more than 100–200 mg kg−1 Pb. Leafy green vegetables may also exceed health-based standards in gardens where soil As is elevated, with arugula having a particularly strong tendency to accumulate As.


Vegetable gardening Plant metals uptake Lead arsenate pesticides Lead Arsenic Compost amendment 



Funding for this research was provided in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), award number R21ES017921, and by Federal Hatch project NYC-125445. 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. The authors appreciate the assistance of undergraduate students at the Dilmun Hill farm (particularly Elizabeth Goodwin, Emily Wine, and Leigh Kalbacker) who managed the field cropping and sampling. The authors also appreciate the contributions of Rebecca Mitchell to manuscript review and other project activities.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Murray B. McBride
    • 1
  • Hannah A. Shayler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonathan M. Russell-Anelli
    • 1
  • Henry M. Spliethoff
    • 2
  • Lydia G. Marquez-Bravo
    • 2
  1. 1.Soil and Crop Sciences Section, School of Integrative Plant ScienceCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Center for Environmental HealthNew York State Department of HealthAlbanyUSA

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