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Water Air Soil Pollut. 2015 Aug;226(8):265. Epub 2015 Jul 18.

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

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Soil and Crop Sciences Section, School of Integrative Plant Science, Cornell University, Bradfield Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Center for Environmental Health, New York State Department of Health, Corning Tower, Room 1743, Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12237.


The potential for lead (Pb) and arsenic (As) transfer into vegetables was studied on old orchard land contaminated by 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 greens may exceed standards when grown in soils with more than 100-200 mg kg-1 Pb. Leafy greens may also exceed health-based standards in gardens where soil As is elevated, with arugula having a particularly strong tendency to accumulate As.


arsenic; compost amendment; lead; lead arsenate pesticides; plant metals uptake; vegetable gardening

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