Staying Safe at Home: Testing Your Garden Soil for Lead


As the weather turns, many folks are looking to start gardening and may be concerned about the lead content in their garden soil. This is a legitimate concern for urban gardeners given the rampant use of lead in household paints and gasoline in the past. That lead has often worked its way into the soil, especially around the driplines of older homes and garages and along driveways.

A very low lead content is often the case with soils across Michigan. In our experience, it is often difficult to find soils with a lead content much less than 20 ppm. The US-EPA sets the safety standard for lead in soil at 400 ppm for soil in play areas, and 1,200 elsewhere.

It is simple to test your soil for lead, and we are lucky in Grand Rapids to have a local lab that process soil samples for a modest fee.

Soil sampling involves collecting a few spoonfuls of soil in a ziplock bag following a prescribed protocol. It’s that simple.

HUD guidelines for collecting a composite soil sample can be found here. Healthy Homes Executive Director Paul Haan has put together this simple video to demonstrate soil sample collection in his own garden.



The biggest concern with lead in garden soil is, much like COVID-19, a matter of washing your hands after contact to the soil.  Next, the concern is with washing root crops and other vegetables that come into contact with the ground, or vegetables like lettuce that get dirt splashed up on their leaves. With few exceptions where the lead levels in the soil are VERY high, lead uptake in plants is generally not of high concern. By testing your soil, you can put your mind to rest about the latter and begin practicing safe washing practices or other interventions like moving your garden location or building raised beds and bringing in clean soil where needed.

Here are some resources to help you in your thinking.

Fact Sheet on Gardens and Lead

HUD Sampling Instructions

Chain of Custody Form (May 2020)

GPI Lab Fees (May 2020)