Determinants of blood and saliva lead concentrations in adult gardeners on urban agricultural sites

Lindsay Bramwell*, Jackie Morton, Anne-Helen Harding, Nan Lin, Jane Entwistle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Soil Pb concentrations at urban agriculture sites (UAS) commonly exceed recommended safe levels. There is a lack of evidence regarding uptake of Pb by gardeners using such sites for food crops. Our study aimed to elucidate whether gardening in soil with raised Pb levels results in Pb body burdens of concern to health, and to assess confounding factors influencing Pb body burden. Our cross-sectional case study measured Pb in saliva and blood of UAS gardeners (n = 43), soil and produce samples from their UAS, and home tap water. Blood and saliva Pb concentrations were compared with those from non-UAS gardener controls (n = 29). A health risk threshold of 5 µg dL −1 blood Pb level (BLL) was selected in keeping with international guidance. Detailed surveys investigated individuals’ anthropometrics and potential Pb exposures from diet, and historic and everyday activities. Saliva was not found to be a suitable biomarker of adult Pb exposure in this context. Predictors of higher BLLs were being older, being male and eating more root vegetables and shrub fruit. Eating more green vegetables predicted a lower BLL, suggesting a protective effect against Pb uptake. UAS gardeners’ BLLs (geometric mean 1.53; range 0.6–4.1 µg dL −1) were not significantly higher (p = 0.39) than the control group (geometric mean 1.43; range 0.7–2.9 µg dL −1). All BLLs were below 5 µg dL −1 except one resulting from occupational exposure. Having paired the UAS gardeners with closely matched controls, we found Pb in UAS soils (with range 62–1300 mg kg −1from common urban sources) unlikely to pose an additional risk to adult health compared to their neighbours who did not access UAS. As such, other Pb sources may be the dominant factor controlling BLL.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Early online date7 Oct 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Oct 2021

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