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Plant Matter Metals Screen

Plant Matter Metals Screen

The Safe Soil UK Plant Matter Metals Screen, like our Basic Metals Screen, covers ten common metals that can be present in urban and rural soils and consequently the plants and produce we grow in these. Please note that although we have human health thresholds for metals in soil, we cannot offer them for levels found in plants so for a health assessment of a growing space it makes sense to measure the soil levels first.


In some cases, excessive metal levels can contaminate growing spaces and pose serious risks to our health. Chief among these are the big three of lead, mercury and arsenic.


Lead is toxic to humans as well as animals through the food chain and soil dust inhalation or ingestion. Lead poisoning is often due to ongoing low-dose exposure however, because its symptoms are predominantly emotional and mental in nature, it is not easily spotted. Children are at greatest risk but it’s also dangerous to adults with accumulations in the body resulting in kidney and nervous system damage, anaemia, stroke and cancer. Sources of lead contamination include mining, smelting, manufacturing and recycling activities, and, in some cases, the continued use of leaded paint, leaded gasoline and leaded aviation fuel. It is also used in many other products, for example pigments, paints, solder, stained glass, lead crystal glassware, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewellery, toys and in some cosmetics and traditional medicines.


Meanwhile the inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure to different mercury compounds can lead to neurological and behavioural disorders. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction. The burning of coal is a major source of mercury in the environment. It is also used in a variety of products including some lightbulbs, batteries, cosmetics and paints. Another source of mercury in the environment is cremation, which turns dental amalgams containing mercury into gases that are released into the air. Please note that we are unable to speciate mercury levels and as a result provide only the total Hg reading.


Arsenic is toxic and is taken up by plants as they grow, which means it can make its way into our food. Its use in many applications has either been banned or phased out but some is may still be in use to produce copper chrome arsenate (CCA), a wood preservative and pesticide.  Long-term exposure produces lung tumors via inhalation and a range of cancers via the oral route (most clearly cancer of the skin, bladder and lung). Human activity has resulted in the widespread atmospheric deposition of arsenic from the burning of coal and the smelting of non-ferrous metals including copper. Agricultural practice including the historical use of arsenic-based pesticides and ongoing application of fertilisers, sludges and manures containing arsenic has resulted in the accumulation of arsenic in topsoils.


The full list of elements covered in the Plant Matter Metals Screen is as follows:

  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Mercury (total)
  • Nickel
  • Selenium
  • Vanadium
  • Zinc


Please Note: Our ability to test plant matter for metals is dependent on two factors. First, we need enough of it once it has been dried to carry out the testing - this is difficult to quantify and depends on the state of the original material. And second, to that point, we need to completely dry out a sample before testing it so are unable to accept fruit, veg or other plant matter in its original form or it would take us too long to do so - consequently the samples need to be in at least a semi-dried state. 

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