testing soil for lead and other metals

Asked June 18, 2013, 11:06 PM EDT

Hi, I was wondering if MSU Extension can test for lead and other metals or chemicals in my soil. I started a new vegetable garden this year and added 10 cu. yds. of City of Ann Arbor compost, only to discover that it has millions of tiny bits of trash: plastic, metal, wires, I even found part of a motherboard (computer). I am extremely concerned, (not to mention disgusted) and I would like to know if this has made my soil unsafe to grow food in. I had the underlying soil tested before adding the contaminated compost, but did not see an option to test for lead in the mailer kit.

Washtenaw County Michigan soil and fertility issues

1 Response

I would suggest you contact the city department that administers the compost program. Tell them about your concern, and ask if a chemical toxicity analysis for their product is available.

MSU does not test for toxins. We also do not endorse any company that does so. However, I know of a lab that did test for toxins and may still do that. While MSU and Ask-an-Expert do not endorse this lab, you are free to contact them. The lab web site is

Also, here is a answer from an earlier, similar, question about testing for toxins:
"First of all, the testing conducted at University of Massachusetts is a good start and may be sufficient for some sites. However, I suspect that many of these reclaimed city lots will require additional testing based prior land use. Here are two resources, SoilFacts: Minimizing Risk of Soil Contaminants in Urban Gardens from North Carolina State University and Soil Contaminants and Best Practices for Healthy Gardens from Cornell to help provide specific guidance. These documents contains charts with potential issues associated with previous land use, management recommendations for selected trace elements and organic contaminants in urban soils, and strategies for reducing risk of exposure to soil contaminants."

Here is some other info that you may find helpful:
Discussion of compost, including safe levels of metals in soils:

Discussion of common metals found in soils-

Gardener's Remediation Guide-
this link wouldn't copy here, so please use your browser to search on
'Harvard Gardener's Remediation guide'
and this should bring up the whole article. It has several resources, including a testing lab resource in Appendix C of the article.

I hope this helps you. Please write us again if you have more questions.