does Lead in irrigation water get into fruits and vegetables?

Asked September 21, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

We have a well on our property that we use for irrigation. We understand from neighbors that our water is high in lead concentration. Is there any risk from irrigating fruit trees and vegetables with this water? thanks. Tim

Santa Clara County California

1 Response

The fruit grown above ground does not pose much risk is the irrigation water is not sprayed on the fruit. According to Carl J. Rosen, Extension Research Soil Scientist at the University of Minnesota plants have only a limited lead uptake and do not accumulate lead so exposure through food is limited. Dr. Rosen believes that exposure to the soil especially ingestion is a more serious problem.
You do not mention how you irrigate. if you are sprinkling so the plants are covered with water containing lead then there will be a residue which should be removed by washing or peeling.
You do not mention the amount of lead in your water and you may want to test it. Irrigating with this water will increase the lead levels already in the soil but that is a function of how often you water and how much lead is in the water. Lead is not very mobile in the soil and will accumulate in the surface soil and be resistant to leaching.
Most of the information I could find on lead in the water was focused on drinking water where ingestion of the lead is the main concern. Here is a link to the US EPA website on lead in the drinking water.
The main concern is where is the lead in your water coming from.