Soil Contaminant Overview


Lead, arsenic and cadmium are the most common urban soil contaminants. Protect yourself from these contaminants by learning more about them


Lead, arsenic and cadmium are naturally-occuring elements and are present in uncontaminated soil in small amounts. However, human activities have increased the concentrations of these elements in some soils. Industrial, commercial, and mining activities can leave behind soil pollution. Lead was released by pre-1970s gasoline and paint use, pre-2000s treated wood leaches arsenic into soil, while lead was released by pre-1970s gasoline and paint along with industrial and commercial histories. Lead is a widespread urban contaminant, while arsenic is less common and cadmium is rare. Soil testing is recommended for garden sites which are:

  • Urban
  • Formerly industrial
  • Within 10 feet or a current or former structure built before 1960
  • Have an unknown history

Learn more about soil contaminant testing by clicking on the link.


If soil testing reveals contamination, managing exposure pathways can reduce risk and protect health. Exposure pathways are the routes by which soil contaminants end up in your body where they can do harm. The main exposure pathway for gardeners is plant uptake of cadmium in produce, arsenic in soil dust, and lead in both produce tissues and soil dust. Use management practices to reduce the amount of soil exposure from the exposure pathways.

Learn more about risk and conaminated soil and about soil management practices by clicking on the links.