Originally posted: May 25, 2017
Updated: July 30, 2021
Every now and then, Lead Safe Mama readers ask to send soil samples to test. We do this testing with a state-of-the art X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer. Lead Safe Mama, LLC is not affiliated with a Lab or other testing facility, however Tamara is a trained, certified and experienced XRF instrument operator, and has tested many thousands of items – including soil samples – for metallic contaminants over the last 13 years.
We have even conducted some informal experiments (with a colleague who is a professional soils scientist) in which we found that the XRF test results for homogenous soil samples were within the same range as rigorous digestive test results from a certified testing lab, for a set of samples we tested. What we did exactly: our colleague had a set of samples that had already been formally tested in a certified lab, and we used the XRF instrument to test the samples [in both Soils mode, and Consumer Goods mode] and subsequently compared the results…and they were essentially identical to the lab results [within the margin of error of each test result].
A low-cost, accessible option — why we do this
Lead Safe Mama, LLC offers this service primarily to help people. It’s a low-cost / accessible alternative to sending samples to a lab, and – as noted above – offers test results comparable to laboratory testing. There are other – even-lower-cost – soil Lead DIY home test kits available for purchase — but we do not recommend them, as they are not capable of testing to the level of precision and accuracy (nor for the additional metals) that can be achieved using XRF technology.
In order to cover the high costs of servicing and maintaining the very expensive specialized XRF instruments we use [and thus help make/keep this testing affordable and accessible to all our readers who need their soil tested], we rely on (and we are so grateful for!) the additional contributions some of Lead Safe Mama’s readers periodically make to specifically help cover costs related to the instruments.
An example of related costs: Right now (July 2021) we are working to cover $15,000 in repair costs for the instruments we use and contributions made in support of soil testing for the foreseeable future will help to cover those costs. Contributions in support of the work make it possible for us to just charge a nominal fee per soil sample tested (see below).
Helping others: You can also make a contribution** to help cover testing costs for another low income family. If you want to do that, just send money via any of the channels below and specify that in the comment with your contribution**. Here’s the post with the current available scholarship funds to help low income families – link.
Disclaimer: Lead Safe Mama, LLC is not a Lab
All individuals who do the testing for Lead Safe Mama, LLC are trained and certified in using an appropriate XRF instrument specifically designed for testing soil, and are very knowledgeable about XRF testing and the implications of the results of this type of testing — BUT — Legal Disclaimer: Lead Safe Mama, LLC is not affiliated with a laboratory that provides certified soil testing with a formal full written report. We are also not (nor claim to be) a hazard assessor. If you need formal laboratory testing of your soil (with an official full written report) – especially if it is for a legal dispute or relating to any landlord/tenant issues – we encourage you to find a lab to do this testing for you instead of using our services. If you need a formal hazard assessment with an official report, see the EPA’s website for a list of hazard assessors in your area.
How we get you your test results
If Lead Safe Mama, LLC tests something for you (soil, or consumer goods) we do not print out and issue a formal report for you with your test results; instead we send you an informal e-mail with the test results, and a link to our post that discusses how to interpret those results. Here’s that link, if you would like to read it in advance of sending in samples. We may also post the results on the blog as a representative sample of soil from your area. You can e-mail TamaraRubin@mac.com if you have any questions about your test results.
Sending samples to Lead Safe Mama, LLC?
Instructions/ Important Things To Know
How to Collect Your Samples
- Get your hands on some small, sandwich size zip-lock bags [high-quality, brand-name (Ziplock® or Hefty®) preferred]
- Include one empty, new/unused bag in what you send me, so that I can use that as a reference or “control” – to confirm the bags themselves do not have any trace Lead (I have never yet found a bag to have Lead, but “best practices” dictates that we check, anyway!)
- IMPORTANT: Make sure these ziplock bags are NOT the “eco-friendly”/compostable (plant-derived plastics) ones — as they often start dissolving when they have moisture-containing soil in them!]
- Choose how many areas of soil you want tested (generally people test between 4 and 10 samples, but I can test as many as you like.)
- Get a spoon and carefully scoop between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of the topsoil (surface soil), and put it in a baggie – I really do not need more than that (and collecting soil from under the surface can dilute the reading of any potential surface toxicants).
- Clean the spoon between each sample (or use a new clean spoon to collect each sample).
- For your reference, clearly mark each bag with your name, address, the date and time you collected it, and the specific location (like “under the cherry tree” or “from raised bed #1 in front yard”).
- Dry soil is preferred, but slightly damp is fine, as long as it is NOT in a compostable baggie.
- Do not send me rocks (or soil containing pebbles) as it is much less likely to have Lead at levels that I can test, and it is not efficient to test soil with rocks with an XRF.
- FYI – in my experience, the darker/ loamier the soil, the more plant matter it contains, and the less likely it is to test positive for even trace levels of Lead; the drier/dustier/dirtier (finer-particle, lighter-colored) it is, the more likely it is to have Lead.
- I will tell you the XRF test results for Lead, Mercury, Arsenic and Cadmium, in parts per million (ppm).
- Each sample takes between 3 and 10 minutes to test (I do multiple tests on a sample to confirm the levels.) Each test is conducted for a minimum of 30 seconds [and if warranted – depending on the levels initially found – may even be followed up with an extended 60-second test].
NOTE: We do not “save” the XRF results in any form, other than what we send you in an e-mail (and/or publish on a blog post).
To reserve a spot in the testing schedule (and send in your samples)…
If you are interested in having your soil tested you can make a contribution via electronic payment of a minimum of $10 per soil sample to reserve a spot in the testing schedule, and then send in your samples to test. Please only send in samples after BOTH making your payment AND communicating with us via e-mail, to let us know you will be sending samples in.
- Email: TamaraRubin@mac.com
- Shipping address:
- Lead Safe Mama, LLC
- 7933 SE 15th Avenue
- Portland, Oregon 97202
How to make your payment*
- Preferred method to make your contribution to help cover the XRF rental costs is a (fee-free) Venmo contribution**
- Venmo: @TamaraERubin
- Zelle: 503-702-2708
- PayPal: TamaraRubin@mac.com
- Checks: Make them out to Lead Safe Mama, LLC
- Note: all income via all payment methods is tracked as business income to Lead Safe Mama, LLC.
- Please plan on making your payment before sending in your samples. Once we receive your payment, you are added to the testing schedule, based on the date of your payment [we add your samples to the testing queue that we are working through, and in most cases, that works out to testing your samples upon arrival].
- COST: We have a sliding scale on cost for this opportunity.
- Please contribute something in the range of $10 to $35 per sample.
- The suggested minimum amount is $10 per sample (to help cover costs related to the XRF instrument).
- If you cannot afford to cover at least $10 per sample we may be able to test your soil free of charge — please ask if we have available scholarship funds, as sometimes readers contribute additional funds to help pay for the testing costs for lower income families.
- If you have an emergency need (i.e. require an emergency 1st-priority turn-around), please plan on paying $35 per sample.
- Please e-mail (TamaraRubin@mac.com) if you have any questions about this process (put “Soil Testing” in the subject line.)
* which is actually a (sliding-scale) contribution, rather than a straight fee-for-service — as $10 per sample does not actually cover our costs [if you are able and so inclined, please feel free to send more!].
**Lead Safe Mama, LLC is not affiliated with any nonprofit organization for this sort of activity, so contributions help to cover the costs of the testing but are not a tax-deductible donation in any way.