Arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) are two contaminants of concern associated with urban gardening. In Puerto Rico, data currently is limited on As and Pb levels in urban garden soils, soil metal (loid) bioaccessibility, and uptake of As and Pb in soil by edible plants grown in the region. This study examined total and bioaccessible soil As and Pb concentrations and accumulation in 10 commonly grown garden plants collected from three urban community gardens in Puerto Rico. Bioavailability values were predicted using bioaccessibility data to compare site-specific bioavailability estimates to commonly used default exposure assumptions. Total and bioaccessible As levels in study soils ranged from 2 to 55 mg/kg and 1 to 18 mg/kg, respectively. Total and bioaccessible Pb levels ranged from 19 to 172 mg/kg and 17 to 97 mg/kg, respectively. Measured bioaccessibility values corresponded to 19% to 42% bioaccessible As and 61% to 100% bioaccessible Pb when expressed as a percent of total As and Pb respectively. Predicted relative percent bioavailability of soil As and Pb based on measured bioaccessibility values ranged from 18% to 36% and 51% to 85% for As and Pb respectively. Transfer factors (TFs) measuring uptake of As in plants from soil ranged from 0 to 0.073 in the edible flesh (fruit or vegetable) of plant tissues analyzed and 0.073 to 0.444 in edible leaves. Pb TFs ranged from 0.002 to 0.012 in flesh and 0.023 to 0.204 in leaves. Consistent with TF values, leaves accumulated higher concentrations of As and Pb than the flesh, with the highest tissue concentrations observed in the culantro leaf (3.2 mg/kg dw of As and 8.9 mg/kg dw of Pb). Leaves showed a general but not statistically-significant (α = 0.05) trend of increased As and Pb concentration with increased soil levels, while no trend was observed for flesh tissues. These findings provide critical data that can improve accuracy and reduce uncertainty when conducting site-specific risk determination of potential As and Pb exposure while gardening or consuming garden produce in the understudied region of Puerto Rico.
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