Eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial to human health, not just because they provide essential nutrients and vitamins, but also because phytochemicals scavenge free radicals and can reduce the risk of developing cancer and other diseases. However, not all people have access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. People who live in “food deserts” often are limited to smaller stores where prices are higher and the quality and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce. Urban gardens have been proposed as a potential solution to the issue of food deserts and as a way to promote nutrition in low income communities. However, soil in urban gardens is contaminated with heavy metals including lead (Pb). This contamination may have an impact on the nutritional quality of urban crops, and thereby have significant implications on public health. The goal of this study is to determine if Pb concentrations in soil can have an impact on the nutritional quality of tomatoes, a very common crop grown in urban gardens. Tomatoes were obtained from local communities as well as grown in soils containing Pb concentrations ranging from 0 to 1600 mg of Lead (IV) Hydrogen Phosphate (Pb(HPO4)2). Nutritional quality was examined by measuring mineral content as well as lycopene contents of the tomato fruits. Lycopene is an important phytochemical that gives tomatoes their red color. The Pb concentration of the tomato fruit was below detection level regardless of soil type, organic matter, or soil Pb concentration. Soil Pb did significantly correlate to potassium, iron, and phosphorus in the greenhouse samples and phosphorus in the community samples. Our results also show that the Pb concentration of the tomato fruit is consistently below detection level regardless of soil type, organic matter, or soil lead concentration. This study also indicated that the tomatoes grown in urban gardens and tomatoes purchased commercially did not differ in the lycopene content.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Tomatoes--Analysis; Lead--Environmental aspects; Lycopene--Measurement; Lead--Measurement; Urban gardening--Health aspects

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Environmental Science (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences (COS)


Corey Ptak

Advisor/Committee Member

Karl Korfmacher

Advisor/Committee Member

Elizabeth Hane


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes