Lead Pollution, Demographics, and Environmental Health Risks: The Case of Philadelphia, USA

O’Shea, M. J., Toupal, J., Caballero-Gómez, H., McKeon, T. P., Howarth, M. V., Pepino, R., & Gieré, R. (2021). Lead Pollution, Demographics, and Environmental Health Risks: The Case of Philadelphia, USA. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health18(17), 9055. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18179055

Abstract: Lead (Pb) soil contamination in urban environments represents a considerable health risk for exposed populations, which often include environmental justice communities. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA), Pb pollution is a major concern primarily due to extensive historical Pb-smelting/processing activity and legacy use of Pb-based paints and leaded gasoline. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) organized and/or compiled community-driven soil sampling campaigns to investigate Pb content in surface soils across Philadelphia. Using these data (n = 1277), combined with our own dataset (n = 1388), we explored the spatial distribution of Pb content in soils across the city using ArcGIS. While assessing Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP)-code level data, we found strong correlations between factors, such as the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels (% EBLL) and % minority population as well as between % EBLL and % children in poverty. We developed a “Lead Index” that took demographics, median measured Pb-in-soil content, and % EBLLs into account to identify ZIP codes in need of further assessment. Our results will be used to help lower the Pb-exposure risk for vulnerable children living in disproportionately burdened communities.

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