Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2010 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Communicating patterns of soil lead contamination to the public health community: the role of spatial models.
Schwarz, Kirsten
Co-Authors: Kirsten Schwarz, Steward T.A. Pickett, Richard G.Lathrop, Kathleen C. Weathers, Richard V. Pouyat and Mary L. Cadenasso

Abstract: Lead contaminated soil is a subject of socio-ecological inquiry as well as a significant public health concern. Soil contaminated with lead from past use of leaded gasoline, deteriorating lead-based paint and industrial sources can contribute to elevated blood lead levels in children. Lead poisoning is often thought of as a resolved health issue. Urban communities, however, are still disproportionately affected by lead exposure, the effects of which are irreversible. Sampling of 61 residential properties in Baltimore City from 2007 to 2008 revealed that lead contamination in the soil is widespread with 53% of those properties exhibiting soil lead levels that exceed the United States Environmental Protection Agency reportable limit of 400 ppm. These data were used in the development of three spatially explicit models in order to predict soil lead concentrations. All three models confirmed the importance of housing age, distance to built structures, and distance to major road networks to the spatial distribution of lead in soil. Though the models explained similar amounts of variation and exhibited similar overall accuracies, they differed greatly in the amount of area predicted to be contaminated. Spatial models can assist public health officials by identifying areas in need of remediation but they are only one component of a larger discussion. In order for public health practitioners to successfully employ such models, additional factors need to be considered. For example, in addition to model predictions, knowledge of the ecological system, the desired outcomes for the community, and the cost of remediation also require consideration.