New Orleans soil lead (Pb) cleanup using Mississippi River alluvium: need, feasibility, and cost

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Apr 15;40(8):2784-9. doi: 10.1021/es0525253.


In New Orleans, LA prior to hurricane Katrina 20-30% of inner-city children had elevated blood Pb levels > or =10 microg/ dL and 10 census tracts had a median surface soil level of Pb >1000 mg/kg (2.5 times the U.S. standard). This project tests the feasibility of transporting and grading contaminated properties (n = 25) with 15 cm (6 in.) of clean Mississippi River alluvium from the Bonnet Carré Spillway (BCS) (median soil Pb content 4.7 mg/kg; range 1.7-22.8). The initial median surface soil Pb was 1051 mg/kg (maximum 19 627). After 680 metric tons (750 tons) of clean soil cover was emplaced on 6424 m2 (69 153 ft2), the median surface soil Pb decreased to 6 mg/kg (range 3-18). Interior entrance wipe samples were collected at 10 homes before and after soil treatment and showed a decreasing trend of Pb (p value = 0.048) from a median of 52 microg/ft2 to a median of 36 microg/ft2 (25th and 75th percentiles are 22 and 142 microg/ft2 and 12 and 61 microg/ft2, respectively). Average direct costs for properties with homes were $3,377 ($1.95 per square foot), with a range of $1,910-7,020, vs $2,622 ($0.61 per square foot), with a range of $2,400-3,040 for vacant lots. Approximately 40% (86,000) of properties in New Orleans are in areas of >400 mg Pb/kg soil and estimated direct costs for treatment are between $225.5 and $290.4 million. Annual costs of Pb poisoning in New Orleans are estimated at approximately $76 million in health, education, and societal harm. Urban accumulation of Pb is an international problem; for example, the new Government of Norway established a policy precedence for an isolated soil cleanup program at daycare centers, school playgrounds, and parks to protect children. New Orleans requires a community-wide soil cleanup program because of the extent and quantity of accumulated soil Pb. The post-Katrina benefits of reducing soil Pb are expected to outweigh the foreseeable costs of Pb poisoning to children returning to New Orleans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Lead / blood
  • Mississippi
  • Rivers
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Soil Pollutants / blood
  • Waste Management / economics
  • Waste Management / methods


  • Dust
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Lead