Lead in New York City's soils: Population growth, land use, and contamination

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2020 Aug:229:113564. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2020.113564. Epub 2020 Jun 15.


Soil is an important exposure pathway for lead (Pb) and predictor of blood lead levels (BLL) among children. Over the past two decades, many areas within New York City (NYC) have undergone a transition from industrial and manufacturing land use to residential housing. This can bring new residents to areas which contain the legacy of historic Pb contamination. The objective of this study was to evaluate the difference in soil Pb concentrations between community parks and greenspaces in areas undergoing rapid redevelopment and land use changes and stable areas without redevelopment. Three high- and three low-risk Pb contaminated areas within NYC were identified based on an additive index that included population growth, industrial land use, and new construction. Soil samples (n=358) were collected across 34 parks and analyzed with an XRF with a subset also analyzed by ICP-MS. Areas within NYC, evaluated in this study, with a high-risk index had significantly (p<0.0001) larger mean concentrations of Pb in soil (374 mg/kg vs. 150 mg/kg, respectively) and double the rate of children under the age of six years with BLL > 5ug/dL (37.94 vs. 18.72 per 1000, respectively) compared to low-risk areas. There was a statistically significant (p <0.05) positive correlation between street density, manufacturing/industrial land density and population density change within 0.40 km of a park and soil Pb concentrations. However, we were unable to estimate the source-specific contribution of Pb concentrations in soil, since many of the variables assessed were correlated with one another. Regardless of the source, large population increases are occurring in areas with elevated soil Pb levels. In the three high-risk areas investigated in this study, the population has increased by over 35,000 residents between 2010 to 2017 compared to just 8,500 in the low-risk areas.

Keywords: Brownfields; Lead; Lead contamination; Lead exposure; Redevelopment.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Lead / blood
  • New York City
  • Parks, Recreational
  • Population Growth
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Soil Pollutants / blood


  • Soil Pollutants
  • Lead