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

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Aug 27;18(17):9055. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18179055.


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.

Keywords: ArcGIS; Pb pollution; childhood health risks; environmental health; environmental justice communities; land use; risk assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Demography
  • Environmental Health
  • Humans
  • Lead* / analysis
  • Philadelphia
  • Soil Pollutants* / analysis


  • Soil Pollutants
  • Lead