Spatial Analysis and Lead-Risk Assessment of Philadelphia, USA

Geohealth. 2022 Mar 1;6(3):e2021GH000519. doi: 10.1029/2021GH000519. eCollection 2022 Mar.


Childhood lead poisoning is an issue that continues to plague major U.S. cities. Despite efforts by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to curtail systemic childhood lead poisoning, children continue to be identified with elevated blood lead levels. The persistence of elevated blood lead levels in children is concerning because lead poisoning has been linked to decreases in academic achievement and IQ, with associated repercussions for entire communities. This paper reports the results of an analysis of the spatial distribution of houses with lead paint (i.e., pre-1978), demolitions, and occurrence of historic smelters, in West and North Philadelphia, relative to elevated blood lead level data, to determine which lead sources act as primary lead-risk factors. The presence of lead paint in homes and the number of demolitions of older properties were found to have the highest correlations to elevated blood lead levels for children in Philadelphia. Using lead-risk factors including lead paint, housing code violations, demolitions, and owner-occupied housing units, a lead-risk assessment was performed at the census tract level to identify future soil sampling sites and high-risk neighborhoods in Philadelphia. These sites of high risk for lead exposure, and in particular the census tracts 175 and 172, should be prioritized for lead poisoning prevention initiatives.