Understanding the spatial distribution of soil lead has been a focus of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study since its inception in 1997. Through multiple research projects that span spatial scales and use different methodologies, three overarching patterns have been identified: (1) soil lead concentrations often exceed state and federal regulatory limits; (2) the variability of soil lead concentrations is high; and (3) despite multiple sources and the highly heterogeneous and patchy nature of soil lead, discernable patterns do exist. Specifically, housing age, the distance to built structures, and the distance to a major roadway are strong predictors of soil lead concentrations. Understanding what drives the spatial distribution of soil lead can inform the transition of underutilized urban space into gardens and other desirable land uses while protecting human health. A framework for management is proposed that considers three factors: (1) the level of contamination; (2) the desired land use; and (3) the community’s preference in implementing the desired land use. The goal of the framework is to promote dialogue and resultant policy changes that support consistent and clear regulatory guidelines for soil lead, without which urban communities will continue to be subject to the potential for lead exposure.
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