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Lead contaminated soil abatement

Lead contaminated soil abatement efforts clean, remove, replace, or cover contaminated soil. Permanent efforts remove contaminated soil, test what remains, and cover it with non-contaminated soil, or, cover contaminated soil with asphalt or concrete. Interim abatement measures cover contaminated soil with non-contaminated soil, mulch, sod, or grass (US EPA-Lead hazard training 2004). Contaminated soil can also be cleaned by physically encapsulating contaminants, chemically reducing contaminant mobility, or extraction (). Urban soils frequently contain lead dust levels greater than levels established for indoor floors (Mielke 2014); lead levels of 400 ppm in a play area and 1,200 ppm in the remaining yard are considered hazards (US EPA-Lead hazard training 2004). As of 2012, scientists indicate no safe blood lead level (BLL). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) blood lead reference level for initiating public health actions to prevent further exposure and mitigate health effects is 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL); it is estimated that over 500,000 children have BLLs at or above this level (White 2015, NCHH-Lead 2014, CDC-Lead facts).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced lead exposure

  • Reduced blood lead levels

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Improved child behavior

  • Improved youth behavior

  • Reduced health care costs

Evidence of Effectiveness

Lead contaminated soil abatement is a suggested strategy to reduce lead exposure and blood lead levels (BLLs) in children (US EPA-Lead hazard training 2004, ), especially when implemented neighborhood- or city-wide (). Available evidence associates both permanent and interim soil abatement with reduced lead exposure (Schoof 2016, von Lindern 2016, , , , ) and a strong pattern of peak lead levels in warmer weather suggests that ingesting lead contaminated soil and inhaling airborne lead from soil significantly contribute to lead exposure among children, particularly toddlers (, Laidlaw 2016, Laidlaw 2005, Schoof 2016). However, additional evidence is needed to determine the effects of various lead soil abatement strategies ().

Montana and Idaho-based studies associate community-wide soil remediation efforts combined with screening, education, and other abatement strategies with reductions in children’s BLLs (Schoof 2016, von Lindern 2016). Decreases in children’s BLLs and soil lead levels following flooding from Hurricane Katrina suggest that adding low lead material to existing soil surfaces can also decrease BLLs (). An assessment of the Boston lead safe yard project suggests that, when maintained, plant barriers and ground cover can reduce lead exposure one year after installation (). Studies in urban areas suggest using phosphate-rich amendments like fish bones can remediate lead in soil (Freeman 2012); however, reductions from soil amendments do not appear to reduce lead levels enough to prevent lead exposure among children ().

Appropriate soil remediation methods vary by site. Capping contaminated soil with clean soil and covering with grass, for example, appears to cost-effectively reduce childhood lead exposure (, ); however, areas with high lead levels may require more intensive efforts (). Soil abatement efforts may be most effective when combined with lead paint encapsulation or abatement along with groundcover plantings (), and when efforts are implemented neighborhood- or city-wide ().

Lead abatement can improve health outcomes for children and adults by reducing developmental disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder-related behaviors (ADHD), anemia, hypertension, and kidney and brain damage (Armstrong 2014, , NCHH-Jacobs 2009). Newborn infants are especially vulnerable to effects of lead exposure (); a St. Louis-based study suggests prenatal screening and proactive lead hazard remediation, including soil remediation, can prevent exposure among some newborns (). Reduced lead exposure may be linked to reductions in violent crime roughly twenty years after exposure would have occurred (, NBER-Wolpaw Reyes 2007, Feigenbaum 2015).

Childhood lead poisoning is most common among families with lower incomes, those living in older homes, and those residing in urban areas which have more lead in the soil (White 2015, Korfmacher 2014, , , NCHH-Lead 2014). On average, black children from low income families have higher blood lead levels than white or Hispanic children from low income families (White 2015).

Cost benefit analysis finds positive net benefits and a high rate of return for lead abatement programs overall (, Gould 2009). Economic models suggest that future earnings and decreased medical costs for children who benefit from lead abatement efforts range from 2-20 times the estimated cost of abatement ().

City-wide mapping to identify lead contaminated soil, before children’s blood test results indicate lead exposure, can support proactive remediation and prevent lead exposure (Mielke 2014, ). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The 10 regional offices of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each have a designated Regional Lead Coordinator who oversees lead-poisoning prevention efforts, including lead contaminated soil abatement, in the region (US EPA-Lead contacts).

Individuals can have their soil tested for lead contamination through many state universities, colleges, or laboratories around the country. Soil tests typically cost between $10-20 per sample (GC-Soil testing).

Norway’s national clean soil program includes remediation of contaminated soils, especially at child care centers, parks, and school playgrounds, and focused efforts to identify hazards via soil mapping ().

Implementation Resources

US EPA-Protect your family - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), US Consumer Product Safety Commission, US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Protect your family from lead in your home. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); 2012.

CDC-Lead facts - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lead: Facts, tips, tools, training, and resources for childhood lead poisoning prevention.

US EPA-Lead hotline - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Lead hotline: The national lead information center.

US EPA-Lead hazard training 2004 - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). EPA model lead-based paint abatement worker training course. 2004.

US EPA-Lead hazard standards - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Hazard standards for lead in paint, dust and soil (TSCA Section 403).

UMN Ext-Rosen - Rosen CJ. Lead in the home garden and urban soil environment. University of Minnesota Extension (UMN Ext).

PennState Ext-Lead soil - Penn State Extension, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. Lead in residential soils: Sources, testing, and reducing exposure.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Gould 2009 - Gould E. Childhood lead poisoning: Conservative estimates of the social and economic benefits of lead hazard control. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2009;117(7):1162-7.

NCHH-Jacobs 2009 - Jacobs DE, Baeder A. Housing interventions and health: A review of the evidence. Columbia: National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH); 2009.

Reed 2011a* - Reed W. Preventing childhood lead poisoning. In: Lemelle AJ, Reed W, Taylor S, eds. Handbook of African American Health: Social and Behavioral Interventions. New York: Springer; 2011:103-11.

Cochrane-Nussbaumer-Streit 2016* - Nussbaumer-Streit B, Yeoh B, Griebler U, et al. Household interventions for preventing domestic lead exposure in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016;(12):CD006047.

White 2015 - White BM, Bonilha HS, Ellis C. Racial/ethnic differences in childhood blood lead levels among children <72 months of age in the United States: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. 2015:1-9.

Berg 2012* - Berg DR, Eckstein ET, Steiner MS, Gavard JA, Gross GA. Childhood lead poisoning prevention through prenatal housing inspection and remediation in St. Louis, MO. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2012;206(3):199.e1-199.e4.

Jones 2012* - Jones DJ. Primary prevention and health outcomes: Treatment of residential lead-based paint hazards and the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning. Journal of Urban Economics. 2012;71(1):151-164.

Armstrong 2014 - Armstrong R, Anderson L, Synnot A, et al. Evaluation of evidence related to exposure to lead. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council; 2014.

Feigenbaum 2015 - Feigenbaum JJ, Muller C. Lead exposure and violent crime in the early twentieth city. Cambridge: Harvard University; 2015.

Vigeh 2014* - Vigeh M, Yokoyama K, Matsukawa T, Shinohara A, Ohtani K. Low level prenatal blood lead adversely affects early childhood mental development. Journal of Child Neurology. 2014;29(10):1305-1311.

Wolpaw Reyes 2015* - Wolpaw Reyes J. Lead exposure and behavior: Effects on antisocial and risky behavior among children and adolescents. Economic Inquiry. 2015;53(3):1580-1605.

NBER-Wolpaw Reyes 2007 - Wolpaw Reyes J. Environmental policy as social policy? The impact of childhood lead exposure on crime. National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). 2007. Working Paper 13097.

NCHH-Lead 2014 - National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH). Preventing lead exposure in US children: A blueprint for action. 2014.

Korfmacher 2014 - Korfmacher KS, Malone J, Jacobs D. Local housing policy approaches to preventing childhood lead poisoning. Public Health Law Research: Making the Case for Laws that Improve Health. 2014.

Freeman 2012 - Freeman KS. Remediating soil lead with fish bones. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012;120(1):a20-a21.

US EPA-Lead hazard training 2004 - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). EPA model lead-based paint abatement worker training course. 2004.

Schoof 2016 - Schoof RA, Johnson DL, Handziuk ER, et al. Assessment of blood lead level declines in an area of historical mining with a holistic remediation and abatement program. Environmental Research. 2016;150:582-591.

von Lindern 2016 - von Lindern I, Spalinger S, Stifelman ML, Stanek LW, Bartrem C. Estimating children’s soil/dust ingestion rates through retrospective analyses of blood lead biomonitoring from the bunker hill superfund site in Idaho. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2016;124(9):1462-1470.

Dixon 2006* - Dixon SL, McLaine P, Kawecki C, et al. The effectiveness of low-cost soil treatments to reduce soil and dust lead hazards: The Boston lead safe yards low cost lead in soil treatment, demonstration and evaluation. Environmental Research. 2006;102(1):113-124.

Mielke 2006* - Mielke HW, Powell ET, Gonzales CR, Mielke PW. Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans soils treated with low lead Mississippi River alluvium. Environmental Science & Technology. 2006;40(24):7623-7628.

Laidlaw 2005 - Laidlaw MAS, Mielke HW, Filippelli GM, Johnson DL, Gonzales CR. Seasonality and children’s blood lead levels: Developing a predictive model using climatic variables and blood lead data from Indianapolis, Indiana, Syracuse, New York, and New Orleans, Louisiana (USA). Environmental Health Perspectives. 2005;113(6):793-800.

Laidlaw 2016 - Laidlaw M, Filippelli G, Sadler R, Gonzales C, Ball A, Mielke H. Children’s blood lead seasonality in Flint, Michigan (USA), and soil-sourced lead hazard risks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(4):358.

Filippelli 2011* - Filippelli GM, Laidlaw MAS. The elephant in the playground: Confronting lead-contaminated soils as an important source of lead burdens to urban populations. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 2010;53(1):31-45.

Harvey 2016* - Harvey PJ, Taylor MP, Kristensen LJ, et al. Evaluation and assessment of the efficacy of an abatement strategy in a former lead smelter community, Boolaroo, Australia. Environmental Geochemistry and Health. 2016;38(4):941-954.

Mielke 2014 - Mielke HW, Gonzales C, Powell E, Mielke PW. Evolving from reactive to proactive medicine: Community lead (Pb) and clinical disparities in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014;11(7):7482-7491.

Laidlaw 2017* - Laidlaw MAS, Filippelli GM, Brown S, et al. Case studies and evidence-based approaches to addressing urban soil lead contamination. Applied Geochemistry. 2017:1-17.

Mielke 2011* - Mielke HW, Covington TP, Mielke PW, Wolman FJ, Powell ET, Gonzales CR. Soil intervention as a strategy for lead exposure prevention: The New Orleans lead-safe childcare playground project. Environmental Pollution. 2011;159(8-9):2071-2077.

Mielke 2016* - Mielke HW, Gonzales CR, Powell ET, Mielke PW. Spatiotemporal dynamic transformations of soil lead and children’s blood lead ten years after Hurricane Katrina: New grounds for primary prevention. Environment International. 2016;94:567-575.

Mielke 2017* - Mielke HW, Gonzales CR, Powell ET, Mielke PW. Spatiotemporal exposome dynamics of soil lead and children’s blood lead pre- and ten years post-Hurricane Katrina: Lead and other metals on public and private properties in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.A. Environmental Research. 2017;155:208-218.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US EPA-Lead contacts - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Lead: EPA regional lead contacts.

GC-Soil testing - Garden Collage (GC). Get the lead out: How to test your soil for contaminants.

Ottesen 2008* - Ottesen RT, Alexander J, Langedal M, Haugland T, Høygaard E. Soil pollution in day-care centers and playgrounds in Norway: National action plan for mapping and remediation. Environmental Geochemistry and Health. 2008;30(6):623-637.

Date Last Updated

Apr 26, 2017