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Case study: examining the contribution of historical sources of lead in urban soils in Portland, Maine, USA

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While the presence of lead in urban soils from residential lead paint and leaded gasoline is well documented, the relative contribution of lead from area historical industrial activities is not. This study examined the connection between historical industrial sources of lead in Portland, Maine, USA from 1860 to 1970 to current, spatial distributions of soil lead. Collecting 1859 surface and 122 sub-surface soil samples in accordance with USEPA's Lead Safe Yard Protocols, lead concentrations varied from 9 mg/kg to >100,000 mg/kg with most of the samples greater than USEPA's critical value for lead (400 mg/kg). Using historical documents, probable sources of lead were mapped. In comparing two datasets, no clear relationship emerged. Findings were hampered by inability to sample under large areas of impervious surfaces and private properties. Because of lead's immobility in soil, one would expect decreasing concentration with depth, but lead concentrations varied with depth and location. The haphazard dumping of lead-contaminated industrial waste and the relocation of contaminated fill are likely factors. These findings suggest that in urban areas where multiple historical sources of lead existed, surface sampling to determine presence of lead may not be sufficient to protect public health.
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Keywords: historical pollution; land filling; lead contamination; lead industry; urban soils

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Environmental Science, University of Southern Maine, Gorham, ME, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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