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Green Space Alert: Beware of Lead When Industrial Areas Go Residential

All over New York City, old industrial areas have turned residential. Factories and warehouses have been redeveloped, new housing has sprung up, and population has grown, especially in waterfront areas in the outer boroughs. A new study found that some of these population increases are happening in places with high levels of lead in the soil. That could pose a risk for children–especially if they play in neighborhood parks and green spaces. 

Professors Andrew Maroko and Brian Pavilonis of the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and Professor Zhongqi “Joshua” Cheng of Brooklyn College, The Graduate Center, and Macaulay Honors College were authors on the paper, published in International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

Lead contamination in soil is dangerous because children can easily get it into their systems. They play in it, put their hands in their mouths, kick up dust and breathe it in, or track it into living spaces. While there have been efforts to limit lead exposure in old homes, cities need to make the same effort for green spaces, the authors say.

The researchers sampled soil in parks in six different areas around the city. Based on population growth, industrial land use, and new construction, three neighborhoods were labeled high risk (Fort Greene and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, and Long Island City in Queens) and three were labeled low risk (Fresh Meadows in Queens, Riverdale in the Bronx, and Marine Park in Brooklyn).

Sampling revealed that soil in the high-risk places had significantly higher concentrations of lead. Using data from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the researchers also found that children living in the high-risk areas had higher blood lead levels than kids in low-risk areas, and high-risk areas had higher poverty rates.

In old industrial neighborhoods, lead might be found in the soil due to manufacturing that went on there. It could also have come from car exhaust, back when leaded gasoline was used. Today, lead can enter the soil when old buildings with lead paint are torn down.

“It is concerning to have populations growing in areas which may pose a health risk,” Maroko told CUNY SPH. “However, we do have to keep in mind that lead contamination is not something new in U.S. cities – and certain populations, notably communities of color, have been dealing with these exposures for decades.”

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work

Lead in New York City's soils: Population growth, land use, and contamination
International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 2020

Work By

Andrew Maroko (Associate Professor, Environmental, Occupational, and Geospatial Health Sciences) | Profile 1
Brian Pavilonis (Assistant Professor , Environmental, Occupational, and Geospatial Health Sciences) | Profile 1
Zhongqi (Joshua) Cheng (Professor, Earth and Environmental Studies) | Profile 1