Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 637–650 | Cite as

Preliminary assessment of surface soil lead concentrations in Melbourne, Australia

  • Mark A. S. LaidlawEmail author
  • Callum Gordon
  • Andrew S. Ball
Original Paper


Urban soils in many cities have been found to be contaminated with lead from past usage of leaded petrol, deteriorating lead-based exterior paints and industrial sources. Currently, the spatial distribution of soil lead concentrations in the Melbourne metropolitan area is unknown. The objective of this study was to perform a preliminary assessment of the spatial distributions of the surface soil lead (Pb) concentrations in the Melbourne metropolitan area, Australia. Fifty-eight surface soil samples were collected at a depth of 0–2 cm along three linear transects oriented across the Melbourne metropolitan area. Surface soil samples were also collected at a higher density in five Melbourne suburbs. Soil cores (0–50 cm) were collected in four locations, soil transects were collected at intervals with distance away from the roadway (0–50 m) in two inner city parks, and one control soil sample was collected in a rural setting. The median soil Pb concentration of the soil transect samples was 173 mg/kg (range 32–710 mg/kg), and the median soil Pb concentration of the five suburbs was 69 mg/kg (range 9–1750 mg/kg). The suburb of Footscray had the highest soil Pb concentration with a median soil Pb concentration of 192 mg/kg (range 40–1750 mg/kg). Soil Pb concentrations were generally higher nearest the centre of the Melbourne metropolitan area and in the west of Melbourne and lower in the outer suburbs to the east and north of the city centre. Soil Pb concentrations decreased with distance from roadways in the two transects taken from urban parks, and soil lead decreased with depth in the four soil cores. The soil Pb concentrations in the Melbourne metropolitan area appear to be lower than soil lead concentrations observed in inner city areas of Sydney New South Wales (NSW) and Newcastle NSW. The spatial extent of the soil Pb hazard remains undefined in portions of the Melbourne metropolitan area.


Melbourne Australia Soil Lead Exposure Transect Urban 



Mark A.S. Laidlaw received funding from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. We would like to thank the reviewers for their very helpful comments which have substantially improved the manuscript.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). 3218.0—Regional population growth, Australia, 2015–16. Accessed June 7, 2017.
  2. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). (2017). Historical distribution of population in Australian capital cities. Accessed June 7, 2017.
  3. Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy. (AGFOEE) (2017). Lead in house paints. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  4. Basta, N. T., Ryan, J. A., & Chaney, R. L. (2005). Trace element chemistry in residual-treated soil. Journal of Environmental Quality, 34(1), 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellinger, D. C. (2011). The protean toxicities of lead: new chapters in a familiar story. International Journal of Environment Research Public Health, 8(7), 2593–2628. doi:  10.3390/ijerph8072593. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  6. Bickel, M. J. (2010) Spatial and temporal relationships between blood lead and soil lead concentrations in Detroit, Michigan. Open Access Theses. Paper 47. Accessed June 9, 2017.
  7. Birch, G. F., Vanderhayden, M., & Olmos, M. (2011). The nature and distribution of metals in soils of the Sydney estuary catchment, Australia. Water Air and Soil Pollution, 216(1–4), 581–604. doi: 10.1007/s11270-010-0555-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. British Geological Survey (BGS). (2017a). Urban Geochemistry. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  9. British geological Survey (BGS). (2017b). London soil geochemistry map lead (Pb). Accessed June 8, 2017.
  10. Brunekreef, B., Noy, D., Biersteker, K., & Boleij, J. (1983). Blood lead levels of Dutch city children and their relationship to lead in the environment. Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association, 33, 872–876.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. California Environmental Protection Agency (CEPA). (2009). Revised California human health screening levels for lead. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  12. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). (2013). Soil quality guidelines for the protection of environmental and human health. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). What do parents need to know to protect their children? Accessed February 6, 2017.
  14. De Silva, S., Ball, A. S., Huynh, T., & Reichman, S. M. (2016). Metal accumulation in roadside soil in Melbourne, Australia: Effect of road age, traffic density and vehicular speed. Environmental Pollution, 208, 102–109. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2015.09.032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Filippelli, G. M., Laidlaw, M. A., Latimer, J. C., & Raftis, R. (2005). Urban lead poisoning and medical geology: an unfinished story. GSA Today, 15(1), 4–11. doi: 10.1130/1052-5173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grace, E. J., & MacFarlane, G. R. (2016). Assessment of the bioaccumulation of metals to chicken eggs from residential backyards. Science of the Total Environment, 563, 256–260. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.04.128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harvey, P. J., Rouillon, M., Dong, C., Ettler, V., Handley, H. K., Taylor, M. P., et al. (2017). Geochemical sources, forms and phases of soil contamination in an industrial city. Science of the Total Environment, 584, 505–514. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.01.053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harvey, P. J., Taylor, M. P., Kristensen, L. J., Grant-Vest, S., Rouillon, M., Wu, L., et al. (2016). Evaluation and assessment of the efficacy of an abatement strategy in a former lead smelter community, Boolaroo, Australia. Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 38(4), 941–954. doi: 10.1007/s10653-015-9779-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hopper, J. L., Balderas, A., & Mathews, J. D. (1981). Analysis of variation in blood lead levels in Melbourne families. The Medical Journal of Australia, 2(12), 573–576.Google Scholar
  20. Hunt, A., & Johnson, D. L. (2012). Suspension and resuspension of dry soil indoors following track-in on footwear. Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 34(3), 355–363. doi: 10.1007/s10653-011-9400-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hunt, A., Johnson, D. L., & Griffith, D. A. (2006). Mass transfer of soil indoors by track-in on footwear. Science of the Total Environment, 370(2–3), 360–371. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.07.013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Igalavithana, A. D., Shaheen, S. M., Park, J. N., Lee, S. S. & Ok, Y. S. (2015). Potentially toxic element contamination and its impact on soil biological quality in urban agriculture: A critical review. In I. Sherameti & A. Varma (Eds.), Heavy metal contamination of soils (pp. 81–101). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Jacobs, D. E., Clickner, R. P., Zhou, J. Y., Viet, S. M., Marker, D. A., Rogers, J. W., et al. (2002). The prevalence of lead-based paint hazards in US housing. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(10), A599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, D. L. (2008). A first generation dynamic ingress, redistribution and transport model of soil track-in: DIRT. Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 30, 589–596. doi: 10.1007/s10653-008-9187-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kachenko, A. G. & Singh, B. (2006). Heavy metals contamination in vegetables grown in urban and metal smelter contaminated sites in Australia. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, 169(1), 101–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kelsall, L. M., de Gooyer, T. E., Carey, M., Vaughan, L., & Ansari, Z. (2013). Blood lead levels in the adult Victorian population: results from the Victorian health monitor. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 37(3), 233–237. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kovarik, W. (2005). Ethyl-leaded gasoline: how a classic occupational disease became an international public health disaster. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 11(4), 384–397. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  28. Kristensen, L. J. (2015). Quantification of atmospheric lead emissions from 70 years of leaded petrol consumption in Australia. Atmospheric Environment, 111, 195–201. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2015.04.012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Laidlaw, M. A. S., & Filippelli, G. M. (2008). Resuspension of urban soils as a persistent source of lead poisoning in children: A review and new directions. Applied Geochemistry, 23(8), 2021–2039. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2008.05.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Laidlaw, M. A. S., Filippelli, G. M., Brown, S., Paz-, Ferreiro J., Reichman, S. M., Netherway, P., et al. (2017a). Case studies and evidence-based approaches to addressing urban soil lead contamination. Applied Geochemistry. doi: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2017.02.015. (in Press).Google Scholar
  31. Laidlaw, M. A., Mielke, H. W., Filippelli, G. M., Johnson, D. L., & Gonzales, C. R. (2005). 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, 1, 793–800. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7759.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Laidlaw, M. A., Mohmmad, S. M., Gulson, B. L., Taylor, M. P., Kristensen, L. J., & Birch, G. (2017b). Estimates of potential childhood lead exposure from contaminated soil using the US EPA IEUBK Model in Sydney, Australia. Environmental Research, 156, 781–790. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.04.040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Laidlaw, M. A., & Taylor, M. P. (2011). Potential for childhood lead poisoning in the inner cities of Australia due to exposure to lead in soil dust. Environmental Pollution, 159(1), 1–9. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2010.08.020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Laidlaw, M. A., Zahran, S., Mielke, H. W., Taylor, M. P., & Filippelli, G. M. (2012). Re-suspension of lead contaminated urban soil as a dominant source of atmospheric lead in Birmingham, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh, USA. Atmospheric Environment, 49, 302–310. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2011.11.030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Laidlaw, M. A. S., Zahran, S., Pingitore, N., Clague, J., Devlin, G., & Taylor, M. P. (2014). Identification of lead sources in residential environments: Sydney Australia. Environmental Pollution, 184, 238–246. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2013.09.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Manton, W. I., Angle, C. R., Stanek, K. L., Reese, Y. R., & Kuehnemann, T. J. (2000). Acquisition and retention of lead by young children. Environmental Research, 82(1), 60–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Maribyrnong City Council. (2000). Environmental history city of Maribyrnong. Maribyrnong Heritage Review. Retrieved…/city…/vol_2_hist_final_sc.pdf. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  38. Mielke, H. W., Gonzales, C., Powell, E., & Mielke, P. W. (2005). Changes of multiple metal accumulation (MMA) in New Orleans soil: preliminary evaluation of differences between survey I (1992) and survey II (2000). International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, 2, 308–313. doi: 10.3390/ijerph2005020016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mielke, H. W., Gonzales, C. R., & Powell, E. T. (2017). soil lead and children’s blood lead disparities in pre-and post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans (USA). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(4), 407. doi: 10.3390/ijerph14040407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mielke, H. W., Laidlaw, M. A., & Gonzales, C. R. (2011). Estimation of leaded (Pb) gasoline’s continuing material and health impacts on 90 US urbanized areas. Environment International, 37(1), 248–257. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2010.08.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mikkonen, H. G., Clarke, B. O., Dasika, R., Wallis, C. J., & Reichman, S. M. (2016). Assessment of ambient background concentrations of elements in soil using combined survey and open-source data. Science of the Total Environment, 580, 1410–1420. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.12.106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (2016). NHMRC statement: Evidence on the effects of lead on human health. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  43. NEPC. (2013a). National Environment Protection (assessment of site contamination) measure 1999: Schedule B(1) guideline on the investigation levels for soil and groundwater. Adelaide: National Environment Protection Council. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  44. NEPC. (2013b). National Environment Protection (Assessment of site contamination) measure 1999: Schedule 3B. Laboratory analysis of potentially contaminated soils. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  45. Norwegian Pollution Control Agency (NCPA). 2009. Soil contamination in day-care centers and playgrounds. Norwegian Pollution Control Authority. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  46. Olszowy, H., Torr, P., & Imray, P. (1995). Trace element concentrations in soils from rural and urban areas of Australia. Contaminated sites series No. 4. Department of Human Services and Health, Environment Protection Agency, South Australian Health Commission.Google Scholar
  47. Rouillon, M., Harvey, P. J., Kristensen, L. J., George, S. G., & Taylor, M. P. (2017). VegeSafe: A community science program measuring soil-metal contamination, evaluating risk and providing advice for safe gardening. Environmental Pollution, 222, 557–566. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.11.024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Semlali, R. M., Dessogne, J. B., Monna, F., Bolte, J., Azimi, S., Navarro, N., et al. (2004). modeling lead input and output in soils using lead isotopic geochemistry. Environmental Science and Technology, 38(5), 1513–1521. doi: 10.1021/es0341384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Taylor, R., Bazelmans, J., Golec, R., & Oakes, S. (1995). Declining blood lead levels in Victorian children. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 19(5), 455–459. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.1995.tb00410.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. United States Department of Health National Toxicology Program (USDH-NTP). (2012). Health effects of low-level lead evaluation NTP monograph on health effects of low-level lead. Available online: Accessed February 10, 2016.
  51. United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). (2001). Federal Registry:Part 3. 40 CFR Part 745 lead; identification of dangerous levels of lead; final rule. Accessed February 6, 2016.
  52. Vassarstats. (2017). Mann–Whitney test. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  53. Victoria Department of Natural Resources and Environment. (1997). Melbourne 1:25,000 geological series map-SJ55. Edition 2.Google Scholar
  54. World Health Organisation (WHO). (2016). Lead poisoning and health. Accessed February 6, 2017.
  55. Yekeen, T. A., Xu, X., Zhang, Y., Wu, Y., Kim, S., Reponen, T., et al. (2016). Assessment of health risk of trace metal pollution in surface soil and road dust from e-waste recycling area in China. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 23(17), 17511–17524. doi: 10.1007/s11356-016-6896-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zahran, S., Mielke, H. W., Weiler, S. & Gonzales, C.R. (2011). Nonlinear associations between blood lead in children, age of child, and quantity of soil lead in metropolitan New Orleans. Science of the Total Environment, 409(7), 1211–1218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zahran, S., Laidlaw, M. A., McElmurry, S. P., Filippelli, G. M., & Taylor, M. (2013a). Linking source and effect: Resuspended soil lead, air lead, and children’s blood lead levels in Detroit, Michigan. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 2839–2845. doi: 10.1021/es303854c.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Zahran, S., Mielke, H. W., McElmurry, S. P., Filippelli, G. M., Laidlaw, M. A., & Taylor, M. P. (2013b). Determining the relative importance of soil sample locations to predict risk of child lead exposure. Environmental International, 60, 7–14. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.07.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Remediation (EnSuRe), School of ScienceRMIT UniversityBundooraAustralia

Personalised recommendations