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Nature and extent of metal-contaminated soils in urban environments (keynote talk)


Research on the nature and extent of metal-contaminated soil began with an urban garden study in Baltimore, MD (USA). Largest quantities of soil metals were clustered in the inner city with lesser amounts scattered throughout metropolitan Baltimore. The probability values of metal clustering varied from P value 10−15–10−23 depending on element. The inner-city clustering of lead (Pb) could not be explained by Pb-based paint alone. A major Pb source was tetraethyl lead (TEL), developed as an anti-knock agent for use in vehicle fuel, thereby making highway traffic flow a toxic substance delivery system in cities. Further study in Minneapolis and St. Paul confirmed the clustering of inner-city soil metals, especially Pb. Based on the evidence, the Minnesota State Legislature petitioned Congress to curtail Pb additives resulting in the rapid phasedown of TEL on January 1, 1986, 10 years ahead of the EPA scheduled ban. Further research in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), verified the link between soil Pb, blood Pb, morbidity, and societal health. Although Pb is a known cause of clinical impairment, there is no known effective medical intervention for reducing children’s blood Pb exposure. Ingestion and inhalation are routes of exposure requiring prevention, and soil is a reservoir of Pb. Children’s blood Pb exposure observed in pre-Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005) NOLA underwent substantial decreases 10 years post-Katrina due to many factors including input of low Pb sediment residues by the storm surge and the introduction of low Pb landscaping materials from outside of the city. Investigation on the topic is ongoing.

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Christopher Gonzales and Eric Powell are co-researchers for the New Orleans project. Thanks to the Department of Pharmacology for steadfast support. The late Drs. Reds and Abel Wolman of The Johns Hopkins University, and my brother, statistician Paul W. Mielke were extraordinary mentors. Grants funding various phases of the soil metal research were from Maryland Environmental Services, Saint Paul Foundation, the Wade Family Foundation, Louisiana Education Quality Support Fund, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Housing and Urban Development, Greater New Orleans Foundation, and the Ling and Ronald Cheng Fund. Blood Pb data for New Orleans are from Louisiana Healthy Homes and Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Louisiana Office of Public Health and the Center for Applied Environmental Public Health. Special thanks to numerous students, friends, citizens, and public officials in each of the studied cities.

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Correspondence to Howard W. Mielke.

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Disclaimer Concerning the Louisiana blood Pb data, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine disclaim any responsibility for analyses, interpretations, or conclusions.

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Mielke, H.W. Nature and extent of metal-contaminated soils in urban environments (keynote talk). Environ Geochem Health 38, 987–999 (2016).

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  • Children
  • Cochrane collaboration
  • Global contamination
  • Ingestion
  • Inhalation
  • Rapid phasedown
  • Tetraethyl lead