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Mapping Legacy Lead in Urban Soils to Help Improve Children's Health (2019-2020)


North Carolina, United States


March 01, 2019 - October 31, 2019

Project Objectives

Lead poses a serious threat to urban communities, especially among children. For decades, the World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency have raised awareness about risks of lead poisoning, while researchers continue to lower "safe" levels of lead exposure. Despite the removal of lead from paint and gasoline, children will continue to be exposed to lead for many decades to come.

Urban soils are recognized to be the leading source of lead exposure, and the high affinity of lead to soils leaves a long-term legacy. Yet, despite the enormous medical and public health literature on lead toxicity, data on lead in urban soils are notably deficient.

Project Description
In concert with the North Carolina Lead and Healthy Homes Task Force, this Bass Connections project will produce the first soil lead maps in the state. These maps will serve as tools to identify lead hotspots and guide management of aging construction and new developments.

The project team will collaborate with and enrich the ongoing work by the North Carolina Lead and Healthy Homes Task Force, and meet with lead exposure experts who will advise the project.

The team will sample urban soils in public spaces, parks, school playgrounds, church grounds and other locations throughout Durham using a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer. The team will then analyze soil samples for lead and other chemicals, as well as physical properties.

Team members will also upload data for the first soil lead maps of Durham via geographic information systems (GIS). The team will then attempt to analyze geographically-based blood-lead concentrations of Durham children and test correlations with the new geographic soil lead map. These efforts will help raise public awareness of soil lead exposure's impact on human health.

In addition to generating the first soil maps in this region, this study will also help guide city managers in identifying and assessing new sites for greenways, recreational areas and tree planting.

Anticipated Outputs
Manuscripts for publication: scientific review paper on international scope of urban soil lead contamination; research paper on Durham-based blood-lead concentration data; new standard operating procedures for sampling urban soil for lead; first-generation soil lead map of Durham; presentation to Durham City Council; opinion pieces on urban soil lead problems in the Triangle and globally; public guidelines on mitigating urban soil lead exposure.

Project Opportunities

Student Opportunities
Ideally, this team will include 6-9 undergraduates and 2 graduate students from a variety of disciplines, including global health, environmental and ecotoxicological sciences, environmental engineering, chemistry, biology, statistics, data sciences, medicine and the humanities.

Undergraduates will have the opportunity to interact with collaborators, critically review and discuss scientific literature, learn and implement soil sampling techniques, help with chemical analysis of lead, help with interpretation and GIS analysis of the data and help with public outreach on urban soil lead exposure. Students will also create and present posters at scientific conferences, as well as participate in developing a peer-reviewed paper.

Two undergraduate students, led by one graduate student, will be tasked with soil sampling and sample preparation. This will involve two full-time months of collection work performed over Summer 2019.

Spring 2019-Fall 2019

Spring 2019: Begin weekly project planning meetings; begin literature review and development of draft manuscripts
Summer 2019 (Optional): Perform soil sampling and preparation; begin chemical analysis of soil samples
Fall 2019: Perform analysis of geographically-based blood-lead concentration data; implement public outreach; complete manuscripts.

Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

Project Application Process

Interested students should complete the application process through the Bass Connections portal. Please note that the application window will open on January 22 and close on February 15. Program leaders will be available to discuss projects with interested students at the Bass Connections Open house on January 22. Details can be found at https://bassconnections.duke.edu.

Project Application Deadline


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