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Social and spatial distribution of soil lead concentrations in the City of Santa Ana, California: Implications for health inequities



Lead (Pb) exposure is a problem that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color. We applied a community-based participatory research approach to assess the distribution of soil Pb concentrations and related social vulnerabilities across Census tracts in Santa Ana, CA.


Soil Pb samples (n = 1528) were collected by the ¡Plo-NO! Santa Ana! Lead-Free Santa Ana! partnership in 2018 across Santa Ana, CA, at a high spatial resolution and measured using XRF analysis. Pb concentrations were mapped and spatial interpolation was conducted to generate a continuous smoothed map of soil Pb concentrations across the city. American Community Survey data was used to examine Pb across Census tracts based on social and economic factors, and to allow for the development of a Cumulative Risk Index to identify areas at high risk of health impacts.


Soil Pb concentrations varied by landuse type and socioeconomic factors. Census tracts with a median household income below $50,000 had over five times higher soil Pb concentrations than high-income Census tracts. Soil samples collected in tertiles with the highest percent children, residents without health insurance, renter-occupied housing units, and lowest percent college educated residents had 90.0%, 96.1%, 75.2%, and 87.0% higher Pb concentrations on average, respectively, compared to their counterparts. Overall, 52.7% of residential samples had Pb concentrations in excess of the 80 ppm California EPA recommendation, and 11 Census tracts were characterized as high risk according to our Cumulative Risk Index.


This study underscores the need for precautionary measures relating to disturbances of the soil, particularly for areas where children play outside, given children's higher absorption of lead. It also informs environmental justice initiatives and identifies vulnerable subpopulations at greater risk of Pb exposure, thus warranting community-driven recommendations for policies and initiatives to remediate soil Pb and protect public health and health equity.

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