Spatial distribution of lead concentrations in urban surface soils of New Orleans, Louisiana USA

Michael T. Abel, Burton Suedel, Steven M. Presley, Thomas R. Rainwater, Galen P. Austin, Stephen B. Cox, Les N. McDaniel, Richard Rigdon, Timothy Goebel, Richard Zartman, Blair D. Leftwich, Todd A. Anderson, Ronald J. Kendall, George P. Cobb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Immediately following hurricane Katrina concern was raised over the environmental impact of floodwaters on the city of New Orleans, especially in regard to human health. Several studies were conducted to determine the actual contaminant distribution throughout the city and surrounding wetlands by analyzing soil, sediment, and water for a variety of contaminants including organics, inorganics, and biologics. Preliminary investigations by The Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University concluded that soils and sediments contained pesticides, semi-volatiles, and metals, specifically arsenic, iron, and lead, at concentrations that could pose a significant risk to human health. Additional studies on New Orleans floodwaters revealed similar constituents as well as compounds commonly found in gasoline. More recently, it has been revealed that lead (Pb), arsenic, and vanadium are found intermittently throughout the city at concentrations greater than the human health soil screening levels (HHSSLs) of 400, 22 (non-cancer endpoint) and 390 μg/g, respectively. Of these, Pb appears to present the greatest exposure hazard to humans as a result of its extensive distribution in city soils. In this study, we spatially evaluated Pb concentrations across greater New Orleans surface soils. We established 128 sampling sites throughout New Orleans at approximately half-mile intervals. A soil sample was collected at each site and analyzed for Pb by ICP-AES. Soils from 19 (15%) of the sites had Pb concentrations exceeding the HHSSL threshold of 400 μg/g. It was determined that the highest concentrations of Pb were found in the south and west portions of the city. Pb concentrations found throughout New Orleans in this study were then incorporated into a geographic information system to create a spatial distribution model that can be further used to predict Pb exposure to humans in the city.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-389
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


  • Lead
  • New Orleans
  • Spatial distribution
  • Trace metals


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