Variability in the spatial density of vacant properties contributes to background lead (Pb) exposure in children


Heightened blood lead levels (BLL) are associated with cognitive deficiencies and adverse behavioral outcomes. Lead-contaminated house dust is the primary source of exposure in U.S. children, and evidence suggests that even background (low-level) exposure has negative consequences. Identifying sources of background exposure is of great public health significance because of the larger number of children that can be affected. Blood lead was assessed in a bi-racial sample of children from Syracuse, NY, aged 9–11, using established biomonitoring methods. The spatial density of vacant properties was modelled from publicly available georeferenced datasets. Further, regression models were used to measure the impact of this spatial density variable on children’s BLL. In a sample of 221 children, with a mean BLL of 1.06 µg/dL (SD = 0.68), results showed increases in spatial density of vacant properties predict increases in median blood-PB levels, b = 0.14 (0.06–0.21), p < .001. This association held true even after accounting for demographic covariates, and age of individual housing. Further analysis showed spatial autocorrelation of the residuals changed from a clustered pattern to a random pattern once the spatial density variable was introduced to the model. This study is the first to identify a background-lead exposure source using spatial density modelling. As vacant properties deteriorate, lead-contaminated dust likely disperses into the surrounding environment. High-density areas have an accumulation of lead hazards in environmental media, namely soil and dust, putting more children at risk of exposure.

Environmental Research, 170