Racial Disparities in the Heavy Metal Contamination of Urban Soil in the Southeastern United States


(1) Background: Field monitoring data for addressing the disproportional burden of exposure to soil contamination in communities of minority and low socioeconomic status (SES) are sparse. This study aims to examine the association between soil heavy metal levels, SES, and racial composition. (2) Methods: A total of 423 soil samples were collected in the urban areas of eight cities across six Southern states in the U.S., in 2015. Samples were analyzed using inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (ICP–MS) for eight heavy metals. The association was examined with mixed models with the log-transformed metal concentrations as the dependent variables and rankings of low-income or minority percentages as the explanatory variables. (3) Results: Model results showed that soil metal concentrations were significantly associated with rankings of poverty and minority percentages. The cadmium concentration significantly increased by 4.7% (p-value < 0.01), for every 10 percentiles of increase in poverty rank. For every 10 percentiles of increase in minority rank, the soil concentrations were significantly up (p-values < 0.01) for arsenic (13.5%), cadmium (5.5%), and lead (10.6%). Minority rank had significant direct effects on both arsenic and lead. (4) Conclusions: The findings confirmed elevated heavy metal contamination in urban soil in low-income and/or predominantly minority communities.

Publication Title

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health