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About Lead in the Environment

Dust sampling

Researcher: Dr Trevor Bell

Lead is a widely distributed element in the environment which is highly toxic to humans. Children are at a particular risk with concentrations of lead in dust, soil, air and water associated with elevated blood levels.

Lead contamination is generally higher in urban areas with older house stock having lead-containing paint, a higher concentration of industry, and heavy traffic. Theses sources have resulted in an array of lasting hazards, including lead contamination in urban soils.

Since lead does not biodegrade and is highly immobile in soils, concern about soil contamination persist despite that fact that most lead was removed from residential paint and gasoline about 30 years ago.

Why is lead contamination a hazard?

Relationships and modes of transfers of contaminated soil to children are well established. During play, lead can contaminate children's hands and may be transmitted to the mouth during oral behaviors. Track-in of soil or exterior dust as well as degradation of interior paint may contribute to the interior-dust level hazard, which is strongly associated with elevated lead-blood levels in children. The ingestion from vegetables grown in the home environment may present additional source of lead. Lead deposited in the soil and persisting in homes may have a neurological and behavioral impact.

Aims of Research

In 2003 it was found that lead levels in the downtown regions exceeded 10 times the Canadian Councils Minister of Environment guidelines.

  • The primary goal is to map environment lead levels in residential settings in St. John's as a risk assessment of lead exposure to children.

An assessment will provide a framework for understanding lead exposure risk in other communities of similar age and development history, both in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere in Canada.