Concentrations of arsenic and lead in residential garden soil from four Johannesburg neighborhoods

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Abstract

The 2017 Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health identified soil as an important, daily route of public exposure to a variety of pollutants. Lead and arsenic are two potential soil contaminants associated with serious health effects including reductions in intelligence, behavioral effects and aggressive or violent behavior (lead), as well as skin changes, cancer of the skin, bladder, liver and lungs and developmental delays (arsenic). In this study soil samples were collected, using US EPA methods, from gardens in four Johannesburg neighborhoods, and analyzed for lead and arsenic content using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. The results showed widely varied concentrations of arsenic and lead in soil collected across the four neighborhoods. Concentrations of lead (range: 0.1–2141.0 mg/kg; mean: 241.7 mg/kg (SD 282.8); median 158.1 mg/kg) exceeding local and international reference levels were found in an inner city suburb, while raised arsenic concentrations (range: 0.1–65.3 mg/kg; mean: 18.3 mg/kg (SD 11.7); median: 19.1) were found in the gardens of a suburb located very close to a mine tailings facility. This study confirms the potential for high levels of exposure to toxic metals in residential gardens in an urban African setting. There is a pressing need for scaled up attention to the public health implications of exposure to soil pollution in developing countries.

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