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Luci Kohn and Dick Brugam

"Isotopic Evidence for Sources of Lead Contamination in SW Illinois"

Brugam and Kohn used their Urban Research Scholar award to build upon work already completed with the IUR (along with William Retzlaff and Z-Q Lin). The award was used to fund the acquisition and testing of ground samples for lead contamination at various locations within the Metro-East area.

Hoyt MetalThis 1910 photo shows a shot tower where lead shot was made. This is the lead works that started lead contamination problems at Horseshoe Lake State Park in Granite City, Ill.

Although there has been an intense effort to clean up lead contamination in urban areas, there are still sources which pose a danger to city residents. One source of contamination is that of abandoned lead smelter sites which produced lead aerosols that have contaminated broad areas by leaving a toxic residue in soils at large distances from the smelters.

IUR Urban Research Scholar funding enabled a preliminary study to be undertaken to determine if contamination from lead smelters that once existed in southwestern Illinois could be found in the soils of the following areas:

  • Bicycle trails to the east and northeast of Granite City
  • Woodland Park in Collinsville
  • Mississippi River Festival Parking lot located on the SIUE campus
  • Old growth woods located on the SIUE campus


These locations were derived from trajectory analysis that reconstructed the path of airborne pollutants from local smelters. Multiple soil core samples were taken from each site and analyzed for lead contamination.

The results show widespread contamination of Southwestern Illinois soils with lead. The likely sources of contamination vary with the site with some locations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's limits for lead contamination. The variation in lead concentration does not follow the large-scale aerosol gradient that we expected. Individual sites may have high or low values which may be due to local sources of lead. The greatest lead concentrated samples come from Woodland Park in Collinsville.

This research suggests that most sites in Southwestern Illinois are at least somewhat contaminated with lead. The sources of contamination are variable and future research is needed to explore other areas in similar regions.The health impacts of low-level contamination should also be investigated.

The team went on to partner with SIUE Anthropology Professor Julie Holt to secure an Interdisciplinary Grant from the SIUE Graduate School for $25,000 ("Environmental Impact of Native Americans and Early American Settlers in the Lower Illinois River Valley." Awarded for the FY2009 Multidisciplinary Grant Program). An application to the NSF has recently been made for $833,000/3 years, the research title being: "Native Americans, Early EuroAmerican Settlers, and Environmental Change in Illinois: Coupled Human and Environment Interactions."

Luci Kohn continues her work with field mice.

Initial study funded by The Institute for Urban Research:

Rodents have been used as bioindicators of heavy metal contamination in a variety of sites. We examined the exposure of the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) to heavy metal contaminants in two areas along a bicycle path: one with a low level lead in the soil, and one with significantly higher soil lead content. We found significantly higher levels of lead in the selected mouse tissues from the area with higher soil lead content. These results have significant implications for human health as well as animal ecology. Extensions of this work will examine the effects of lead on both terrestrial and aquatic animals, as well as the prehistoric and historic exposure aquatic and terrestrial animals to lead, as viewed through the archaeological record.

Extensions of this work have been funded by the following:

Internal grant proposals:

Seed Grants for Transitional and Exploratory Projects (STEP) "Consequences of Lead (Pb) Exposure in Aquatic and Terrestrial Habitats: Data From Mice and Catfish" - SIUE Graduate School to Luci Kohn (funded)

External grant proposals:

"MRI-R2: Acquisition of Raman and Infrared Microscopes for Interdisciplinary Research". Funded by National Science Foundation ($572,417); P.I.: Julie Holt; Co-P.I.'s: Michael Shaw, Cory Willmott, Luci Kohn, Huichun "Judy" Zhang.