Development of Educational PPGIS Risk-Communication Tools and Application to Evaluating Urban Soils

Research Article

Development of Educational PPGIS Risk-Communication Tools and Application to Evaluating Urban Soils

Corresponding authorDr. Darryl B. Hood, Ph.D, Division of Environmental Health Sciences,
College of Public Health, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA, Tel: +1-614-247-4941;

Fax: +1-614- 292-4053; Email:


The goal of this study was to utilize established partnerships between academia, local public health agencies and community residents to evaluate residential soil levels and inform residents as to the potential risks from traffic related or industrial sources of pollution located in close proximity to this residential communities. Public participatory geographical information systems (PPGIS) demographic, environmental, socioeconomic, and health status profiles for the Stambaugh-Elwood (SE) community were developed using both ( and EJSCREEN. We hypothesized that the soil at SE residences would have metal concentrations above natural background levels. Three aims were developed that allowed testing of this hypothesis. Aim 1 focused on utilizing established partnerships between academia, state agencies and communities to assist in the development of a community voice. This was accomplished by utilization of the south side health advisory committee as a forum for residents to express themselves. Aim 2 was to design and conduct soil sampling for residents of the SE community. Aim 3 was to utilize an interactive-customized mappler portal as a risk-communication tool to allow residents to educate themselves as to the potential risks from industrial sources in close proximity to their community. Multiple comparisons of means was used to determine differences in soil element concentration by sampling location (i.e., house vs. road vs. yard) at P<0.05. This was accomplished by analysis of variance (ANOVA) and subsequent analysis using Tukey’s honest significant difference (HSD) test at P<0.05. Using a risk-based methodology, the results for soil metal levels are typical of urban soils and unremarkable. While the 8-sampled metals (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Mo, Se, Tl, Zn) occurred at statistically significant greater levels than natural county background levels, most were below risk-based residential soil screening levels. Results were conveyed to residents via an educational, risk-communication informational card. This study demonstrates that community led coalitions in collaboration with academic teams and state agencies can effectively address environmental concerns related to living in close proximity to industrial facilities. The SE community in Columbus, OH may be disadvantaged by multiple factors to include proximity to environmental hazards.


Within government as well as the academic and scientific community, recent focus has shifted towards more of an exposome framework approach when addressing current public health and environmental health issues. The Healthy People 2020 campaign has identified 5 social determinants of health; Economic Stability, Education, Health & Health Care, Neighborhood & Built Environment, and Social & Community Context. From an environmental health context, the Neighborhood and Built Environment determinant has proven to contribute significantly toward assessing health outcomes that are believed to result from exposure to environmental contaminants. The assessment of environmental conditions is an important consideration in determining potential exposure of humans to hazardous or toxic substances to negatively impact our health [1].

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University similarly categorizes social determinants of health, but describes them from three perspectives: domains, levels, and pathways. Akin to the Healthy People 2020 approach to evaluating health outcomes, the Kirwan Institute also recommends a broader focus that recognizes the relevance of specific areas, geographic scale, and the actual mechanisms in which individuals or populations are affected by specific hazards or experiences. In order to address such important public health issues, recognition of structural barriers as well as identification of population susceptibility factors must occur when evaluating disparity issues [2].

Environmental-Health Disparities

There are numerous communities throughout the United States that bare a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards within close proximity to the living space [3]. This occurrence with respect to vulnerable communities is consistent with an “environmental injustice” theme. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice (EJ) as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” [4] Often, communities that are disproportionally exposed to an excess of environmental hazards may be also be lacking in the other social determinants of health: economic stability, education, health care, and social context [5,6]. Low-income communities and specific minority groups are more frequently burdened by the cumulative effects of additional stressors and more frequent exposure pathways [7].

Although environmental justice is something to thrive for in all communities, the visibility of the environmental justice movement did not begin until the late 1960s following the American Civil Rights movement. There were several landmark cases in the 1970s and 1980s that were indicative of environmental injustice in communities with certain demographics. For example, in 1979, Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Inc. was one of the first lawsuits to challenge waste facility siting within a community. Three years later, the placement of a polychlorinated biphenyl landfill placed in Warren County, North Carolina led to a large number of community member protests. This particular incident steered research studies that assessed predictive factors such as race, socioeconomic status, land values and the relationship with facility siting and proximity to emissions from industrial facilities. In 1990, Robert Bullard, coined the “father of environmental justice” fused the concepts of social determinants, environmental movements, and community-led resistance strategies in his book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. With goals of environmental equity, Bullard planned the 1991 National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit that highlighted a more comprehensive approach in viewing environmental health issues. The summit’s focus of “public health, worker safety, land use, transportation, housing, resource allocation, and community empowerment” (p.556) ultimately led to the core of principles of environmental justice [8].

Despite the growth and visibility of environmental justice movements, millions of people today still experience the burden of excessive hazards within their communities. The EPA has identified seven factors that may contribute to environmental factors in vulnerable communities [9]: (in no particular order) 1) chronic psychosocial stress, 2)unique exposure, 3) multiple and cumulative environmental burdens, 4) physical infrastructure, 5) diminished capacity to participate in decision making, 6) vulnerability/susceptibility and 7) proximity to sources of environmental hazards.

The Stambaugh-Elwood community is one community of seven within the Southern Gateway in Columbus, Ohio that exhibits many of these characteristics that may contribute to the disparate health outcomes observed in this community. Our preliminary assessment of the heavy metal content of soils in this urban area that is located in close proximity to industrial complexes represents the first step in determining a hazard index for this area. Although heavy metals may be present naturally in soil in trace amounts, there may be potential health risks to humans if levels are in excess of Franklin county, OH background levels. Anthropogenic and industrial processes have been sown to increase the potential for adverse exposure to human populations [10,11]. Cumulative and chronic exposures may be contributing factors to a variety of health ailments. Exposure to heavy metals can negatively impact normal functioning of the reproductive and central nervous systems to result in fetal and/or infant death, low birth rates and potential developmental issues [10-13]. In addition, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and lead are classified as known or probable human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer [14].

A previous study by Sharma et al., (2014) assessed heavy metal concentrations in a community located approximately 8-10 miles from Stambaugh-Elwood. Heavy metal concentrations (As, Cd, Cr, Pb and Zn) were compared to the USEPA regional soil screening levels. The study identified Pb and Zn as metals that exceeded Franklin county background concentrations. Similarly to Stambaugh-Elwood, Weinland Park is considered to be a post-industrial low-income urban neighborhood. Fifty percent of Weinland park residents identify as African American. The average annual income of the neighborhood was $17,000 in 2009. About 36% of residents are not employed, and for those that are employed, 18% of residents have full time employment. The average for the City of Columbus is $41,370 [15,16]

The linkage between environmental domains and disparate health outcomes is gaining appreciation for its multi-dimensionality and defines the recent introduction of our public health exposome framework [17,18]. According to several studies, socioeconomic status may also be a contributing factor to adverse health outcomes [19,20]. Residents of Franklin County, Ohio have an average household income of $67,000 annually and the average Columbus residential home earns approximately $55,000. Southern Gateway residents have an average annual household income of approximately $33,000, which is significantly less than Franklin County and Columbus city averages. In the Southern Gateway community, the poverty rate is 43%, about two times higher than the Columbus city average (~22%) [21].

Like Weinland Park, Stambaugh-Elwood community characteristics are also indicative of a post-industrial low-come urban neighborhood. In the 1970s, many of the factories and businesses that had thrived during the Industrial Era began to close. The long-term economic effects can be seen within the community, as the economy has shifted. The Stambaugh-Elwood community consists of 46% residents that identify as African American, whereas the overall percentage of the African American population for Columbus, OH is 28%. This community also has a significantly higher elderly population of 15% of the resident population. Annual income rates show that African Americans have an adjusted mean income of $14,273, whereas non-Hispanic White residents have more than double the income, with an adjusted mean income of $30,451. Seventy- two percent of residents live below the poverty line. According to comments made by the Southern Gateway Collaborative committee, SE is isolated from the rest of the Southern Gateway due to industrial use and the community has been “neglected in terms of infrastructure improvements.” [22] Many residents live near industrial facilities that contain hazardous substances. Adverse health outcomes are much more prevalent in SE than other parts of the city [21]. Recent studies substantiate a growing concern related to potentially linking the spatiotemporal relationships of social vulnerability and exposure  to environmental contaminants [23,24]. In the later study, Krieger and colleagues in an elegant study demonstrated that neighborhoods with higher concentrations of poverty and populations of color have higher exposure to traffic-related pollutants[24]. In fact, the study improves our understanding of the social determination of these patterns by analyzing exposure to one spatially patterned traffic-related air pollutant, black carbon in connection to the Index of Concentration at the Extremes (ICE) [25]. The focus on black carbon as an exposure with notable public health significance was informed by a plethora of evidence indicating that it is “causally involved in all-cause, lung cancer, and cardiovascular mortality, morbidity, and likely adverse birth outcomes and nervous system effects” [26].

Figure 1. EPA-EJSCREEN portal. SE population is in the 90-93 percentile for proximity to a facility with a Risk Management Plan. The orange arrow denotes SE neighborhood. (http://

Within the United States, the greatest single contributor to black carbon ambient levels is transportation (2010 estimate: 216 out of 321 Gg emitted)[26], rendering black carbon an important indicator of ambient traffic-related fine particulate matter, especially for urban air pollution [26,27]. This study represents the first phase in deploying our public health exposome framework to analyze potential exposure to spatially patterned soil contaminant levels in connection to the ICE.

The ICE simultaneously measures concentration of privilege and deprivation and can be computed at multiple levels and scales. The results of the Krieger, et al. [24] study suggest that extreme concentrations of socioeconomic resources and racial/ethnic privilege, structured by social class and race relations, as manifested at the census tract level, are inversely associated with individuals’ residential exposure to black carbon, an important airborne pollutant, even after controlling for individual and household social characteristics.

Vulnerable communities often bear the burden of environmental injustice within their communities, due to political, economic, and social factors [28-30]. Various population-based studies have shown the associations of environmental disparities being linked to socioeconomic status and race [31-34].

Studies have shown that communities exhibit various degrees of health outcomes that have previously been linked to environmental contaminants [22,35,36]. For example, preterm birth and infant mortality are adverse health outcomes that have links to environmental exposures. As reported in Ferguson et al., 2013, there are suggestive associations of environmental contamination/exposures that may impact preterm birth outcomes. The heightened concern from environmental contamination and its effect on the fetus is reasonable because of the potential for long-term exposure and the ability of certain contaminants to cross the placental barrier [37].

As observed when using the EJSCREEN portal, SE residents live within close proximity to facilities that harbor harmful environmental contaminants. Franklin County, Ohio has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. Although the Franklin County infant mortality rate is already extraordinarily high in comparison to the rest of the nation, there is also a noticeable disparity between the SE neighborhood within the Southern Gateway and the rest of the county. Franklin County has a 9% low birth rate, whereas the South Side has a 12% low birth rate.

Materials and Methods

Community Mapping Decision Support Tools

Subsequent to development and customization of a PPGIS portal, by the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, College of Public Health in April 2014, and the Environmental Protection Agency launched EJSCREEN in June 2015.

Figure 2. (a) Franklin County Infant Birth Outcomes [36] (b) Comparison between Southside health statistics and Franklin County (Birth and prenatal care numbers noted in percentages)[38]

Like, EJSCREEN is an interactive mapping tool that enables residents of Southern Gateway communities in Columbus, OH to access public and private databases that may assist in identifying communities that may have environmental concerns. The EPA tool EJSCREEN combines twelve environmental indicators and six demographic indicators that combine to create twelve environmental justice indices. The data includes pollution exposure estimates and is able to show population proximity to industrial or facility locations. This comprehensive tool enables users to access a variety of data, however it is important to note that EJSCREEN is not to be used as a risk assessment tool. Rather, it can highlight areas of interest that may be burdened by environmental disturbances and health disparities. Due to the fact that the EJSCREEN maps can provide data on the local level, it serves to provide the much-needed attention to vulnerable communities that may be in need of further scientific review, analysis, or policy changes. [39,40]

The SE community of Columbus, Ohio is located within the zip code 43207. Within EJSCREEN, there is approximately 90-95% of this area within close proximity to a facility e USEPA. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities that use extremely hazardous substances are required to have an RMP on file. For community members that live within the vicinity of these facilities, it is possible that hazardous outputs might be contributing factors for disparate health outcomes within the region. [41]

The present preliminary study sought to identify metalloid levels from an urban soil matrix in a community that is located in close proximity to industry thereby providing baseline residential soil level data for residents and other stakeholders.

An important aspect of evaluating relationships between the built environment and health outcomes is geographical information about structural points of interest within a neighborhood. A mapping database, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can provide insight for a variety of potential contributing factors such as environmental management, social economic status, and proximity to potential hazards. PPGIS is a community engagement form of GIS that can also assist with public health advocacy [42,43].

Information provided on the portal developed for the SE community ( is shown in Table 1 and includes 1) Ohio health data from the Ohio Department of Health database; 2) Sub-county level gridded PM 2.5 data from the Marshall Space Flight Center database in Huntsville, AL; 3) USEPA (Unites States Environmental Protection Agency) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data and EPA Air Data from approximately twelve industrial sites within the boundaries of Southern Gateway communities comprising zip codes 43206 and 43207; 4) Census track and zip code data; and 5) Land use and cover. An added feature for stakeholders is the ability to permit uploading of individual spatial data specific to an individual’s place of residence.

Table 1. Examples of mineable sources of environmental data (bold) that are presently included in the customized PPGIS portal for Stambaugh- Elwood at

Consent for Soil Sampling

The consent process for soil sampling at SE residences for this study was done in collaboration with the monthly meetings of the South Side Health Advisory Committee. The South Side Health Advisory Council (SSHAC) is a community health committee sanctioned by Columbus Public Health that seeks to bring health concerns of a community to the forefront. This specific committee serves residents of the zip codes 43205, 43206 and 43207. Every third Thursday of the month, the Southside Health Advisory Councils hosts community engagement meetings at the Church for All People, located at 946 Parsons Ave, Columbus, OH 43206. Residents of the Southern Gateway Community attended these meetings and were provided with project background information from The Ohio State University researchers. During these meetings, residents were given the opportunity to decide if they would like to consent for soil sampling at their residence. Residents were informed of the benefits of the research, potential risks, and protection against risks. Although this project was determined to not include human subjects, all residents that elected to take part in the research did sign a consent form. Institutional Review Board, Protocol #2014B0445 (exempt). Consented participants were made aware that they 1) could leave the study any time; 2) could decide to stop participating in the study and    if so there will be no penalty to them and 3) their decisions would not affect their future relationship with the College of Public Health at The Ohio State University [44]. From the individuals that consented to participate in the soil sampling research, future appointments were made for a research team member to obtain soil samples at the residence.

Soil Sampling Strategy

Twenty-one resident locations within the SE neighborhood were selected from consented residences by using a random number generator (Figure 3).

Figure 3. A random generator algorithm selected SE residences for soil sampling (blue residences). See text for details

The selected residences were split into east and west halves of the neighborhood. Ten to eleven residences from each half were selected for a total of 21 residential locations. All soil sampling occurred on April 11, 2015. During sampling, the researchers used their judgment as to shifting the sampling strategy to ensure better overall balance of sampling coverage in the neighborhood. For example, the number generator selected two residences immediately adjacent to one another. A substitution occurred to sample from a residence farther away.

As referenced in Figure 4 (below), at each location four types of soil samples were collected: house, road, yard 1, and yard 2. For the house samples: four subsamples were collected along the foundation and placed into the house sample bag. For the road samples, four subsamples were collected from the yard area along the road and placed in the road sample bag. For the yard 1 sample, four subsamples were collected from the general yard area and placed in the yard 1 sample bag. For the yard 2 sample, four subsamples were collected from a different part of the yard, and placed in the yard 2 sample bag. Soils were collected using bulb planters, to a depth of 2 inches. There were 84-total samples collected from all of the SE residences. Acquisition of soil samples was performed for total metal content using EPA method 3051A[45] [46]. In totality, sampling resulted in 84-soil (4 x 21) samples. Each sample consisted of four subsamples. For example, walking along the foundation and placing the bulb planter into the soil at four different locations represented the house foundation sample. All of these four subsamples were placed and included in the House-sampling bag. Samples were transported to the laboratory Nicholas Basta, Ph.D. at The Ohio State University and allowed to dry under a fume hood for approximately 2 weeks. Samples were subsequently sieved to 2 mm, and a subsample was crushed using a mortar and pestle for a total acid digestion following EPA Method 3051A. Soil digests were syringe filtered using 0.45 μm nylon syringe filters and analyzed using Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES) EPA Method 6010C using an Agilent 700 ICP-OES (Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, CA).

Figure 4. Schematic of soil sampling strategy for selected residences in the Stambaugh-Elwood community.

Statistical Analysis of Data

The total mean metal content of soils was compared with upper prediction limit values either as reported by OEPA (2013) or calculated from 95th percentile from USGS (2004, 2013). Soils were considered elevated if the element concentration + 2 standard deviations (std. dev.) were above the 95th percentile natural background concentration reported by USGS (2004, 2013) or OEPA (2013). The minimum, maximum, and percentage elevation effect size was calculated for soils with elevated of elements.. Multiple comparisons of means was used to determine differences in soil element concentration by sampling location (i.e., house vs. road vs. yard) at P<0.05. This was accomplished by analysis of variance (ANOVA) and subsequent analysis using Tukey’s honest significant difference (HSD) test at P<0.05.

Results and Discussion


The PPGIS portal that was developed for Southern Gateway communities can be viewed in real time at This tool allows for mapping, visualization and communicating spatial information from large public and private environmental data sets that are relevant to the health status of Southern Gateway community residents. This methodology is a promising approach for engaging community partners in educational risk communication and/or hazard identification assessments by providing an on-line, interactive mapping functionality. As can be seen in the active layer legend in the portal, this functionality allows stakeholders to map data from 1) health and/or environmental surveys, 2) Black/White infant mortality hot spots [47], 3) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data [20], 4) NASA(National Aeronautic Space Administration) Modis satellite PM2.5 sub-county level gridded data, 5) zip codes, 6) Ohio census tracks and 7) Land use/Land cover data. The methodology also allows stakeholders to map disparities, population and community characteristics and risk factors that are gathered during consolidation of a community principle [8]. In the case of the SE community, PPGIS represented a powerful tool for proposing that this population was vulnerable based on proximity to potential contaminant emissions from neighboring industry.

This prediction was recently validated with the release of the USEPA EJSCREEN tool. Upon searching the zip code 43207 in EJSCREEN, this census track area scored over 80% in overall 1) Environmental Justice Index, 2) Demographic and 3) Environmental profiles to be consistent with the characteristics of an Environmental Justice community.

Data Mining for Historical Industrial Emissions in Close Proximity to SE

The two graphs below are examples of how our PPGIS portal can assist vulnerable populations in communities located in close proximity to industrial facilities in educating themselves as it relates to historical contaminant emissions from neighboring industrial facilities. Figure 5(a) represents the total contaminant air releases from an industrial company in zip code 43207 in close proximity to the SE community for the period 1987-2012. Shown are the data plotted from the TRI database for this 25-yr period.

Figure 5(b) represents the total contaminant emissions from a second industrial facility (Company B) in zip code 43207 for the same 25-year period from 1987-2012. From 1987 through 2002, releases of chromium, manganese and manganese containing compounds, molybdenum trioxide, nickel and zinc comprise the majority of releases for the 8-year period from 1996-2004 totaling more than a combined 30,000 total pounds released into the environment. Naphthalene (a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon whose neurodevelopmental and reproductive toxicity has been thoroughly investigated over the past 20-years) [48-56] releases into the environment also far exceed 20,000 pounds per year for this 8-year period.

Figure 5. USEPA Toxic Release Inventory data (1987-2012) of on-site releases for (a) Company A and (b) Company B located in close proximity to the Stambaugh-Elwood Community.

Soil Sampling Results in the SE Community

The design of our study allowed us to ask two fundamental research questions with regard to urban soils. First, is there a systematic elevation of soil metals and metalloids in the study area relative to expected concentrations from previously released findings (Lindsay, 1979[57]; OEPA, 2013; USGS, 2004; USGS 2013). Since metals have natural abundance in all soils it is important to compare background levels with measured soil levels to determine if contamination as evidenced by elevated levels of metals is present.

Table 2. Comparison between metal concentrations in Stambaugh-Elwood soil versus published values.

† References: 1) USGS, 2004; 2) OEPA, 2013; 3) USGS, 2013. Upper prediction limit values either as reported by OEPA (2013) or calculated from 95th percentile from USGS (2004, 2013).

‡ Calculated as (Minimum effect size/UPL or 95th percentile)*100 and (Maximum effect size/ UPL or 95th percentile)*100 [58-60].

The results from the 84-soil samples were compared to published values for soil metals and metalloids in Ohio and within Franklin County, OH (Table 1). The published values for soil metals in Ohio and Franklin County, OH were not collected from areas impacted by human activities, i.e. urban residential areas. The published values represent natural uncontaminated soil background levels of metals in soil. It is likely that human activities in urban areas will elevate metal levels. In the  present study, 8-metals and one non-metal (Cd, Cu, Pb, Mo, P, Se, Tl, Zn) occurred at levels greater than natural background levels (Table 2).

The second question that our design allows us to answer is 2) Are there differences in the concentrations of soil metals and metalloids between the sampling locations (House, Yard, and Road)? The results from the 84-soil samples were compared to one another based upon sampling location (Table 3). This resulted in 21-house samples, 21-road samples, and 42-yard samples (21 for Yard 1 and 21 for Yard 2 combined).

Most of the elements had consistent concentrations amongst the three sample locations. Zinc was elevated in the house soil samples relative to the other soil sampling locations. Cadmium and lead in house samples tended to have increased soil concentration compared to the other locations but the increased concentration was not significant at P<0.05.

Table 3. Elemental metal concentrations in Stambaugh-Elwood Soil Sampling Locations.

†Fold increase estimated by comparing the elevated location average to the combined average of the other two locations.

‡ Different letter designations within a row represents significant difference differences (P<0.05) between mean values.

Figure 6-13. Residential Urban Soil Levels of As, Cu, Pb, Mo, Se, Cd, TI and Zn in the Stambaugh-Elwood Community versus Franklin County (Background), Common Averages and Residential Screening Levels

Figure 6

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Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13

RSLs) (mg/kg soil). Soil samples were taken from 21 of 46 residences that consented for the study in compliance with OSU IRB Protocol 2014B0445-exempt. Each sample consisted of four subsamples. Analysis proceeded following EPA Method (3051A and digests were subsequently analyzed for metals using an Agilent 700 ICP-OES.

As previously mentioned, metals are naturally present in trace amounts within soil matrices with variations depending on geographic area and soil type. Due to this fact, it was important to provide comparison numbers and reference levels for residents. In eighty-four soil samples for the twenty-one residences (four samples per residence) four of seven metals found to be present in SE soil at levels above the normal Franklin county background levels are often associated with the historical use of Pb-based paint and leaded gasoline. Lead in urban soils comes from the historic use of Pb-based products including Pb-based paint and Pb-based gasoline. Dried Pb paint often contained 30 to 50% Pb by weight. as is shown in Table 1, Cadmium-Cd, Chromium-Cr, Copper-Cu, Lead-Pb, Molybdenum-Mo, Selenium-Se, and Zinc-Zn. The metals were also ranked against one another based on soil sampling location. Magnesium was found to be present at above normal levels in the road samples, whereas cadmium, lead and zinc were above normal Franklin county background levels in the three house samples. Paint analyses from older urban homes show high concentrations of multiple metals in exterior paint samples (in mg/kg): Pb 35,000; Zn 31,000; Cd 439; Cu 2,000; and Cr 775 [61-63] We found elevated Pb, Cd and Zn, all paint components, at significantly higher levels along the dripline of the homes (i.e., house sample). Leaded gas emissions travel more than 100 m from roadways. Therefore, it is possible that  the increased levels of soil Pb for the entire neighborhood was due to vehicle emissions from leaded gas. Selenium, thallium, and molybdenum were slightly increased in the soils. These trace elements are not associated with Pb-based paint or Pb gas emissions. Atmospheric deposition of coal combustion or other high temperature combustion activities can lead to elevation of all 7 of the metals found in this study (including Mo, Se, and Tl). Increased levels of Zn along the house dripline are consistent with use of Pb-based paint. Although not significant at P<0.05, many soils along the house dripline had enhanced levels of Pb, Cd, and Cu which are all consistent with Pb-based paint use. The enhanced Mg concentrations in the road samples were likely due to dolomitic limestone used for road resurfacing.

As part of our community-state agency-academic partnership, it was essential that the results be shared with the residents who elected to participate in the soil sampling study. Therefore, an educational, risk-communication informational card was developed. This process is complex in nature because there are different levels of how to report scientific information. If data are included, there must be additional information provided which can provide context and meaning to quantitative numbers. Scientific research is often complex; therefore possible barriers to communication may arise. It is important to report the facts and the message at a level that can be easily understood by the recipient. It is essential to continue to encourage engagement and develop trust within the Stambaugh-Elwood community. Materials that are distributed must provide information in an understandable way that will take into account variations in the health literacy of community members.

It is essential to create materials that will not consume the reader or potentially confuse the reader to misinterpret the results. In order to adequately reach an audience, one must consider the quantitative information that will be provided in conjunction with qualitative information that will address potential concerns, interests, vulnerabilities, and values. R. Elliot Churchill of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a method known as the “single over-riding communications objective.” This method was used in the development of communication materials within the Southern Gateway because the goal is to educate and inform residents and stakeholders. This method differs from the traditional scientific report method that includes: an introduction, materials and methods section, results and discussion. The scientific report method is most applicable as in the present study to report preliminary results [64].

The informational postcard developed and customized for Stambaugh-Elwood residents is shown in Figure 14 and included the following information: individual soil sampling specific to each resident, United States Geological Survey: Ohio specific averages for metals, Franklin County, OH averages for metals, Ohio-EPA averages for metals and Ohio-EPA Residential Soil Screening Levels (RSLs) of the 8-metals. Individual informational postcards conveyed the levels of metals in comparison with these aforementioned reference levels.

Figure 14. (a) and (b) Informational Postcard Developed and Customized for Residents of the Stambaugh-Elwood Community reporting Soil Sampling Results. Shown in (a) is the front side of the post card and in (b) is the individual residents soil sampling result presented consistent with the “single over-riding communications objective concept” developed by R. Elliot Churchill of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the most important aspects of communication efforts at all levels is adequate framing of an issue. According to Taylor, “framing refers to the process by which individuals and groups, identify, interpret, and express social and political concerns.” [65] Proper framing during communication may positively influence the influx of supporters and community stakeholders that identify with a particular issue. With the release of EJSCREEN by the USEPA we observed an immediate effect on individual behavior and collective action of the residents in this community [65].

The community engagement activity that occurred as a result of this preliminary study will continue to foster a community- state agency-academic partnership within Southern Gateway communities. It is essential that our current and future relationship with these communities be focused on beneficial reciprocal outcomes with a common goal. In addition to providing clear communication materials, it is important to continue to provide communities with assistance and access to informational resources that may enhance knowledge. Community Campus Partnerships for Health, a non-profit organization that promotes health equity and social justice, developed a framework for enhancing university partnerships that consist of nine principles [66].

Principles 5 and 7 framed the development of our informational postcard, which ensured that results were conveyed with relevant background information and accessible university and state agency contacts for the purpose of clarification and to provide community members with continued avenues to ask questions or express concerns.


The results from the soil sampling portion of this study demonstrated that 8-metals (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Mo, Se, Tl, Zn) occurred at statistically significant greater levels than natural county background levels but most were below risk-based residential soil screening levels. When using the risk-based methodology, soil metal levels were typical of urban soils and unremarkable and this fact should not detract from the context of our PPGIS findings ( and those from the USEPA (EJSCREEN). Those findings indicated that the EJ index for the SE community (43207) is approaching the US 80th percentile in five of seven categories. From a national public health perspective, there are many other communities with characteristics similar to those in SE exhibiting concerns about myriad of environmental justice issues. As a community becomes more aware of the relationships between potential environmental hazards and potential exposures, it is important to continue to work towards developing effective educational and environmental interventions that improve the health equity of a community. The Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent 2014 Environmental Justice Progress Report developed a framework for including environmental justice concerns in policy making, enforcement, and community programming. In May 2015, the USEPA updated this framework to include three  environmental justice priorities that the agency aims to focus on in the next five years. The USEPA has committed to reducing environmental health disparities, developing community relationships, and identifying progression in burdened areas. In order to provide quality hazard identification activities leading to risk-assessments, various factors should be taken into account such as population susceptibility, socioeconomics, and cumulative exposure [43,67,68]. It will be essential to continue to partner with community members in identifying resources towards the implementation of effective environmental-based interventions that better inform public health policy. Community led coalitions that collaborate and partner with academic teams and state agencies have the potential to increase health literacy, reduce environmental health disparities, and increase movement towards the goal of health equity


We would like to thank all the residents of the SE community that assisted us in this preliminary study. We would also like to  collectively thank Columbus Public Health and in particular, W. Gene Bailey, Director of the Healthy Neighborhoods Program; Co-chairs, Gladys Murray and Kathleen Gmeiner of the South Side Health Advisory Committee. We also thank Dr. Russ E. Savage for critical review of the manuscript. This study was supported, in part by start-up funds (DBH) from the College of Public Health. We also acknowledge Dr. Nicholas Basta for his support in conducting the sampling and analyzing the data. Dr. Basta also provided valuable input to writing and editing sections of the manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

State any potential conflicts of interest here or “The authors declare no conflict of interest”.


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