Initial Publication Date: December 5, 2019

Lead Pollution & Environmental Injustice in Springfield, Ohio

Art by Elena Dahl

Sarah Fortner, Lead Research Mentor (

Soil lead concentration and redlining map for Springfield, Ohio

Lead is a pervasive pollutant associated with pre-1978 paint, pre-2014 faucets, and aging water service lines. Deteriorating paint from housing and gasoline have left a legacy of lead in soils in many communities. In some census tracts in our community more than 20% of children have experience lead poisoning, which leads to developmental delays, behavioral challenges and more. Wittenberg Environmental Science Research Methods (ESCI 250) students have tested >500 soils for lead pollution in Springfield, Ohio. They have worked in partnership with community building organizations in lead vulnerable neighborhoods including: The Springfield Promise Neighborhood, The Conscious Connect, Springfield Ohio Urban Plantfolk, and consultation with health, environmental, and community development partners. Projects feature garden and future garden evaluation, residential sampling, street right-of-way sampling, and evaluating vacant lots where houses have been knocked down all exploring the sources and fate of lead, especially spatial distribution. The above map represents multiple projects and presents lead results in the context of historical redlining practices by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930s that rated neighborhood investment risk "A-Best, B-Still Desirable, C-Definitely Declining and D-Hazardous" that designated largely based on race leading to elevated mortgage risk and sustained disinvestment in Black and brown neighborhoods even after the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968. Neighborhood disinvestment resulted in dilapidated housing and lead poisoning as well as other community development choices that amplified harms (e.g. locations of Toxic Release facilities). Across all soil sampling years (2013-2020), ~30% soils exceed safe gardening recommendations (200 ppm), ~10% above EPA recommendations (400 ppm), and a few samples above EPA recommendations for bare soil play areas (1200 ppm). We recommend lead testing before any site is used for gardening. We also recommend developing a municipal composting plan to address poor soil health at sites where housing has been knocked down (see picture of low carbon soil above with a noticeably lighter color than undisturbed residential soils). If you are concerned about lead poisoning from residential or soil sources have children under six tested. Contact your local health district for more information.

Community Products for Environmental Health Advocacy

1. Executive Summary: Lead in Springfield, Ohio Soil (Acrobat (PDF) 1.7MB Dec8 20)

Describes soil lead pollution in Springfield, Ohio. Offers a brief summary of safe gardening. Derived from 2014-2020 class soil analyses.

2. Executive Summary: Redlining & Harsh Environments in Springfield, Ohio (Acrobat (PDF) 1000kB Dec7 20)

Describes how harsh environmental conditions (housing vacancy, lead pollution, combined sewage, toxic releases) disproportionately impact redlined communities in Springfield. Offers a brief summary of what other communities are doing to address this through community development & empowerment. Derived from student environmental justice reports & other references provided.

Student Conference Presentations & Publications

  • Corsello, R. Community Engagement Concerning Soil Lead Levels, 2020, The International Undergraduate Journal For Service-Learning, Leadership, and Social Change: Vol. 9: Iss. 2, p. 30-38.
  • Simek*, V., Kaupp Fett, A. Fortner, S.K., 2016: Soil Safe Springfield: Wittenberg Undergraduates collaborate to reduce urban garden lead risk. Ohio Environmental Health Meeting at Sinclair University, OH.
  • Wilson*, E.L., Breslin*, K., Marvelle*, K.A., Thacker*, T. N., Fortner, S.K., and Ritter, J. B., 2014, Soil lead distribution at two sites: implications for lead soil outreach in the Promise Neighborhood, Springfield, OH. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs v. 46, No 208, p. 40

Project Details

2020 Student Team

  • Sam Bennett
  • Pryce Durnye
  • Tiffany Lange
  • Kaitlyn McGee
  • Jack Olenchek
  • Casey Peck
  • Bradley Quick
  • Cheyenne Ross
  • Sarah Schildmeyer
  • Becka Schlake
  • Meggie Suffoletta
  • Evan Sugrue
  • Joshua Thompson
  • Leah Vogt
  • Becca Yoblinski


Alliance Workspace »

Student & Community Partner Engagement

This course-based project builds knowledge through collaboration with community gardening efforts & those with a vested interest in empowering improved lead health outcomes.Students engage with grassroots organizations and those with a vested interest in the health of lead vulnerable neighborhoods. They include: The Clark County Combined Health District, The Clark County Local Foods Council and OSU Extension, The Clark County Land Reutilization Corporation,The Conscious Connect, The Springfield Promise Neighborhood, The Springfield Promise Neighborhood Association, The City of Springfield. Students have also worked with partners at history & cultural-arts focused centers to understand historical land use & to engage audiences: The Turner Foundation, & The Westcott House. Students have sampled vacant lots, residential areas, parks and 15+ community gardens. 


Project engagement: 3 faculty and 1 community partners, 50 undergraduates, 1 middle school student

  • Environmental Science Research Methods students partnered with Adam Brown from The Conscious Connect to map lead and soil organic carbon at children's equity zones (Houses of Knowledge) for future gardens. They also explored conditions at housing knockdown sites informed by the Land Revitalization Bank.
  • Sheryl Cunnigham and Elena Dahl incorporated local case studies and advocacy to address environmental lead pollution and redlining in their Communication & Art classes.
  • Mary Cunningham (Ridgewood School) completed her second science fair project exploring lead.
  • Pryce Durnye assisted Springfield Promise Neighborhood partners with Visioning Garden maintenance & education development.


Project engagement: 7 faculty and 10+ community partners, 80 undergraduates, 1 middle school student, 250 community members

  • Environmental Science Research Methods students hosted a lead testing & art advocacy event in collaboration with art students at PromiseFest. The event was advertised on social media, the local news. In addition a lightening talk on lead risk was held at Mother Stewart's Brewery in collaboration with the Westcott House. Collaborating partners advertised events (Clark County Local Foods Council, Clark County Combined Health District, Miami Valley Health, Springfield NAACP, Lincoln Elementary). Methods students also completed Environmental Racism reports in response to a housing policy guide that did did not consider lead risk.
  • Asharee Jones & Jubileen Kombe have empowered Black 4th and 5th grade STEM students at the Ark Rescue Center mentored by Joshua Moore (Assistant Dean of Students for diversity & inclusion).
  • Kristin Cline (chemistry faculty) brought her methods students to learn about soil testing using the XRF.
  • Mary Cunningham (Ridgewood School) completed her science fair project exploring lead associated with housing age.
  • Dr. Brooke Wagner (Sociology Faculty) provided expertise to students on building community capacity that informed their project directions.


Lead health challenges are deeply tied to other issues of community health, food security, and education.  The project generates resources, research, and education for community grants & internships for students who collaborate with partners on related projects. 

  • Wittenberg faculty are education and evaluation collaborators on a 2020-2024 $400,000 USDA NIFA grant on the McCain Acres garden that was sampled for lead by students in 2015.
  • A generous anonymous partner donated an XRF to the Environmental Science Program in 2016. This included disposables, standards, and a soil testing set-up ($50,000)
  • In 2019 American Geophysical Union provided $5000 through a Centennial Grant for empowering Promise Neighborhood residents with testing opportunities, supporting lead health activities identified by the Springfield Promise Neighborhood Association, & for empowering Black & STEM Excellence at Wittenberg in collaboration with Black leadership.
  • Students working on this project contribute a minimum of 20 consultancy hours on lead soil mapping and advocacy material generation. At a minimum their GIS & environmental pollutant consultancy is worth $25,000 ($15/hr).
  • We contribute to land use health equity planning and are implementation partners on the Clark County Combined Health District Creating Healthy Communities grant (2019-2023).
  • Partner collaboration has informed multiple health related efforts in our community related to local food and land use.
  • 5 Wittenberg students have held internships working on community garden soil sampling, education, and local food capacity building projects.


Job Skills, Habits, & Technology

These are skills & habits that may transfer to your future work.

  • Experimental Design
    • Identifying a research question
    • Setting scope & identifying strategies for spatial sampling
    • Geographic approach methods (Ask, Acquire, Examine, Analyze, Act)
    • Community-based participatory research methods (collaboration with partners and engaging residents in sampling)
    • Risk Assessment
  • GIS and spatial interpolation using U.S. Census data & data collected in the field by student teams
  • Environmental sampling methods for soil organic carbon & soil lead including QA/QC (precision & accuracy)
  • Risk analyses for environmental lead pollution and comparisons with EPA and literature-based health thresholds
  • Statistical Analyses using Minitab
    • Box Plots
    • Histograms
    • Descriptive Statistics
    • Choosing statistics-parametric & non parametric
  • Community engagement & building trust with community around a sensitive health topic
  • Hosting a public health literacy building event in collaboration with grassroots and health partners
  • Written communication to partner & public audiences (reports, health advocacy)