A study of urban housing demolitions as sources of lead in ambient dust: Demolition practices and exterior dust fall

Mark R. Farfel, Anna O. Orlova, Peter S.J. Lees, Charles Rohde, Peter J. Ashley, J. Julian Chisolm

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Demolition of older housing for urban redevelopment purposes benefits communities by removing housing with lead paint and dust hazards and by creating spaces for lead paint-free housing and other community resources. This study was conducted to assess changes, if any, in ambient dust lead levels associated with demolition of blocks of older lead-containing row houses in Baltimore, Maryland (USA). In this article we present results based on dust-fall samples collected from fixed locations within 10 m of three demolition sites. In subsequent reports we will describe dust lead changes on streets, sidewalks, and residential floors within 100 m of the demolition sites. Geometric mean (GM) lead dust-fall rate increased by > 40-fold during demolition to 410 μg Pb/m2/hr (2,700 μg Pb/m2 per typical work day) and by > 6-fold during debris removal to 61 μg Pb/m2/hr (440 μg Pb/m2 per typical work day). Lead concentrations in dust fall also increased during demolition (GM, 2,600 mg/kg) and debris removal (GM, 1,500 mg/kg) compared with baseline (GM, 950 mg/kg). In the absence of dust-fall standards, the results were compared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPA's) dust-lead surface loading standard for interior residential floors (40 μg/ft2, equivalent to 431 μg/m2); daily lead dust fall during demolition exceeded the U.S. EPA floor standard by 6-fold on average and as much as 81-fold on an individual sample basis. Dust fall is of public health concern because it settles on surfaces and becomes a pathway of ambient lead exposure and a potential pathway of residential exposure via tracking and blowing of exterior dust. The findings highlight the need to minimize demolition lead deposition and to educate urban planners, contractors, health agencies, and the public about lead and other community concerns so that society can maximize the benefits of future demolition activities nationwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1228-1234
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Demolition
  • Demolition practices
  • Dust fall
  • Dust lead
  • Environment
  • Lead
  • Lead sources
  • Urban housing
  • Urban redevelopment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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