Elevated soil and blood lead levels with increasing residential proximity to a mine tailings facility in Soweto, South Africa

Angela Mathee, Tanya Haman, Vusumuzi Nkosi, Nisha Naicker, Renée Street

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Mining has long been associated with the release of a range of toxic metals including lead, elevated levels of which have been found in land surrounding mine dumps as far afield as Spain, India, Macedonia and Nigeria. Mining has been a key pillar of economic development in South Africa for around a century and a half, and has left a legacy of major environmental contamination, with the poorest experiencing the highest burden of exposure. The current study was undertaken to ascertain the concentrations of lead in soil and in the blood of adults and children residing at increasing distances from a cluster of large tailings facilities (MTFs) in greater Johannesburg, South Africa. Through a cross-sectional survey data on household characteristics were collected through a questionnaire survey, and supplemented with samples of soil from household gardens, together with blood samples from child-adult pairs from all households included in the study. Soil lead concentrations decreased significantly (median = 35.7 mg/kg closest to the mine tailings facility (MTF) and 8.6 mg/kg at the furthest point in the study site) with increasing distance from the MTF. Blood lead levels were highest in both adults (median = 3.0 μg/dL) and children (median = 4.0 μg/dL) who lived closest (≤500 m) to the MTF, and lowest (1.4 μg/dL in adults and 2.5 μg/dL in children) in those who lived furthest away (4–5 km). The study findings point to a need for greater emphasis on the precautionary principle in environmental health and for health impact assessments to inform decisions on planning, especially with regard to the location of human settlements relative to major, polluting development initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number158158
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2022


  • Blood
  • Lead
  • Lead exposure
  • Mining
  • Soil
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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