DOWNWIND, AND DOWNSTREAM: THE LINGERING IMPACTS OF CITIES ON THEIR ENVIRONMENT
Acute exposure to lead (Pb), a powerful neurotoxin to which children are particularly susceptible, has largely been eliminated in the U.S. and other countries through policy-based restrictions on leaded gasoline and lead-based paints. But these legacy Pb sources are still around in the form of surface soil Pb contamination, a common problem in cities and one that has only recently emerged as a pernicious and widespread chronic exposure mechanism in cities. Some urban soils are also contaminated with another neurotoxin, mercury (Hg), although very little work has been done to understand human exposures to low levels of this element in soils. The most documented human exposure to Hg is through fish consumption, so eating fish caught in urban areas presents risks for above average dietary Hg exposure. The potential double impact of chronic exposure to these two neurotoxins is pronounced in cities. Many aspects of the dose-response curves for individual elements and mixtures are poorly understood, especially at lower levels, leaving unanswered several interesting and provocative questions about environmental impacts on neurological and developmental disorders.