It's been a long haul, but my article on urban soil lead (Pb) contamination in Oakland is finally out in Geoforum. It bridges quantitative analysis of soil Pb contamination (also described in my article in Applied Geography) with theoretical insights from urban political ecology... a sort of Marxist socio-natural history of Oakland's soils. Here's the abstract:
Anthropogenic lead (Pb) is ubiquitous in urban soils given its widespread deposition over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries from a range of point- and non-point sources, including industrial waste and pollution, leaded paint, and automobile exhaust. While soil scientists and urban ecologists have documented soil Pb contamination in cities around the world, such analyses rarely move beyond proximal mechanisms to focus on more distal factors, notably the social processes mediating Pb accumulation in particular places. In this paper, I articulate a critical physical geography of urban soil Pb contamination that considers the dialectical co-production of soil and social processes. Using soil Pb contamination in the flatlands of Oakland, California as an empirical case, I integrate conventional quantitative geochemical mapping with theory and qualitative methods regularly employed in urban political ecology to explain the various spatio-temporal processes that bifurcated the city into flatlands and hills, a topography that is as much social as it is physical, and one that is fundamental to differentiated soil Pb concentrations and the disproportionate impact on low-income people of color. I demonstrate how understanding soil contamination through the lens of social metabolism – with particular attention to the materiality of the socio-natural hybrids emerging from processes of capitalist urbanization – can complement conventional analyses, while contributing to a "material politics of place" to support struggles for environmental justice.
You can download the article for free for the next 50 days by following this link. Otherwise, you can click here for a copy of the post-print (the unformatted version that was accepted by the journal) or get it via your institutional subscription. The images below capture some of what I describe in the paper, e.g., the linkages between redlining, lead paint, and soil contamination in the flatlands.
Nathan McClintock is a geographer and professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.