JUST SOIL: Participatory Research for Limiting the Legacy of Lead

Authors: Sara Perl Egendorf*, CUNY Graduate Center, Zani Simmons, JUST SOIL, Erycka de Jesus, NYC Compost Project hosted by Big Reuse
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Environmental Science, Soils
Keywords: Soil, Lead, Environmental Justice, Participatory Research,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Executive Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Exposure to lead (Pb) is violent. While the element itself does not discriminate, time and again its toxic effects disproportionately burden people of color and people from low income backgrounds. Movements to mitigate lead exposure are vast, but the majority of efforts focus on lead in water and paint – despite the ubiquitous presence of lead in soil. In this paper I trace some of the factors that obfuscate the violent nature of soil lead, exposing a range of material discursive structures rooted in racial capitalism. I then point to some of the biogeochemical research that counters these narratives, while highlighting the limitations herein. I conclude with a case study of JUST SOIL, a soil science research project co-created with young people and residents in a New York City (NYC) Housing Authority community, composters at the NYC Compost Project, city officials with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, and researchers at the City University of New York. The purpose of this project is to conduct research stemming from the interests of an affected community, to center expertise outside of academia, and to study soil biology (identities), chemistry (dynamics), and physics (power structures) as ways to engage with intertwined and surrounding human geographies. This research seeks to trouble the notion of expert, authority, researcher, and scientist while co-constructing urgently needed knowledge on newly constructed soil. JUST SOIL is an experiment in transdisciplinary participatory research aimed at limiting exposure to the legacy of lead in soil in NYC and beyond.

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