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Keywords:

  • Sampling design;
  • soil lead;
  • urban gardening

Soil lead pollution is a recalcitrant problem in urban areas resulting from a combination of historical residential, industrial, and transportation practices. The emergence of urban gardening movements in postindustrial cities necessitates accurate assessment of soil lead levels to ensure safe gardening. In this study, we examined small-scale spatial variability of soil lead within a 15 × 30 m urban garden plot established on two adjacent residential lots located in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Eighty samples collected using a variably spaced sampling grid were analyzed for total, fine fraction (less than 250 μm), and bioaccessible soil lead. Measured concentrations varied at sampling scales of 1–10 m and a hot spot exceeding 400 ppm total soil lead was identified in the northwest portion of the site. An interpolated map of total lead was treated as an exhaustive data set, and random sampling was simulated to generate Monte Carlo distributions and evaluate alternative sampling strategies intended to estimate the average soil lead concentration or detect hot spots. Increasing the number of individual samples decreases the probability of overlooking the hot spot (type II error). However, the practice of compositing and averaging samples decreased the probability of overestimating the mean concentration (type I error) at the expense of increasing the chance for type II error. The results reported here suggest a need to reconsider U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sampling objectives and consequent guidelines for reclaimed city lots where soil lead distributions are expected to be nonuniform.