Soil properties affect Pb bioavailability to human and ecological receptors and should be considered during ecological risk assessment of contaminated soil. We used path analysis (PA) to determine the relative contribution of soil properties (pH, organic C [OC], amorphous Fe and Al oxides [FEAL], and cation-exchange capacity [CEC]) in modifying Pb bioavailability. The response of biological endpoints (bioaccumulation and dry matter growth [DMG]) of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) grown on 21 Pb-spiked (2,000 mg/kg) soils were determined. Lettuce tissue Pb ranged from 3.22 to 233 mg/kg, and relative DMG ranged from 2.5 to 88.5% of their respective controls. Simple correlation showed strong relationships between CEC and OC (p < 0.01) and weaker relationships between pH and FEAL (p < 0.05) and Pb bioaccumulation. Results of PA suggest that soil pH increased the negative surface charge of organic matter and clay, thereby increasing CEC and decreasing Pb bioaccumulation. Also, the direct effect of OC on tissue Pb can be attributed to formation of surface Pb complexes by organic matter functional group ligands. Increased OC and/or CEC reduced Pb solubility and bioavailability in the 21 soils in the present study. The relative importance of soil properties likely will vary between studies employing different soils. Soil properties should be considered during the ecological risk assessment of metal in contaminated soils. Path analysis is useful for ecological studies involving soils with a wide range of physicochemical properties and can assist in site risk assessment of metals and remediation decisions on contaminated sites.
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