History of Soil-Lead Project

How can we explain high concentrations of lead, copper, and other metals in Santa Ana’s soil? A group of scientists and historians at UCI are investigating the history of the town to isolate the sources of metal contamination and explain the historical processes that have pushed certain populations into toxic environments.

UCI scholars have partnered with Orange County Environmental Justice (OCEJ) to document heavy-metal contamination, raise awareness, and work on mitigation efforts. This partnership is part of OCEJ’s broader campaign against lead contamination in Santa Ana (also known as the PloNo Campaign.)

Map of Santa Ana, 1906. Historical maps of the city are useful for tracing potential sources of metal contamination that remain in the soil.

The PloNo – UCI partnership resulted in a campaign to survey Santa Ana’s soil by taking 1,500 soil samples across the city. This collective effort produced valuable data showing high concentrations of lead and other metals in different sections of the city. Researchers are now working to disentangle the stories behind these distributions and examine the processes that resulted in these dangerous concentrations. Some of the topics addressed by this project are: lead-based paint and the history of housing; leaded gasoline, traffic, and urban planning; the history of agriculture in Southern California and the environmental legacy of pesticides; and, the history of environmental justice activism, redlining, and segregation.

History of Metal Contamination in Santa Ana – Team Members

This project received support from the Ridge to Reef Graduate Training Program funded by NSF-NRT award DGE-1735040 between August 1st, 2020 and June 30th, 2021.

Learn more

Interview with Aaron Orlowski

Audio Documentary by Juan Rubio

Article by Megan Cole