UnleadED: A Proposal to Measure Trenton Lead-Water Levels at Scale

2019 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2019-2021

Princeton faculty members Jennifer Jennings and John Higgins will lead an interdisciplinary team that will collect and analyze water samples from homes across Trenton, New Jersey, in order to gauge the prevalence and distribution of lead contamination citywide. The researchers will partner with teachers in Trenton Public Schools to distribute testing kits to elementary, middle and high school students for taking water samples at school and in their homes. The kits will be linked to individual home addresses so that the researchers can identify high-risk areas for contamination, as well as work with individual households to report testing information and provide information for reducing lead exposure.

The researchers will publish their findings regarding the levels and locations of lead contamination in Trenton to a publicly available website. At the same time, they will work with Trenton teachers to provide teacher training, classroom materials and lesson plans focused on avoiding lead exposure. This project expands on Higgins’ ongoing PEI Urban Grand Challenge project to develop a no-cost lead test for Trenton residents by allowing for a large-scale examination of the city’s lead contamination.

Educational Impact

Princeton undergraduate students will have a unique opportunity to combine interdisciplinary lab work and data analysis with a service component in which they work directly in and with communities in Trenton. The project will offer positions as research assistants through the PEI summer internship program as well as provide opportunities for junior paper and senior thesis work. The project will be incorporated as a (Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES) component to Jennings’ Fall 2019 course, “Education Policy in the United States,”  as well as Higgins’ course, “Geochemistry of the Human Environment.”

Future Directions

The researchers will aim to construct a publicly available map of lead exposure in Trenton, which would serve as a useful resource for families seeking information about their water quality. If successful, the project could be applied to other communities in New Jersey — where information on lead exposure in drinking water is sparse — or across the country.

Participating Departments

Collaborating Institutions

Related Media and Press Coverage


Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
Associate Professor of Geosciences

Research Associates

  • Scott Latham, Associate Research Scholar, Woodrow Wilson School

Additional Researchers

  • Robert Darnell, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of Biology, Rockefeller University; Visiting Research Collaborator, Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics