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News from EPI Costs of Ignoring Lead Risk to Children Far Exceed Clean-Up Costs, New Research Shows

A new article, Childhood Lead Poisoning: Conservative Estimates of the Social and Economic Benefits of Lead Hazard Control, written by Economic Policy Institute Director of Health Research Elise Gould and published in Environmental Health Perspectives, concludes that benefits from preventing lead poisoning, especially for children six and under, far exceed the costs of lead hazard remediation. The research was funded in part by the Partnership for America’s Economic Success.

“Even under the most conservative analysis, every dollar spent on controlling lead hazards would return at least $17 in improved health outcomes, increased IQ, higher lifetime earnings, increased tax revenue, less spending on special education and reduced criminal activity,” Gould said. 

From 1976 – 2006, the number of American children with elevated blood lead levels declined significantly, however, nearly 200,000 children still have elevated lead levels and those at the greatest risk of exposure are disproportionately poor, urban and minority. 

Gould’s article notes that throughout the last few decades, research into lead risks has matured and identified that even low levels of lead exposure in children – from house paint, toys or other sources — can stunt cognitive and behavioral development, lead to a host of adult onset health problems and even result in greater propensity toward criminal behavior.

“Investing in kids is an investment in our economy,” said Partnership for America’s Economic Success Director Sara Watson. “We cannot afford to lose a single child.  Dr. Gould’s findings illustrate one of the most dramatic examples of small upfront expenditures preventing huge costs in both dollars and human trauma. Attending to the health and safety needs of our youngest citizens today will help ensure the productivity of tomorrow’s workforce.”

Gould determines that though progress has been great, there is still the need for a substantial commitment to further reduce lead poisoning among vulnerable children.  A significant source of exposure continues to come from lead paint in housing units created prior to the lead paint ban in 1978.  Though lead paint abatement is costly and must be done on a unit-by-unit basis, Gould concludes that the economic, medical and psychological costs of allowing continued exposure far exceed the initial costs for lead hazard control. 

The Economic Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to broaden the public debate about strategies to achieve a prosperous and fair economy. The Institute stresses real world analysis and a concern for the living standards of working people, and it makes its findings accessible to the general public, the media, and policy makers. EPI’s books, studies, and popular education materials address important economic issues, analyze pressing problems facing the U.S. economy, and propose new policies.

The Partnership for America’s Economic Success is a national coalition mobilizing business leaders to improve tomorrow’s economy through smart policy investments in young children today.  It is comprised of committed donors, national business organizations and an advisory board of employers, economists, funders and advocates; it is managed by the Pew Center on the States in Washington, D.C.

Childhood Lead Poisoning

Elise Gould

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