The Economic Benefits of Preventing Childhood Lead Exposure 

Report | August 30, 2017

Recent lead contamination crises in communities across the United States—including Flint, Michigan and East Chicago, Indiana—have clearly demonstrated the persistent and dangerous threat of childhood lead exposure. 10 Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure, a report by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, examines this issue, calls for more institutional action, and shows that doing so will result in billions in benefits for future cohorts of children.

Altarum contributed to the report with cost-benefit analyses of various policies to prevent lead exposure, including lead service line replacement, removal of household lead- borne dust and paint, precautions to minimize lead exposure during home renovation, and eliminating lead from aviation fuel. These analyses employed Altarum’s Value of Health tool, which assesses the long-term economic and health impacts of initiatives to improve health. The costs and benefits are based on a targeted approach to implementing the interventions, such as focusing on older homes with the highest probability of having lead hazards, and on populations at greatest risk, including low-income families.

The following were among the key findings from the analyses:

  • Removing leaded drinking water service lines from the homes of children born in 2018 would protect more than 350,000 children and yield $2.7 billion in future benefits, or about $1.33 per dollar invested.
  • Eradicating lead paint hazards from older homes of children from low-income families would provide $3.5 billion in future benefits, or approximately $1.39 per dollar invested, and protect more than 311,000 children.
  • Ensuring that contractors comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule that requires lead-safe renovation, repair, and painting practices would protect about 211,000 children born in 2018 and provide future benefits of $4.5 billion, or about $3.10 per dollar spent.
  • Eliminating lead from airplane fuel would protect more than 226,000 children born in 2018 who live near airports, generate $262 million in future benefits, and remove roughly 450 tons of lead from the environment every year.

The analyses also suggest that the maximum potential future benefits of preventing all lead exposure for the 2018 birth cohort, such that those children’s blood lead levels could be kept from rising above zero, could reach $84 billion, not including the costs to achieve such total prevention. This figure includes nearly $18.5 billion for the federal government and $9.6 billion for states in the form of increased revenue and savings to the health care, education, and criminal justice systems.

Preventing childhood lead exposure will require significant policy and regulatory action, coordination across levels of government, and public and private investments, but it has the potential to generate substantial economic and public health gains in the short and long terms.

Read the full report.

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