Lead’s adverse health impacts have been recognized since at least the second century B.C. Since then, thousands of studies have concluded that lead has wide-ranging effects on the health of young children and significant costs to taxpayers. Even at very low levels, lead exposure affects the brain’s ability to control impulses and process information. Lead-poisoned children are more likely to struggle in school, drop out, get into trouble with the law, underperform in the workplace, and earn less throughout their lives, independent of other social and economic factors. The financial consequences of these outcomes include billions of dollars in public spending on special education, juvenile justice, and other social services.
Lead contamination crises in Flint, Michigan, and East Chicago, Indiana, as well as the surge of news reports about lead risks in communities across the country have shone a national spotlight on the problem of childhood lead exposure. The increased public awareness and scientific evidence that lead poisoning is completely preventable make this a critical moment for action to protect the nation’s children, enhance their opportunities to succeed, and reduce costs to taxpayers.
With that background, the Health Impact Project convened a team of researchers to assess the implications of childhood lead exposure and perform a cost-benefit analysis of various policies to prevent and respond to the problem.