Lead. It seems to be everywhere — in our paint, in our water, our homes and our schools. It’s top of policymakers’ minds and even children’s minds. The other day as my middle school-aged daughter was getting ready for school, she was desperately searching for her water bottle, a big 32-oz Hydroflask covered with stickers that she lugs to school each day. When I asked why she doesn’t drink the school water, she expressed concern that the water could have lead. Whether that’s true at her school, I’m not sure, but I do know that it’s true at others. And childhood lead exposure costs this country $84 billion dollar per year.
Last year, Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools — where my kids go to school — tested their water and found elevated levels in nearly 90 schools. Earlier this month, the Montgomery County Council passed a bill that will set stricter water standards than those of the federal government and the State of Maryland. That is good news for kids, teachers and support staff in these schools. Obviously the costs to address lead prevention and remediation are high, but so are the payoffs in terms of better health and economic benefits to the community.
The harmful effects of lead exposure in children are well known. Even at lower levels, lead exposure causes neurological damage that can lead to decreased IQ and academic performance as well as behavioral problems, such as impulsivity and attention disorders. All of this makes children more likely to struggle in school, drop out, get into trouble with the law, underperform at work, and earn less throughout their lives.
A new tool released today will help policymakers and advocates across the country calculate the cost of lead exposure and the economic benefits of three interventions:
- Lead service line replacement
- Residential lead hazard control
- EPA standards of enforcement
School lead exposure interventions will be added later this summer.
In my home state of Maryland, the tool tallied up the following findings:
- There is a $1.9 BILLION lifetime economic burden of childhood lead exposure. This includes costs related to work productivity, increased healthcare, education and social assistance spending and premature mortality.
- If the state invests in replacing all the lead service lines for homes of children born in 2019, it will cost the state $27.4 million, but the state will yield $42.3 million in future benefits.
- If the state removed lead-based paint hazards from the homes of children born in 2019, it will cost the state $185.7 million, but it will yield the state $655.3 million in future benefits.
As far as cost-benefit analyses go, this seems like a no-brainer. Investing in lead abatement efforts now will result in healthier kids, healthier communities, and economic benefits for all of us.
Check out the numbers for your state here.