Press Releases

2002 Releases

Study Finds Strict Enforcement of Lead Abatement Policies Saves Communities Money

For immediate release:  November 19, 2002

Boston, MA— In the first study to quantify both the benefits and the costs of preventing lead exposure through strict enforcement of existing housing policies, Mary Jean Brown, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School Public Health, found that lead abatement resulted in a savings of more than $45,000 per building, over a ten year span, resulting from decreased medical and special education costs and increased productivity for children protected from lead. The findings are published in the November/December 2002 issue of Medical Decision Making.

Exposure to lead is determined by blood tests, and measured in micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set a "level of concern" at 10 micrograms per deciliter. Even at low levels, lead poisoning in children can cause IQ deficiencies, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention spans, hyperactivity and other behavior problems.

The study examined 137 addresses in two adjacent urban areas in the northeastern US where children with high blood lead levels (25 micrograms per deciliter of blood) were identified between 1992 and 1993. The two areas were similar in many aspects but differed regarding provisions for the enforcement of lead-related housing policies; one employed strict enforcement and the other did not. In the area employing limited enforcement, children living in a building identified as having been the home of a lead-poisoned child were 4.5 times more likely to have elevated blood lead levels compared to the neighboring urban area with a strict lead abatement policies.

In compiling medical, special education and societal costs, such as lost productivity and future earning potential for new cases of children with elevated blood lead levels, the author found that buildings in which a previously lead-poisoned child lived which now fell under strict lead-housing policies, expenses totaled $56,639 over a 10 year period. In buildings where the policy enforcements were limited the total came to $101,999. The study suggests that lead abatement is associated with a savings per building, over a ten year span, of more than $45,000. An estimated 21 percent of housing in the US, approximately 20 million housing units, has significantly deteriorated lead-based paint and is home to one or more child under the age of six.

"The cost of not strictly enforcing lead abatement policies is clearly more expensive in human terms, costing children with high blood lead levels the chance to lead healthy, productive lives," said study author Mary Jean Brown, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School Public Health. "The cost of clearing a dwelling of lead paint and dust may look expensive initially, but the research demonstrates that given the long-term costs to the families and to society of recurring cases of lead poisoning in buildings where children were lead poisoned in the past, not doing anything to eliminate lead exposure is far more costly."

The study was funded in part by John and Virginia Taplin and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu