In a move to tackle the estimated $84 billion dollar per year financial toll of childhood lead exposure in the United States, Altarum launched a new interactive online tool that for the first time provides comprehensive state level data on the cost of exposure and the economic benefits of interventions.

ValueofLeadPrevention.org enables policymakers, community leaders, and residents to calculate the cost of childhood lead exposure in their state and the economic benefits of adopting interventions to reduce the risk of lead exposure, from replacing leaded drinking water service lines to eradicating lead paint hazards in older homes.

“This new online tool and data will better equip local leaders to take action and reduce the social and economic burden of lead exposure in their communities,” said Corey Rhyan, senior analyst at Altarum.

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Communities that invest in interventions that reduce childhood lead exposure can reap a strong return on investment, according to previous analysis by Altarum.

Through this new tool, users can obtain such data at the state level. For example, New York will reap an estimated economic benefit of $184.8 million by investing $141.1 million to replace all leaded drinking water service lines; Minnesota will see a return of $646.7 million by investing $216.8 million in lead hazard control; and California will gain $675.3 million in economic benefits by investing $210 million in renovation, repair, and painting standards enforcement.

The harmful effects of lead exposure in children are well known. Even at lower levels, lead exposure causes neurologic damage that can lead to decreased IQ and academic performance as well as behavioral problems, such as impulsivity and attention disorders. Despite these well-known risks, the United States lags behind many major countries in reducing sources of lead exposure even though many children in the U.S. are at risk.

According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2015 to 2016, an estimated 270,000 children between the ages of 1 to 5 had elevated blood lead levels according to standards defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An even greater number of children live in homes or attend schools where lead exposure risks such as lead-based paint or lead water service lines and fixtures are present. While many states and communities have implemented laws to reduce lead exposure, those laws are fragmented and often weakly enforced due to insufficient funding.

“Previous estimates on the costs of lead exposure and potential prevention methods have been identified mainly at the national level, leaving a large majority of states and cities in the dark about the impact they could have in taking on this public health crisis,” said Pamela Russo, MD, MPH, senior program officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the tool.

This tool builds on research conducted in 2017 that estimates the annual cost of childhood lead exposure in the U.S. at $84 billion based on reduced lifetime productivity, increased health care and social assistance spending, and premature mortality. The new online tool provides state-specific information about:

  • The number of children with unsafe lead blood levels.
  • The annual cost of lead exposure, and the share of the cost across the federal, state, and private sectors.
  • The economic benefit of the following interventions:
    • Lead service line replacement
    • Residential lead hazard control
    • Enforcement of EPA renovation, repair, and painting rules

Users can customize the inputs on the cost and scope of interventions to get a more precise estimate of the economic benefits in their community. For example, users can input their own costs for testing and replacing service lines, and also specify the number of service lines to be replaced.

Later this year, this tool will also include data on select cities through a related project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with the National Center for Healthy Housing. Data will also be released on the cost and benefits of reducing childhood lead exposure in public schools.

This tool uses analysis employed by Altarum’s Value of Health tool an analytic model that synthesizes research findings and national data sets to quantify the financial and health impacts of investments in health, including those that address social determinants. Altarum has applied the tool to assess the value of smoking and obesity prevention, early childhood education, and other preventive measures.

To learn more about lead exposure risks communities face and key federal, state, and local solutions, read 10 Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure, a report funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Click here to read original press release. 

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