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When a young child is exposed to lead, the harm to her or his nervous system makes it more likely that the child will have difficulties in school and engage in impulsive and violent behavior. This impact continues throughout life, has a long-term impact on the child’s work performance, and—on average—causes decreased economic success as measured by lifelong earnings. Widespread lead exposure harms society as a whole by placing an extra burden on the national education system; raising national costs associated with increased crime and incarceration rates; and reducing the overall national productivity of labor.
A recent study that investigated the economic impact of childhood lead exposure on national economies in all low and middle income countries estimated a total cumulative cost burden of $977 billion international dollars per year. The study considered the neurodevelopmental effects on lead-exposed children, as measured by reduced IQ points, and it correlated lead exposure-related reductions in children’s IQ scores to reductions in lifetime economic productivity as expressed in lifelong earning power. The study identified many different sources of lead exposure in children, with lead paint as one major source. Broken down by region, the economic burden of childhood lead exposure as estimated by this study was:
- Africa: $134.7 billion of economic loss or 4.03% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
- Latin America and the Caribbean: $142.3 billion of economic loss or 2.04% of GDP
- Asia: $699.9 billion of economic loss or 1.88% of GDP