Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lead Exposure Costs $977 Billion Globally

Lead Exposure Causes Economic Losses in Africa, Latin America, and Asia
Lead Exposure from Lead Paint
According to a recent study performed by New York University researchers, Professors Leonardo Trasande and Teresa Attina, lead exposure costs the world $977 billion US dollars in low and middle-income countries. Due to loss in IQ and productivity, lead exposure has caused economic losses of $134.7 billion in Africa, $142.3 billion in Latin America, and $699.9 billion in Asia.

Only six countries in the world still use leaded gasoline after aggressive efforts by the United Nations. Children would inhale or ingest lead from combusted gasoline in urban environments, leading to high blood lead levels and dangerous health effects. Despite declines in blood lead levels worldwide, and ongoing efforts to remove hazardous substances from homes and facilities, lead exposure still affects low and middle-income countries.

The study shows that lead exposure accounts for a 1.2% loss in the world's gross domestic product. High blood lead levels have been linked to lower IQ, loss in attention span, and violent and anti-social behavior. Decreasing lead exposure would have beneficial economic effects in the long-run according to the report. Lead batteries, lead-based paint, and hazardous waste are still prevalent in low and middle-income areas. Transande reported that due to this loss in economic productivity, Africa has lost 4% of its total GDP.

Transande and Attina performed the study on children younger than 5 in developing countries and then determined how much lead levels would reduce IQ and earnings. They found that early childhood exposure to lead resulted in lower lifetime productivity and behavioral changes.

The researchers had to estimate many of the numbers, but Bruce Lanphear, professor of children's environmental health at Simon Fraser University and a researcher of lead-exposure, commented that the loss in earnings is likely conservative, for Transande and Attina only measured the effects in children and did not account for criminal activity and health problems in working adults. Additionally, they only researched children in urban environments as developing countries are experiencing rapid urbanization. This urbanization has correlated with spikes in lead levels in Africa.

Despite this, investors view these developing countries as profitable markets, and are hesitant to put environmental efforts before economic earnings. The US Center for Disease Control reported that reduced lead exposure in the United States since 1976 has resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic benefits due to higher IQs and higher worker productivity. For the US and Europe, economics costs have been estimated at $50.9 and $55 billion respectively, implying that developing areas are still burdened by this environmental and health hazard. Investment in lead paint control leads to a higher return on investment; however, Lanphear commented that unless we continue to work to reduce lead levels in these countries then, "We're basically pitting the health of our children versus economic health. Until we can prove it's cost beneficial to protect kids, we won't do it."

This economic burden could be avoided if policy interventions to prevent lead exposure are implemented immediately. The cost of these policies would lead to higher long-run productivity and profitability for these developing countries, resulting in higher growth and GDP. If government entities do not act, then these countries will continue to bear the burden of these health hazards, and they will continue to suffer health and economic losses.

The US EPA requires certification to work with and remove lead paint. Register for a course to become certified with GreenEDU!

Green Education Services is one of the leading training providers for the EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, which targets pre-1978 residential homes and requires companies and their workers to be certified to work safely with lead-based paint that may be present in the home. You can follow this link to all of our EPA Lead Renovators courses around the country, and do your part to combat this epidemic.