Social Costs

Who is Hurt by Lead Poisoning?
As a neurotoxin, even small amounts of lead exposure can cause children to develop cognitive dysfunctions commonly associated with learning disabilities, mental retardation, aberrant behavior, increased irritability, violence, drug use and other functional difficulties.1 These cognitive problems cause persistent health and economic problems throughout the child’s life.

What are the Social Costs of Lead Poisoning?
Each year a new class of children acquires lifelong disabilities due to lead poisoning from their environment. Resulting medical costs, special education, social programs and remediation projects generates a tremendous financial burden for the individual, their families and for society at large.

What Are the Medical and Social Program Costs?
Researchers estimate the costs associated with lead poisoning mortality, related diseases such as asthma, cancer, and developmental disabilities to be between $43.4 billion to $50.9 billion per year2.

How Does Remediation Effect Social Costs?
Cost-benefit studies show that for every $1 spent on lead hazard management, there is a return of between $17 to $221 in health benefits3.

Who Pays the $50.9 Billion in Social Costs?
Paying the extensive expenditures associated with childhood lead poisoning are divided between internal costs that are paid by the affected individuals and their families and external costs which are paid by the whole of society.

Expenditures by affected individuals and their families can include the cost of medical diagnoses, medical treatment, life-long medications, therapies, special education programs, private schools, tutoring and lost income opportunities.

Expenditures by society involve increased welfare payments, greater tax expenditures on special education and job training programs, higher medical insurance rates, increased crime rates as well as lost tax revenues due to the reduced income earning capacity of those affected by lead poisoning in childhood.

Why is Knowing the Social Costs Important?
Documenting the serious financial consequences of lead poisoning is an important exercise because it is inspiring the needed urgency with legislators, government agencies, nonprofits organizations and private donors to develop more efficient public policies and effective remediation methods.

What Can be Done to Reduce Costs?
The cost-benefit studies associated with lead remediation provides the answer. With lead hazard management potentially yielding fiscal benefits estimated at over 200% return on investment,4 the most effective means for reducing the costs of childhood lead poisoning is to remove or abate lead in the environment. The annual savings are estimated at:

• Healthcare: $11–$53 billion3
• Special Education: $30–$146 million3
• Attention Deficit–Hyperactivity: $267 million3
• Direct Costs of Crime: $1.7 billion3
• Lost Tax Revenues: $25-$35 billion3


  1. How Lead Exposure Relates to Temporal Changes in IQ, Violent Crime, and Unwed Pregnancy, Rick Nevin, Environmental Research, 22 April 1999.
  2. Environmental pollutants and disease in American children: estimates of morbidity, mortality, and costs for lead poisoning, asthma, cancer, and developmental disabilities, Philip J Landrigan, Clyde B Schechter, Jeffrey M Lipton, Marianne C Fahs, Joel Schwartz, Environ Health Perspect. 2002 July; 110(7): 721–728.
  3. Reducing The Staggering Costs Of Environmental Disease In Children, Estimated At $76.6 Billion In 2008, Leonardo Trasande and Yinghua Liu. Health Affairs, 30, no.5 (2011): 863-870 (published online May 4, 2011; 10.1377/hlthaff.2010.1239)
  4. Childhood Lead Poisoning: Conservative Estimates of the Social and Economic Benefits of Lead Hazard Control, Gould, E., 2009. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(7), pp.1162–1167. Available at: [Accessed June 20, 2014].