Policies to Prevent and Respond to Childhood Lead Exposure

HealthAug 31 2017

Lead is a toxic substance that has had a devastating effect on American children for decades. Although evidence of lead’s negative impact on children came to light almost as soon as the substance became widely used in products like gasoline and paint, it was not until the 1970s that government agencies began to ban or regulate its use. Children’s blood lead levels declined significantly following these efforts, but many children continue to be exposed through sources such as deteriorating lead paint in homes and lead pipes that carry drinking water. Low-income and minority children are particularly at-risk.

In response to the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and other communities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Health Impact Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts published a report that provides a comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the ways in which children are exposed to lead, and how to prevent that exposure. The report offers evidence-based recommendations to federal, state, and local policymakers on how to prevent and respond to lead exposure among children. Among the key findings: investments made now to address lead exposure will pay dividends later in terms of healthier and more successful generations of children.

Child Trends and its partner organizations, the Urban Institute and the Altarum Institute, were part of the modeling team for the report. The Altarum Institute used the Value of Prevention Tool to estimate the costs and benefits of various interventions. Child Trends and Urban used the Social Genome Model to estimate how preventing lead exposure through various interventions—for example, treating all lead paint in homes built before 1978—would affect children’s later life outcomes, such as their income at age 40. The Social Genome Model, originally developed at the Brookings Institution and based at the Urban Institute, is a collaborative effort of the Brookings Institution, Child Trends, and the Urban Institute. Read more about the model on the Social Genome Project website.

This FAQ document provides more information on a variety of topics, including the modeling methods used in the report, how the Social Genome Model and the Value of Prevention tool work, what information was used in the models to produce the estimates of the effects of lead prevention and response in the report, and a discussion of the limitations of the models.

The full report is available on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ website.

View a related video at the Child Trends News Service about how parents can take steps now to protect kids from lead exposure.

Child Trends used a literature search conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts—and augmented by Child Trends and outside experts—to determine effect sizes for use as inputs for the models. To simulate the effect of preventing lead exposure, Child Trends identified effect sizes for the relationship between children’s blood lead levels and their academic and behavioral outcomes. A table of effect sizes and the sources of these effect sizes can be found here.

To simulate the effect of mitigating lead exposure through early and middle childhood education and care interventions, Child Trends identified effect sizes for evidence-based cognitive and behavioral interventions found to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for similarly disadvantaged children. A table of effect sizes and the sources of these effect sizes can be found here.

August 2017