Targeting Proactive Inspections for Lead Hazards
Lead poisoning imposes lifelong health and economic costs on hundreds of thousands of people every year in the United States. A ban on leaded consumer products in the United States was not enacted until the late 1970s (Needleman, 1998). To this day, lead in paint remains a significant hazard to children in particular. Exposure to lead is associated with premature birth, edema, herniation, atrophy, and white-matter degeneration (Cleveland, et al, 2008; Bellinger, 2008). Elevated blood lead levels are associated with lower IQ in children as well as with poorer achievement on reading and math standardized tests in the third grade (Evens et al, 2015). Lead also correlates with crime rates (e.g. Stretesky and Lynch, 2004). Lead-related child health issues conservatively bear a price tag of over $40 billion annually (Landrigan, et al, 2002).
The current approach to identifying and remediating lead hazards is to test all children for elevated blood lead levels and then investigate and remediate the indicated homes. This helps prevent exposure for future residents but comes too late for poisoned children, who disproportionately come from low socioeconomic status and minority groups. In addition, health professionals around the country devote an enormous and concerted effort to the problem of lead exposure, yet many face a shortage of resources. For example, at current levels of funding and staffing, it would take the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) 76 years and $98 million to simply inspect the city’s 197,157 old buildings, let alone remediate them. The only hope of making a significant impact with the available budget is to use it more efficiently.